Books on Musical Theatre History

August 23rd, 2018

Glen Berger: The Song Of Spiderman

As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theatre history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to co-write the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together-along with U2’s Bono and Edge-they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fuelled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.

But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety.

Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humour.

 

Ted Chapin: Everything Was Possible – The Birth of the Musical Follies

In 1971, college student Ted Chapin found himself front row center as a production assistant at the creation of one of the greatest Broadway musicals, Follies . Needing college credit to graduate on time, he kept a journal of everything he saw and heard and thus was able to document in unprecedented detail how a musical is actually created.

Now, more than thirty years later, he has fashioned an extraordinary chronicle. Follies was created by Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince, Michael Bennett, and James Goldman giants in the evolution of the Broadway musical and geniuses at the top of their game. Everything Was Possible takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride, from the uncertainties of casting to drama-filled rehearsals, from the care and feeding of one-time movie and television stars to the pressures of a Boston tryout to the exhilaration of opening night on Broadway.

Foreword by long-time NY critic Frank Rich.

 

William A. Everett & Paul R. Laird: The Cambridge Companion to the Musical

The expanded and updated third edition of this acclaimed Companion provides an accessible, broadly based survey of one of the liveliest and most popular forms of musical performance. It ranges from the American musical of the nineteenth century to the most recent productions on Broadway, in London’s West End, and many other venues, and includes key information on singers, audiences, critical reception, and traditions. Contributors approach the subject from a wide variety of perspectives, including historical concerns, artistic aspects, important trends, attention to various genres, the importance of stars, the influence of race, the various disciplines of theatrical production, the musical in varied media, and changes in technology. Chapters related to the contemporary musical have been updated, and two new chapters cover the television musical and the British musical since 1970. Carefully organised and highly readable, it will be welcomed by enthusiasts, students, and scholars alike.

 

Peter Filichia: Broadway Musicals – The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season – 1959 to 2009

When Evita opened on Broadway during the 1979-1980 season, it was (as one of its songs said) “High Flying Adored.” But in the 1970-71 season, the producers of Lolita, My Love saw their show (as one of its songs said) “Going, Gone, Gone” after its torturous Philadelphia and Boston tryouts. It didn’t even try to brave Broadway, although the bookwriter-lyricist of My Fair Lady had written it. It happens every season. Broadway has one, two, or a few hit musicals, but many, many more flops. Here’s a look at the extreme cases from each season of the past half-century. The musicals that everyone knew would be hits The Sound of Music, The Phantom of the Opera, The Producers and were. The tuners that sounded terrible from the moment they were announced Via Galactica, The Civil War, Lestat and turned out to be even worse than anyone expected. The shows that were destined to succeed Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Merrily We Roll Along but didn’t. The ones that didn’t have a chance Man of La Mancha, 1776, Grease but went on to household-name status. Yes, Broadway is the oldest established permanent non-floating crap game in New York, and Peter Filichia takes a look at 100 shows that met either the most glorious or the most ignominious fates.

 

Robert Gordon & Olaf Jubin (Editors): The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical

The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical provides a comprehensive academic survey of British musical theatre offering both a historical account of the musical’s development from 1728 and a range of in-depth critical analyses of the unique forms and features of British musicals, which explore the aesthetic values and sociocultural meanings of a tradition that initially gave rise to the American musical and later challenged its modern pre-eminence. After a consideration of how John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) created a prototype for eighteenth-century ballad opera, the book focuses on the use of song in early nineteenth century theatre, followed by a sociocultural analysis of the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan; it then examines Edwardian and interwar musical comedies and revues as well as the impact of Rodgers and Hammerstein on the West End, before analysing the new forms of the postwar British musical from The Boy Friend (1953) to Oliver! (1960). One section of the book examines the contributions of key twentieth century figures including Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber, director Joan Littlewood and producer Cameron Macintosh, while a number of essays discuss both mainstream and alternative musicals of the 1960s and 1970s and the influence of the pop industry on the creation of concept recordings such as Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) and Les Misérables (1980). There is a consideration of “jukebox” musicals such as Mamma Mia! (1999), while essays on overtly political shows such as Billy Elliot (2005) are complemented by those on experimental musicals like Jerry Springer: the Opera (2003) and London Road (2011) and on the burgeoning of Black and Asian British musicals in both the West End and subsidized venues. The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical demonstrates not only the unique qualities of British musical theatre but also the vitality and variety of British musicals today.

