Up on the Roof
The history of the Broadway musical in the 20th century is also a not-so-secret history of the parallel project of Jewish assimilation in America. Nearly all the best-remembered golden-age musicals were written in whole or part by first- and second-generation Jewish immigrants, but scarcely any of them had explicitly Jewish subject matter—or, in most cases, recognizably Jewish characters. Their creators, most notably Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, preferred to write deracinated, determinedly optimistic fables of the American dream in action. When they had a recognizably Jewish stereotypical character—like the comic con-man itinerant peddler in Oklahoma!—they pretended he was an Arab named Ali Hakim.
About the Author
Terry Teachout, Commentary’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, just out from Gotham Books.