Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Interview: Cary Ginell of CAREFULLY TAUGHT (BOOK) at

New book examines American history through musicals

Interview: Cary Ginell of CAREFULLY TAUGHT (BOOK) at

Since 2007, Cary Ginell's coverage of local high school and community theater have been presented in The Acorn through his regular stories and reviews, but now the Thousand Oaks resident is displaying his knowledge in a longer form with his new book, "Carefully Taught: American History Through Broadway Musicals," published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.

"I've always been fascinated by the confluence of theater and American history," Ginell said. "It started when I first saw the musical 'Ragtime,' which juxtaposes fictional characters with historical personages like Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington and Harry Houdini. It made me want to explore how American history has been presented in Broadway musicals, and so I ended up selecting 40 of these shows to profile in my book."

The musicals span American history from the earliest days of the Revolutionary War ("1776") to contemporary times ("Hair").

In spreading out his entries, Ginell was able to find a show to represent nearly every era in American history, tracking musicals like "Shenandoah," about a Southern family and their struggles during the Civil War, and "Bandstand," which told of GIs suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after their return home from World War II.

In addition to comparing the lives of famous Americans like Theodore Roosevelt ("Teddy and Alice") and Will Rogers ("The Will Rogers Follies") with their theatrical counterparts, Ginell discusses shows written about obscure Americans caught in dramatic circumstances, such as "Parade," which deals with Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman falsely accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old factory worker in 1913 Georgia, and "Floyd Collins," about an amateur spelunker who gets trapped while exploring a cave in 1925 Kentucky.

Then there was "Chicago," whose major characters, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, were based on two real-life murderers of the 1920s, Beulah May Annan and Belva Gaertner, whose crimes were turned into a cynical vaudeville revue in what is now the longest running revival in Broadway history.

All three of these shows examine the media circus that consumed each event, a facet of life that still resonates today.

Ginell's book not only examines Broadway classics like "Oklahoma!" (taking place during Oklahoma's impending statehood in 1908) and "Hamilton" (the life of Alexander Hamilton) but also more obscure works, such as "Fly Blackbird," a short-lived off-Broadway show about the civil rights movement, and "Baby Case," a New York Theatre Festival entry about the 1932 kidnapping of the infant child of aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Ginell's two-pronged approach is meant to not only broaden the horizons of theater fans and performers, but to also spark curiosity about the drama inherent in American history itself.

"You don't have to dream up characters and invent incidents in order to make for a compelling story," Ginell said. "America has its own rich history of real-life characters, both famous and unknown, with stories that almost write themselves."

Consider "Bye Bye Birdie," Broadway's response to the rock 'n' roll craze, which was triggered by Elvis Presley's real-life induction into the U.S. Army in 1958 and a calculated publicity stunt as Presley is bid farewell by a real-life WAC named Mary Davies.

Social issues such as racial prejudice pervade many of the entries in Ginell's book, such as in "The Scottsboro Boys," which dealt with a group of Black teenagers falsely accused of rape in 1931, and "Allegiance," based on actor George Takei's memories of Japanese incarcerations during World War II.

The book's title, "Carefully Taught," references a song in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 musical "South Pacific," which explains how racism is indoctrinated from birth, as sung by a young Marine lieutenant during World War II who balks at marrying a young Polynesian woman because of how they would inevitably be treated when he returned home to the U.S.

Ginell's book (his 14th on different topics in American music) was published in October and is available at amazon.com.



BORED TEACHERS Comedy Tour Comes To Thousand Oaks This Summer Photo
More than ever, teachers need an outlet to talk and laugh about what is really happening in the classroom. Bored Teachers Comedy Tour comes to the Fred Kavli Theatre on Thursday, July 6, 2023 at 8:00 pm.

Beloved Classic FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Plays The Bank Of America PAC In March Photo
The American Theatre Guild will present an innovative new production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. This production is part of the BROADWAY IN THOUSAND OAKS SERIES and will take the Bank of America Performing Arts Center stage March 9–12, 2023.

Tommy James & The Shondells to Play The Kavli Theatre in June Photo
Tommy James & The Shondells have sold over 100 million records worldwide and will bring all their hits to The Kavli Theatre on Friday, June 16th, 2023, at 8pm. Tickets go on sale this Friday, February 3rd at 10am.

ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD Honors Frank Sinatra at the Fred Kavli Theatre Photo
ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD honors the musical legacy of Frank Sinatra and his tremendous contribution to the Great American Songbook. A must-see show, fans can experience Frank and his music at the peak of his career.


From This Author - Cary Ginell


Review: A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY at Zephyr TheatreReview: A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY at Zephyr Theatre
January 30, 2023

Immersive 'stage reading' of Disney's account of his last days on earth is both frightening and hilarious.

Review: PROMISES, PROMISES at Lonny Chapman TheatreReview: PROMISES, PROMISES at Lonny Chapman Theatre
December 12, 2022

What did our critic think of PROMISES, PROMISES at Lonny Chapman Theatre? Excellent leads and good singing highlight this attractive show.

Interview: Cary Ginell of CAREFULLY TAUGHT (BOOK) atInterview: Cary Ginell of CAREFULLY TAUGHT (BOOK) at
December 5, 2022

Cary Ginell's insightful new book, 'Carefully Taught' looks at 40 musicals, both on Broadway and off, that deal with events and personages in American history. A fun read, educational and highly entertaining. Shows include '1776,' 'Hamilton,' 'Shenandoah,' 'Parade,' 'Hair,' 'Assassins,' and many more.

Review: 5-Star Theatricals' THE ADDAMS FAMILY at Kavli TheatreReview: 5-Star Theatricals' THE ADDAMS FAMILY at Kavli Theatre
October 16, 2022

With TV star Teri Hatcher ('Desperate Housewives,' 'Lois & Clark') leading the way, 5-Star Theatricals' production of 'The Addams Family' is a gag-filled laughfest, with great tunes, a cemetery full of puns, and even a wardrobe malfunction. It's real, and it's spectacular!

Interview: Jonalyn Saxer of NEWSIES at 5-Star TheatricalsInterview: Jonalyn Saxer of NEWSIES at 5-Star Theatricals
July 3, 2022

Jonalyn Saxer grew up in Oak Park dreaming of becoming a star on Broadway. After making her debut in 'Bullets Over Broadway,' Saxer has continued from one show to the next, shining with her superb dancing abilities and versatile singing and acting. This July, she returns to her home town to play the key role of Katherine Plumber in 5-Stat Theatricals' production of 'Newsies.'