 

Laurence Maslon: Broadway to Main Street: How Show Tunes Enchanted America

The music of Broadway is one of America’s most unique and popular calling cards. In Broadway to Main Street: How Show Tunes Enchanted America, author Laurence Maslon tells the story of how the most beloved songs of the American Musical Theater made their way from the Theater District to living rooms across the country.

The crossroads where the music of Broadway meets popular culture is an expansive and pervasive juncture throughout most of the twentieth century―from sheet music to radio broadcasts to popular and original cast recordings―and continues to influence culture today through television, streaming, and the Internet. The original Broadway cast album―from the 78 rpm recording of Oklahoma! to the digital download of Hamilton―is one of the most successful, yet undervalued, genres in the history of popular recording. The challenge of capturing musical narrative with limited technology inspired the imagination of both the recording industry and millions of listeners: between 1949 and 1969, fifteen different original cast albums hit number one on the popular music charts, ultimately tallying more weeks at number one than all of the albums by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles combined. The history of Broadway music is also the history of American popular music; the technological, commercial, and marketing forces of communications and media over the last century were inextricably bound up in the enterprise of bringing the musical gems of New York’s Theater District to living rooms along Main Streets across the nation.

The story of this commercial and emotional phenomenon is told here in fullfrom the imprimatur of sheet music from Broadway in the early 20th century to the renaissance of Broadway music in the digital age, folding in the immense impact of show music on American culture and in the context of the recording industry, popular tastes, and our shared national identity. A book which connects cherished cultural artifacts to the emotional narratives at the core of American popular music, Broadway to Main Street: How Show Tunes Enchanted America is an ideal companion for all fans of American Musical Theater and popular music.

 

Ethan Mordden: Make Believe – The Broadway Musical in the 1920’s

The 1920s represented a turning point in the history of the Broadway musical, breaking with the vaudeville traditions of the early twentieth century to anticipate the more complex, sophisticated musicals of today. Composers Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and their contemporaries revitalized the musical with the sound of jazz and other new influences. Productions became more elaborate, with dazzling sets, tumultuous choreography, and staging tricks, all woven into tightly constructed story lines. These dramatic changes of the 1920s ushered in the “golden age” of the American musical theater.

Ethan Mordden captures the excitement and the atmosphere of Broadway during the 1920s in Make Believe. In captivating, lively prose, Mordden describes in superb detail the stars, the songs, the jokes―the sheer fun of this era. Here are shows great, interesting, or even bizarre― Sally , The Student Prince, Rose-Marie, Lady, Be Good!, No, No, Nannette, Rainbow, Good News!, Ziegfeld Follies, The “Coconuts”, The 5 Oclock Girl, Blossom Time, Whoopee. Early on, the charisma of entertainers such as the bragging Al Jolson (“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”), the bewitching Marilyn Miller, the madly prancing Eddie Cantor, the unpredictable Gertrude Lawrence, and the indescribable Marx Brothers were the essential element in a hit musical. But, as Mordden demonstrates, the stars lost power and the authors took control, as shows like Desert Song , Peggy-Ann, Strike Up the Band, and Sweet Adeline reinvented the old forms. The musical became more “adult,” too, baiting the censor in the lyrics of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, and B. G. DeSylva. And Broadway became more racially integrated, with “blackface” acts dying out while all-black musicals such as Shuffle Along and the Blackbirds shows enjoyed mainstream success.

Make Believe reaches its climax with Mordden’s deep look at Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1927 masterpiece, Show Boat. With its intricate story line spanning four decades, its gala interracial cast, its stunning physical production, its powerful score including “Ol’ Man River,” “Bill,” “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “Life on the Wicked Stage,” and “Why Do I Love You?,” Show Boat was the first American musical universally hailed as a classic. Fusing the decade’s developments into one epic show, Kern and Hammerstein created something at once timeless and contemporary, the ultimate twenties show but, as producer Florenz Ziegfeld called it on the posters, “the all American musical comedy.”

