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Broadway Bodies

A Critical History of Conformity

Ryan Donovan

Publication Date - February 2023

ISBN: 9780197551080

336 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches


Broadway has body issues.

What is a Broadway Body? Broadway has long preserved the ideology of the "Broadway Body": the hyper-fit, exceptionally able, triple-threat performer who represents how Broadway musicals favor certain kinds of bodies. Casting is always a political act, situated within a power structure that gives preference to the Broadway Body.

In Broadway Bodies, author Ryan Donovan explores how ability, sexuality, and size intersect with gender, race, and ethnicity in casting and performance. To understand these intersectional relationships, he poses a series of questions: Why did A Chorus Line, a show that sought to individuate dancers, inevitably make dancers indistinguishable? How does the use of fat suits in musicals like Dreamgirls and Hairspray stigmatize fatness? What were the political implications of casting two straight actors as the gay couple in La Cage aux Folles in 1983? How did deaf actors change the sound of musicals in Deaf West's Broadway revivals? Whose bodies does Broadway cast and whose does it cast aside?

In answering these questions, Broadway Bodies tells a history of Broadway's inclusion of various forms of embodied difference while revealing its simultaneous ambivalence toward non-conforming bodies.


  • Establishes interdisciplinary approaches to Broadway casting and shows, including disability studies, fat studies, and LGBTQ+ studies
  • Offers a timely perspective on body politics and authentic casting
  • Features findings from previously untapped archival sources and interviews with key personnel

About the Author(s)

Ryan Donovan is Assistant Professor of Theater Studies at Duke University. He is author of Queer Approaches in Musical Theatre and co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Musical Theatre.


"Ryan Donovan's fascinating and groundbreaking book explores what Broadway musical theatre hides in plain sight: bodies on stage and the politics of casting some bodies and not others. Through impeccable historical research, probing interviews, incisive performance analysis, and vivid firsthand experience, Donovan offers a new history of Broadway musicals that shines a light on the industry's troubling and often shocking casting practices. This essential-reading volume unearths how size, ability, and sexuality delimit the 'Broadway body' and mask casting's misogyny, racism, ableism, and fat phobia." -- Stacy Wolf, Princeton University

"Ryan Donovan's book immediately shifts the conversation on how we talk about musical theatre. Broadway Bodies is deeply knowledgeable, politically astute, and highly readable. I loved the book's clarity and purpose—this is a must-read for theatre and performance scholars and for anyone who cares about American theatre." -- David Roman, University of Southern California

Table of Contents

    Part I: Broadway Bodies
    Introduction: The Broadway Body
    1. "I Saw What They Were Hiring": Casting and Recasting A Chorus Line

    Part II: Size
    2. Dreamgirls, Size, and the Body Politics of Padding
    3. "Must Be Heavyset": Casting Fat Women in Broadway Musicals

    Part III: Sexuality
    4. La Cage aux Folles and Playing Gay
    5. "Keeping It Gay" on The Great White Way

    Part IV: Ability
    6. Deaf West's Awakening of Broadway
    7. Musicals, Physical Difference, and Disability

    Epilogue: Recasting Broadway