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Theatre History Podcast # 2

Like a Boss: 1940s Musicals and the “Boss Lady” with Maya Cantu



One of the main reasons that theatre's so thrilling and vital is that, unlike movies or TV shows, it involves a live performance that happens right before our eyes. However, that same quality also makes it almost impossible to recapture that live experience, and it can make studying the history of the theatre difficult. 

This podcast will try to help listeners understand and learn more about theatre history across a myriad of time periods and cultures. It features interviews with academics, artists, and others who are working to rediscover forgotten stories from the theatrical past and to create new art and scholarship from them. 

vintage photo of two actors on stage
Nancy Walker as Hildy Esterhazy and Cris Alexander as Chip in On the Town, 1944. Via the New York Public Library’s Billy Rose Theatre Division.

In this episode, Maya Cantu discusses how the musicals of the 1940s saw the emergence of a new figure: the “boss lady.” She explains how characters like Liza Elliott from Lady in the Dark and Hildy Esterhazy from On the Town came to embody the sense that, at least during World War II, women were taking on roles that allowed them to be strong and independent. However, when the war ended there was a reaction against these boss ladies, as men returning from the war sought to reassert their patriarchal privileges. Maya is a member of the drama faculty at Bennington College and the Dramaturgical Advisor for the Mint Theatre Company.

vintage photo of an actress
Gertrude Lawrence as Liza Elliott in Lady in the Dark, 1941. Via the Museum of the City of New York.


You can subscribe to this series via Apple iTunes or RSS Feed or just click on the link below to listen:

Thoughts from the curator

This podcast aims to introduce listeners to the artists, scholars, and archivists who are working to bring the history of performance to life. We hope that, by listening to this show, you’ll learn about exciting new performances, fascinating books, and valuable repositories of knowledge, all of which will help you better understand theatre’s history.

Theatre History Podcast


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