 

Ethan Mordden: Sing for Your Supper – The Broadway Musical in the 1930s

In the 1930s, Broadway’s lights still burned brightly. Ethan Mordden completes his history of the Broadway musical by taking a look at this forgotten era. Shows like Anything Goes brought the glitter of Cole Porter and Merman’s brass to the public. Innovations in dance were pioneered by Balanchine and others. Scenic advancements made Astaire’s The Band Wagon move across the stage in novel ways. Gershwin’s revolutionary Porgy and Bess entered the canon of American Classics. And The Cradle Will Rock and Johnny Johnson took the American political temperature.

With his trademark wit and style, Ethan Mordden shines the spotlight on Broadway’s forgotten decade.

 

Ethan Mordden: Beautiful Mornin’ – The Broadway Musical in the 1940’s

‘Music and girls are the soul of musical comedy,’ one critic wrote, early in the 1940s. But this was the age that wanted more than melody and kickline form its musical shows. The form had been running on empty for too long, as a formula for the assembly of spare parts―star comics, generic loves songs, rumba dancers, Ethel Merman. If Rodgers and Hammerstein hadn’t existed, Broadway would have had to invent them; and Oklahoma! and Carousel came along just in time to announce the New Formula for Writing Musicals: Don’t have a formula.

Instead, start with strong characters and atmosphere: Oklahoma!’s murderous romantic triangle set against a frontier society that has to learn what democracy is in order to deserve it; or Carousel’s dysfunctional family seen in the context of class and gender war.

With the vitality and occasionally outrageous humour that Ethan Mordden’s readers take for granted, the author ranges through the decade’s classics―Pal Joey, Lady in the Dark, On the Town, Annie Get Your Gun, Finian’s Rainbow, Brigadoon, Kiss Me, Kate, South Pacific. He also covers illuminating trivia―the spy thriller The Lady Comes Across, whose star got so into her role that she suffered paranoid hallucinations and had to be hospitalized; the smutty Follow the Girls, damned as ‘burlesque with a playbill’ yet closing as the longest-run musical in Broadway history; Lute Song, in which Mary Martin and Nancy Reagan were Chinese; and the first ‘concept’ musicals, Allegro and Love Life. Amid the fun, something revolutionary occurs. The 1920s created the musical and the 1930s gave it politics. In the 1940s, it found its soul.

 

Ethan Mordden: Coming Up Roses – The Broadway Musical in the 1950s

The 1950s saw an explosion in the American musical theater. The Broadway show, catapulted into the limelight in the 20s and solidified during the 40s thanks to Rodgers and Hammerstein, now entered its most revolutionary phase, brashly redefining itself and forging a new kind of storytelling. In Coming Up Roses: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s, Ethan Mordden gives us a guided tour of this rich decade.
With loving detail, Mordden highlights the shift in Broadway from shows that were mere star vehicles, showcasing a big-name talent, to the bolder stories, stuffed with character and atmosphere. During this period, subject matter became more intricate, even controversial, and plots more human and complex; Mordden demonstrates how, in response, musical conventions were polished, writing became more finely crafted, and dance became truly indispensable. Along the way we meet the key players: such greats as Ethel Merman, George Abbott, Jerome Robbins, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, and many others. We get the backstage scoop on why Guys and Dolls is so well-made, why West Side Story is so timeless, why The King and I and Gypsy pushed the envelope, and why no one ever talks about Ankles Aweigh. All this is peppered with a dash of industry gossip―the directorial struggles, last-minute script rewrites and cast replacements, the power of the poster listings―that made Broadway so nerve-wrackingly vibrant.
This passionate and informed study illuminates a crucial period in American musical theater and shows us the origins of many of the musicals recently revived to huge success on Broadway.

 

Ethan Mordden: Open a New Window – The Broadway Musical in the 1960s

In the 1960s, the Broadway musical underwent a revolution. What was once a form of entertainment characterized by sentimental standards, such as Camelot and Hello, Dolly! became one of brilliant and bittersweet masterpieces, such as Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof.
In Open a New Window, Mordden continues his history of the Broadway musical with the decade that bridged the gap between the fanciful shows of the fifties, such as Call Me, Madam, and the sophisticated fare of the seventies, including A Little Night Music and Follies. Here in brilliant detail are the decade and the people that transformed the Broadway musical–from the writer who knows it best.

