I’m an historian by training and I’ve been addicted to musicals since childhood. Not surprisingly, I have a special love for musicals and show tunes referencing historical themes. A few of my favorites: the opening of Japan to Western trade in “Four Black Dragons,” Pacific Overtures; business monopolies and Social Darwinism in “What a Remarkable Age This Is,” Titanic; disputes in western land use in “The Farmer and the Cowman,” Oklahoma!; national marketing in “Rock Island,” The Music Man; and, of course, the entire score of 1776.
Eventually, I managed to combine my two obsessions in The Broadway Musical Quiz Book. While the subject matter is geared towards die-hard fans, it’s also an anecdotal history of Broadway, so readers can learn to tell Jerome Kern from Jerome Robbins. Teachers of the dramatic arts could use the book with their classes on musical theatre history, both in surveying the development of the musical and in studying key figures.
But what about social studies teachers? There’s a specific quiz on U.S. history, one devoted entirely to 1776, and questions on English and French history as well. Some examples:
1. True or false: Les Misérables is set during the French Revolution.
2. How many characters in Ragtime were based on real people?
3. Which song lyric refers to the U.S. diplomatic policy of improving relations with Latin America?
C. “What’s New, Buenos Aires?”
D. “The Men Who Run the Country”
E. “How Can You Tell An American?”
The answers are: 1. False, it’s set in 1815-1832. 2. D–There are twelve, ranging from Booker T. Washington to Henry Ford. 3. B–“Conga!” from Wonderful Town references the “Good Neighbor Policy.”
Laura Frankos is the author of The Broadway Musical Quiz Book, published by Applause Books. She writes the Great White Wayback Machine column on Talkin’ Broadway (talkinbroadway.com/gwwm).