Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations


"What a Man": The Crisis of Masculinity on the Broadway Musical Stage

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Miner (Other)

Third Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Michael Ellison (Committee Member)


In my dissertation, "'What a Man': The Crisis of Masculinity on the Broadway Musical Stage," I examine masculinity represented within new, popular, and award-winning Broadway musical productions as a telling example of contemporary culture in the United States. I explore how masculinity is specifically constructed in five productions and how these representations potentially subvert the societal expectations for masculine performance. Through archival research, close reading of the texts and performances, and qualitative interviews with seventeen members of the original productions, I argue that these musicals specifically and intentionally offer alternative views of masculinity that potentially pave the way to end the binary rigidity captured in what masculinity scholars have deemed the "crisis of masculinity." This crisis addresses the current sociopolitical moment in which men in Western society that are expected to perform their gender in line with one of two binary archetypes: the hypermasculine strong man or the non-masculine effeminate, in actuality, do not fall into either category. The productions I consider, in order of their openings, are Spring Awakening by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater; The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone; Kinky Boots by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein; Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda; and Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven Levenson. I draw on theoretical insights from scholars including Fintan Walsh, Michael Kimmel, Judith Butler, Stacy Wolf, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith to ground my work in current disciplinary conversations about gender, performativity, and musical theatre. My chapters explore how traditional qualities of masculinity are performed through these musicals in ways that nevertheless actively grapple with the crisis and challenge representations found in their predecessors. Overall, my aim is to provide insight into how musical theatre has, in recent years, produced representations of masculinity that potentially contribute to a shift in how we might understand men and masculinity. By using these popular and commercially successful musical theatre productions as my examples, I glean to some extent how, at this particular historical moment, popular culture is responding to society’s changing attitudes towards masculinity, and I articulate how these musicals directly challenge the status quo and thereby work towards constituting the possibilities for greater latitude in the performance of masculinity.