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Red, Hot & Blue: A Salute to American Musicals


(above: "Bewitched," ftom Pal Joey (1940). Sheet music. National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. © 1940 Chappell & Co. (renewed). All rights reserved. Used by permission.)


What do Bucks County and Broadway have in common? A great deal, as it turns out, this summer of 2004. The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is proud to present Red, Hot & Blue: A Salute to American Musicals, an exhibition celebrating the lively and colorful history of this uniquely American art form. Red, Hot & Blue was developed and organized by the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American History, and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Named for Cole Porter's 1936 hit, Red, Hot and Blue, the exhibition traces the development of American musical theater from its roots in nineteenth-century vaudeville to its success in Broadway and Hollywood, and the role it plays in contemporary theater. It opens on July 24 and runs through October 17, 2004 in the Fred Beans Gallery in Doylestown. (right: Eddie Cantor, 1933, Credit: Caricature by Frederick J. Gamer National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Red, Hot & Blue highlights stage luminaries such as Al Jolson, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, plus lyricists such as Bucks County's Oscar Hammerstein II. Through the use of interactive theater kiosks, Red, Hot & Blue narrates a collective biography of the performers, choreographers, producers, directors, composers, lyricists, set and costume designers and others who molded the history of American musical theater. The interactive kiosks display reproductions of vintage posters and photographs and present video footage from famous movies such as "The Wizard of Oz," "42nd Street," "Showboat," and "Singin' in the Rain."

"What we try to do is recapture the energy that audiences at the great shows must have felt," says exhibition co-curator Dwight Blocker Bowers. Bowers, a historian at the National Museum of American History, curated Red, Hot & Blue along with Amy Henderson, a cultural historian at the National Portrait Gallery; both are part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The exhibition is organized in five sections, which trace the history of musical theater chronologically, from the emergence of musical theater in New York's Lower East Side, on what was known as "Tin Pan Alley," through the rise of theater impresarios like Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. who promoted performers like Fanny Brice, Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Later sections highlight the milestone season of 1927-1928, when over 50 musicals lit up Broadway; in that same year, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's collaboration on Show Boat set precedents for the modern musical's artful fusion of story, song and spectacle. (right: Window card for Carousel, 1945 Credit: Courtesy Triton Gallery, New York City)

During the same time the Broadway musical was reaching its zenith, the advent of 'talkies' produced great Hollywood films like The Jazz Singer. Another section, titled "Light the Lights from Broadway to Hollywood, 1927-1942," examines the progression of Broadway musicals to the silver screen, with a focus on such legendary talents as Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter.

The 1940s and 50s are considered the "Golden Age" of American musicals, when both Broadway and Hollywood productions seemed to exemplify the idealism of post-war American culture. Meet me in St. Louis, Guys and Dolls, The Music Man and West Side Story are just a few of the classic musicals to emerge from this era.

The exhibition's final section, "Side by Side: 1960-Present" examines the ways in which musicals have reflected and even redefined our culture over more than a century. From the patriotic and optimistic themes that helped revive the spirits of a war weary society, to the controversial issues raised by later shows like West Side Story and Hair, Broadway and Hollywood musicals have carved a unique and enduring place for themselves in the American experience.

To accompany the exhibition, the Smithsonian Institution has published a beautifully illustrated catalog, Red, Hot & Blue: A Smithsonian Salute to American Musicals, written by co-curators Amy Henderson and Dwight Blockers Bowers. (right: Poster for revival of Show Boat, 1994 Credit: Designed by Robert Steele Livent, Inc.)


About the Curators of Red, Hot & Blue

A Salute to American Musicals Dwight Blocker Bowers and Amy Henderson are co-curators of Red, Hot & Blue: A Salute to American Musicals which premiered at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in 1996. In addition to their work on the exhibition, they co-authored the accompanying book of the same title, published by Smithsonian Institution Press. Both also served as producers and annotators for the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings release Star-Spangled Rhythm: Voices of Broadway and Hollywood, which features four compact discs containing 81 classic archival recordings by key performers spotlighted in the exhibition.


Dwight Blocker
Bowers Dwight Blocker Bowers is a cultural historian in the Division of Cultural History at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Most recently, he served as co-curator of the Smithsonian exhibitions Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song and Red, Hot & Blue: A Salute to American Musicals, the latter of which also yielded a text with the same title, published by Smithsonian Institution Press, of which he is co-author. His expertise in topics of American performing arts history has manifested in a number of different projects, including multiple traditional exhibitions, publications, video projects, research/collection-based museum performance series, and over 50 archival recordings on the Smithsonian, SONY, BMG, and Pearl labels. He is a three-time Grammy nominee. Bowers received a B.A. with Honors in English Literature from Hiram College (Hiram, Ohio) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He holds an M.A. in Theatre History, Criticism and Arts Management from the University of Connecticut, Storrs (1981). Bowers is currently at work on three major projects: an exhibition at NMAH on the topics of American entertainment and sports history; a second exhibition, in collaboration with NPG and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, on the history of Hollywood and the Oscars; and a 24-volume series of rare original cast recordings to be called "The Ultimate Broadway Composers" and issued on the BritishPearI Recordings label. .
Amy Henderson
Amy Henderson is a cultural historian at NPG specializing in film, music, and media history as well as biography. She collaborated with Nigel Nicolson on his Whitbread-winning 1975 biography Mary Leiter, and has written on topics ranging from opera soprano Geraldine Farrar to the idea of celebrity culture. Her publications include Exhibiting Dilemmas: Issues of Representation at the Smithsonian (1997), Red, Hot & Blue: A Smithsonian Salute to the American Musical (1996), and On the Air: Pioneers of American Broadcasting (1988). During her tenure at the Portrait Gallery, Henderson has worked on numerous exhibitions including The TIME of Our Lives, Champions of American Sport, Opera: The Grand Interpreters, Hollywood Glamour Photographs, On the Air: Pioneers of American Broadcasting, and Red, Hot & Blue: A Salute to American Musicals. She curated a major exhibition Oscar!, a collaboration between the NPG and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Academy Awards in 2003. Henderson completed her B.A. and M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before undertaking her doctoral work at the University of Virginia in Jeffersonian history, where she was Thomas Jefferson Fellow from 1971 to 1975.


While Red, Hot & Blue takes center stage in Doylestown this summer, the Museum's New Hope location features the permanent exhibition Creative Bucks County: A Celebration of Art and Artists, an interactive, multimedia exhibition with a distinctly theatrical focus, highlighting the achievements of the many distinguished writers, composers and playwrights who have lived and worked in Bucks County. Among them are lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, and playwrights George Kaufman and Moss Hart.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.