When you are writing a research paper on a musical there are many things that you have to find out before you can actually sit down and start writing. The first time I attended college, I was a musical theater major. This required me to write a lot of papers on musicals. Because the term musical is decidedly an American term I did a lot of research on American writers. In the early 1900s the term musical was first used in the United States to describe the dance and music phenomenon of Broadway in Manhattan, New York.
There are several things that go into the research of a musical. You don’t want to just write a paper about the story. You should want to write about the author a little bit and the times surrounding the story. For example, in Thoroughly Modern Millie we were told the story of young Millie from Kansas who wanted a new life in New York City. The story was based in the 1920s, a time when women were just beginning to enter the workforce. These are the kinds of things that you are going to want to find out.
When doing research there are about topics you will want to investigate. You will want to research the following list of terms.
1. Who is the writer of the musical or stage play?
2. Who is the lyricist?
3. When was it written?
4. What is the story about?
5. When did it open on Broadway? How long was the run of the show? What theater on Broadway did the musical open at?
After you have found out this information you are going to want to do some deeper research. Find out where the writer was born, what age he was when he wrote the story, and also find out if the story relates in any way to the writers life. Often times you will find that writers subconsciously write about what is affecting them in their lives. Sometimes the similarities are quite interesting and can add a special flare to your paper that most others do not have.
Note what other plays and musicals the lyricist has written for. Sometimes lyricists will write the same type of music over and over again. Find out why they were chosen to write the musical score. Sometimes this information is not always needed but helpful. If you feel it would be better to just leave it out due to incomplete information than do so. Often times you will not find a lot of information on lyricists unless they have written a staggering amount of musical scores.
The time period that the show was written in is also very important. If the show was based in the 1920s and written in the 1930s what does that tell you? Well, there was depression in the 1930s so maybe the writer was trying to express his love of rich and happy times. Maybe he subconsciously missed the roaring 20s and wanted to bring some happiness to people in a time of sorrow and debt.
Compare the story closely to the life of the writer; I am sure that you will see some similarities between his life and the times. Often times you may see connections between the life of the writer and one or more of the characters involved in the musical. Sometimes writers use family and friends as inspiration for characters and story lines.
Part of doing your research should also include reading the script and seeing the show if it is still playing. When I was in college I researched many shows that were not even playing on Broadway anymore. Luckily many of the shows like Showboat and A Chorus Line were turned into movie musicals. Other contemporary plays like Schindler’s List and the Scarlet Letter have also been turned into movies. Reading the play and viewing the show will help you get a better of understanding of the plot and characters.
When researching a musical you should also find out in what year the show was produced, who the producer was, and what the length of the run was. Some Broadway shows run over 1,000 performances over a number of years. Learning these statistics will help you decide the popularity of the musical. Musicals like Cats and Rent ran on Broadway for 8+ years and were some of the most popular musicals in Broadway history. Others shows were closed on or before opening night due to bad reviews or bad acting.
Writing the Research Paper
After you have done all the research required you can now begin to write the paper. Make sure that you include the following in your paper:
Ã¢Â?Â¢ A synopsis of Acts I and II
Ã¢Â?Â¢ A list of all leads and chorus parts including dance and voice requirements
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Song List – either by character or by scene
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Biographical Information about the musical
Make sure that you note any similarities between the writer of the musical and any characters in the musical. It is more interesting for readers if they can make correlations of this degree. If you found any interesting side facts about the show include them in your research paper too. For example if you found out that the show was closed the first time it ran on Broadway and then later reopened under different management or actors, this would be perfect information for your paper. This may even take you from an B paper to an A paper.
Also be sure to note any awards received by the writer of lyricist of the musical. There are all kinds of awards ranging from costume design to best supporting actress. Find out what actors made the show famous and why. Any information you can add to your paper that sparks the interest of the reader is sure to get you an A.