 

Ethan Mordden: One More Kiss – The Broadway Musical in the 1970s

Ethan Mordden’s new entry in his history of the Broadway musical looks at an era that brought us not only the gritty reality of A Chorus Line and the brilliantly bittersweet works of Stephen Sondheim, but also the nostalgic crowd-pleasers No, No, Nanette and Annie. It was a time when Broadway both looked to its past, but also to its future and allowed reality to enter.
Mordden writes of the last time we ever saw true greatness on the stage of the Broadway musical.

 

Ethan Mordden: The Happiest Corpse I’ve Ever Seen – Twenty-five Years of the Broadway Musical

For Ethan Mordden, the closing night of the hit musical, 42nd St. sounded the death knell of the art form of the Broadway musical. After that, big orchestras, real voices, recognizable books and intelligent lyrics went out the window in favor of cats, helicopters, yodeling Frenchmen, and the roof of the Paris Opera.
Mordden takes us through the aftermath of the days of the great Broadway musical. From the long-running Cats to Miss Saigon, Phantom, and Les Miserables, to gems like The Producers, he is unsparing in his look at the remains of the day. Not content to scold the shows’ creators, Mordden takes on the critics, too, splaying their bodies across the Great White Way like Sweeney Todd giving a close shave. Once more, it’s “curtain going up,” but Mordden is not applauding.

 

Ethan Mordden: Anything Goes – A History of American Musical Theatre

Ethan Mordden has been hailed as “a sharp-eared listener and a discerning critic,” by Opera News, which compares his books to “dinner with a knowledgeable, garrulous companion.” The “preeminent historian of the American musical” (New York Times), he “brings boundless energy and enthusiasm buttressed by an arsenal of smart anecdotes” (Wall Street Journal). Now Mordden offers an entirely fresh and infectiously delightful history of American musical theatre.

Anything Goes stages a grand revue of the musical from the 1920s through the 1970s, narrated in Mordden’s famously witty, scholarly, and conversational style. He peers with us over Stephen Sondheim’s shoulder as he composes at the piano. He places us in a bare rehearsal room as the cast of Oklahoma! changes history by psychoanalyzing the plot in the greatest of the musical’s many Dream Ballets. And he gives us tickets for orchestra seats on opening night-raising the curtain on the pleasures of Victor Herbert’s The Red Mill and the thrill of Porgy and Bess. Mordden examines the music, of course, but also more neglected elements. Dance was once considered as crucial as song; he follows it from the nineteenth century’s zany hoofing to tap “combinations” of the 1920s, from the injection of ballet and modern dance in the 1930s and ’40s to the innovations of Bob Fosse. He also explores the changing structure of musical comedy and operetta, and the evolution of the role of the star. Fred Stone, the avuncular Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, seldom varied his acting from part to part; but the versatile Ethel Merman turned the headlining role inside out in Gypsy, playing a character who was selfish, fierce, and destructive.

From “ballad opera” to burlesque, from Fiddler on the Roof to Rent, the history and lore of the musical unfolds here in a performance worthy of a standing ovation.

 

Ethan Mordden: Rodgers & Hammerstein

A celebration of the legendary partnership of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, filled with original performance photographs, set and costume designs and lively anecdotes. The book covers the team’s complete works, including Oklahoma, South Pacific and The Sound of Music.

 

 

 

Larry Stempel: Showtime – A History of the Broadway Musical Theater

Showtime brings the history of Broadway musicals to life in a narrative as engaging as the subject itself. Beginning with the scandalous Astor Place Opera House riot of 1849, Larry Stempel traces the growth of musicals from minstrel shows and burlesques, through the golden age of Show Boat and Oklahoma!, to such groundbreaking works as Company and Rent.
Stempel describes the Broadway stage with vivid accounts of the performers drawn to it, and detailed portraits of the creators who wrote the music, lyrics, and stories for its shows, both beloved and less well known. But Stempel travels outside the theater doors as well, to illuminate the wider world of musical theater as a living genre shaped by the forces of American history and culture. He reveals not only how musicals entertain their audiences but also how they serve as barometers of social concerns and bearers of cultural values.
Showtime is the culmination of decades of painstaking research on a genre whose forms have changed over the course of two centuries. In covering the expansive subject before him, Stempel combines original research-including a kaleidoscope of primary sources and archival holdings-with deft and insightful analysis. The result is nothing short of the most comprehensive, authoritative history of the Broadway musical yet published.

