West Side Story and The Music Man: whiteness, immigration, and race in the US during the late 1950s | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1750-3159
  • E-ISSN: 1750-3167


and , the two biggest hits among Broadway musicals of the 195758 season, yield an odd sort of couple wildly mis-matched yet interconnected nonetheless. They opened within three months of one another, appearing as starkly opposed views of a shared nation. I offer here a side-by-side reading of these two shows, with a special focus on a cluster of intersecting themes, including the insidious interconnectedness of racism and nostalgia; the strategy of focusing on Jane or Joe Citizen (or the common man); the targeting of youth and teen culture; and a shared subtext of fear (even paranoia) about outsiders. Together, they provide a window on the complexity of America in the late 1950s on its diverse demographics and polarized politics, on the market segmentation of its myths, on the ways in which racism, even seemingly non-overt forms of racism, can join hands with nostalgia.


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