The highbrow theater and opera director Peter Sellars once gave it as his opinion that there have been three great epochs in theatrical history: ancient Greek tragedy, Shakespearean drama, and twentieth-century American musical comedy. Not everyone will go along with his judgment, but I think it is safe to say that the American musical is now considered, at least among the more open-minded segments of the intelligentsia, to be one of our major contributions to world culture (along with jazz and the Hollywood movie). The ecstatic reception of the new South Pacific revival at Lincoln Center confirms me in my suspicion that Richard Rodgers, written off by the hoity-toity some thirty years ago as a facile middlebrow tunesmith, is now accepted as being a major composer, the equal perhaps of Verdi or Puccini, and that some of our musicals can easily hold their own with Tosca and Traviata.

One such is Gypsy,...

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