Book Review: From Backpacks to Broadway: Children’s Experiences in Musical Theatre

Jun 23rd, 2020 | Category: Book Reviews
By Annette VanAken

From Backpacks to Broadway: Children’s Experiences in Musical Theatre

by Rajan, R.S.

2017, Rowman & Littlefield

Isbn 1610485629, 9781610485623

      From the moment Rekha Rajan begins the book From Backpacks to Broadway: Children’s Experiences in Musical Theatre, with the prologue to the end of the book, her enthusiasm about musical theater and how it impacts the young performer can be felt. The reader is hooked and understanding is deepened of how the musical theater experiences support the growth and learning of children who participate in them. This book is a valuable gem which provides personal reflections based on the author’s own musical theater experiences, as she explores the various social, emotional, cognitive, and physical demands these experiences bring to the young thespian. Using direct quotes and paraphrased narratives, the author’s goal is to give a voice to the young people who share their perspectives and how they value participating and performing in musical theater.

      Currently, Rekha Rajan Ed.D. is a visiting associate professor of Research at Concordia University Chicago. Her expertise is in arts education, program evaluation, and arts assessment. The author’s unique insight and perspective are further supported by her wealth of personal and professional education in musical theater. Rajan’s background as a performer helps her focus on various aspects of musical theater that a novice may miss, while her knowledge of young children and education, coupled with observation and evaluation expertise, supports her articulation of musical theater as a phenomenon experienced by young children.

      The book shares the author’s phenomenographic research, broken down into distinctly defined parts. Following the background and definition of musical theater, the author presents a framework from which she examines the children’s perception on the personal, social, and artistic learning they experienced. In the proceeding chapters these experiences are examined and reflected on within three different environments: school-based musical theater, community musical theater, and professional musical theater. Each chapter clearly articulates the process the young performer navigates, from auditions, rehearsals, and performance, to post-show perspectives. All this is delivered within a theoretical framework and focuses on the author’s observations, and the children’s own words. While reading the author’s observations and the voice of the young performer a deeper understanding of how each component of the process affects them. Rather than tell the reader about these experiences, Rajan furnishes examples of the conversations which allows you to hear the children’s motivation in their own words. In the final chapter of the book, based on the children’s perspective, Rajan discusses the commonalities and differences between the environments and how they support learning through participation.

      The essential component making this a unique book on children’s musical theater is its concentration of the children’s perception of their experience. It makes it unequivocally understood how musical theater can inspire young artists, developing their sense of self within social, personal, and artistic domains. Through this delightful collection of varied musical-theater experiences, Rajan is able to open up the world of musical theater. Whether you are a novice or expert individual working with young children in musical theater, you cannot help but want to get ‘into the act’ and reap the rewards of being a part of this experience. LEJ