Strife, Low Life and High Society

Ref: C2341772

A look at history through musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, Guys and Dolls, Silk Stockings, Chicago, Singin' in the Rain, Miss Saigon and others. The course will examine political, cultural and social issues that form the basis of the plots and how the historical contexts in which they were written have affected views of history portrayed in the shows themselves. We will also look at the history of musicals from their appearance in vaudeville/music hall in the 19th century through to the beginning of more serious musical theatre in the 1920s. We will also consider in particular the life and career of Cole Porter, whose background and lifestyle contrasted markedly with those of the mainly Jewish composers and writers behind some of the best-known musicals. With film clips and musical extracts.

Course aim

A look at some of the history behind musicals – the political, cultural and social issues that form the basis of the plots and also their historical contexts.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Describe the contribution to musicals in the 20th century by Jewish composers and writers from East European immigrant families
  • Identify how some musicals have changed minds about important historical and political issues
  • Give examples of musicals that considerably distorted the truth regarding historical events
  • Show how musicals have been used to highlight cultural misunderstandings and differences

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning

What else do I need to know?

  • Some method of taking notes

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information

Download full course information sheet

Strife, Low Life and High Society

Is this course right for me? Request more information

This course has been cancelled.


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you book. Please could we ask that you check the list below to ensure you meet our basic criteria:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2019
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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