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Surfacing the Caribbean: Black Broadway and Mock Transnational Performance

Surfacing the Caribbean: Black Broadway and Mock Transnational Performance

Chapter:
(p.132) Four Surfacing the Caribbean: Black Broadway and Mock Transnational Performance
Source:
Stolen Time
Author(s):
Shane Vogel
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226568584.003.0004

Chapter 4 explores musical theater’s response to the calypso craze, reconstructing the production history of the musical Jamaica (1957) within the context of other Broadway Caribbeana such as House of Flowers (1954) and Carib Song (1945). Jamaica, a folk musical designed to capitalize on the calypso craze, was originally crafted as a vehicle for performer Harry Belafonte. But when the singer dropped out of the production months before opening night, the script was hastily retooled and producers turned to Lena Horne to replace him. This chapter considers the unexpected effects and rerouted associations occasioned by this singular act of (mis)casting. Jamaica was conceived as a sharp political satire that intended to use the form of the “calypso musical” to parody postwar consumerism and the commercialization of the calypso craze (of which Jamaica itself was ostensibly a part). A socialist fable told through a musical-comedy love plot, it depicts what happens when an unscrupulous Harlem businessman introduces capitalism to a small, self-sustaining fishing village. Jamaica parodied the colonial system, Caribbean tourist economies, and the ideological struggles that subtended a cold war that was never very cold.

Keywords:   musical theater, Jamaica, House of Flowers, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, commercialization, consumerism, cold war

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