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"My Arm Is Complete": A Cognitive Approach to Gestural Life in Stephen Sondheim's Musical Genres

Calderazzo, Diana (2013) "My Arm Is Complete": A Cognitive Approach to Gestural Life in Stephen Sondheim's Musical Genres. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Traditionally, musical theatre has been accepted more as a practical field than an
academic one, as demonstrated by the relative scarcity of lengthy theory‐based
publications addressing musicals as study topics. However, with increasing scholarly
application of cognitive theories to such fields as theatre and music theory, musical theatre
now has the potential to become the topic of scholarly analysis based on empirical data and
scientific discussion. This dissertation seeks to contribute such an analysis, focusing on the
implied gestural lives of the characters in three musicals by Stephen Sondheim, as these
lives exemplify the composer’s tendency to challenge traditional audience expectations in
terms of genre through his music and lyrics.
Based on the research of David McNeill and others, scholars have argued that the
synchronization of speech and gesture support their conflation into a single language for
the purposes of audience understanding and response to theatre and film. Meanwhile,
research relating to cognition and music has indicated that music and gesture are similarly
connected, supporting the relevance of gestural interpretation to the communication of
musical notation as well. With regard to musical theatre in particular, the work of
composer Stephen Sondheim lends itself to studies related to the relevance of gesture to
audience affective response, given Sondheim’s tendencies to write with an actor’s physical
interpretation in mind.
My three main chapters, therefore, address the language of music, lyrics, and
gesture in three musicals that both support and challenge traditional audience response in
terms of the genres within which they are most easily categorized. The first addresses A
Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as farce, analyzing implied physical
tendencies related to base aggression and laughter most often associated with farce. The
second addresses Sweeney Todd as melodrama, examining the ways in which Sondheim’s
music and lyrics imply an onstage gestural life that both supports and pushes beyond
traditional audience expectations for engagement in the fear and delight related to
melodrama. Finally, I address Into the Woods as romance, analyzing this musical’s relative
exploration of concerns based in romantic heroism through the communicative value of its
music/lyric/gesture language.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcConachie, Brucebamcco@pitt.eduBAMCCO
Committee MemberFavorini, Atilliobucfav@pitt.eduBUCFAV
Committee MemberGeorge, Kathleengeorgeke@pitt.eduGEORGEKE
Committee MemberBehrmann,
Date: 25 January 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 11 July 2012
Approval Date: 25 January 2013
Submission Date: 29 November 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 191
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Theater Arts
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: theatre, theater, music, gesture, cognition, Sondheim
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2013 17:13
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:07


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