 

Joseph P. Swain: The Broadway Musical – A Critical and Musical Survey

This new edition of Swain’s classic award-winning text reveals how a musical drama achieves plot movement, character development and conflict through strategic placement of music in twenty impressive productions. Included is the latest research and viewpoints of contemporary critics, highlighting the various styles of important composers including Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Jerry Bock, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. This new edition also includes a previously unpublished essay on Les Misérables. An expanded epilogue offers insight into the phenomena behind Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera, mega-musicals which seemingly popularized the Broadway tradition. For people interested in Broadway musicals, theater, popular music, American music, opera and/or twentieth century music.

 

Adrian Wright: A Tanner’s Worth Of Tune – Rediscovering the post-war British Musical

A Tanner’s Worth of Tune is the first book to be written on the post-war British musical, and the first major assessment of the British musical for a quarter of a century, reviving interest in a vast archive of musicals that have been dismissed to the footnotes of theatrical history. This timely reappraisal of the genre and its social background, before the “international” British musicals began appearing in the 1970s, argues for a radical understanding of the shows and their writers, and a rethinking of our attitude towards them.
The musical plays of Ivor Novello and Noel Coward – both pre- and post-war – are discussed in detail, as are the two composers who came to dominate the 1950s, Sandy Wilson and Julian Slade, and the little school of plein air musicals that threaded through that decade. The book brings together ‘adopted’ British musicals, discusses the rise and fall of the British “verismo” and the biomusical, whether of Dr Crippen or the Rector of Stiffkey, finally charting the collapse of the British musical’s nationalism in the 1960s as witnessed by John Osborne and Lionel Bart. The book draws on Adrian Wright’s lifelong passion for British theatre music, its writers, composers, performers and craftsmen. Provocative, idiosyncratic and unfailingly entertaining, A Tanner’s Worth of Tune makes a compelling plea for a rediscovery of an era of pleasures which have too long been forgotten.
ADRIAN WRIGHT is the author of Foreign Country: The Life of L.P. Hartley [(1996), John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure (1998), The Innumerable Dance: The Life and Work of William Alwyn [2008] and the novel Maroon (2010). He lives in Norfolk, where he also runs Must Close Saturday Records, a company dedicated to British musical

 

Adrian Wright: Must Close Saturday: The Decline and Fall of the British Musical Flop

The ominous announcement “Must Close Saturday” too often heralded the demise of British musicals. Looking forward from the vantage point of Lionel Bart’s spectacularly successful Oliver! in 1960, Adrian Wright’s authoritative chronicle of the commercially unsuccessful British musical of the last half a century uncovers a wealth of fascinating material. In the wake of the resurgence that briefly blew through the British musical at the end of the 1950s with verismo works such as Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and Expresso Bongo, the British musical was shaken by Bart’s adaptation of Dickens, but was quickly left floundering in the face of constant critical complaint and financial failure. The first book to deal exclusively with British musical flops, Must Close Saturday presents a rolling panorama of the good, the bad and the ugly, reassessing their place in theatrical history. Wright reveals a consistent striving at invention, with subjects including the electric chair, the Holocaust, the Virgin Mary, social inequality and Trade Unionism, sexual problems and murder, as well as biographical treatments of Hollywood stars, French painters, tragic novelists, royalty, and the Rector of Stiffkey. Discursive and provoking, Must Close Saturday at last prises open the neglected history of the British musical flop up to 2016.

 

Adrian Wright: West End Broadway – The Golden Age of the American Musical in London

West End Broadway is the first book to deal specifically with the ‘Golden Age’ of American musicals in London. Here is a history and a re-evaluation not only of the British productions of Broadway’s most popular product but of the works themselves, beginning with a brief account of the origins of the genre and of the shows seen during World War II. The difficult conditions of war-torn Britain prepared the ground for changes that would come with peace. While Britain clung to tried formulas, a refreshing breeze was blowing in from the Atlantic, altering the nature of British theatre by sending New York’s commercially successful musicals to the West End. The wider relevance of this history is underscored, as is the fact that these works effectively imported American social history into the culture of a Britain coping with the aftermath of conflict. In London, critical reaction to Broadway musicals was often strikingly different from that awarded in New York, and Broadway success could result in West End failure, while off-Broadway shows struggled to gain hold in Britain.
West End Broadway discusses every American musical seen in London between 1945 and 1972. As the final works of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin made way for a new wave of writers and composers, the arrival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! was celebrated as a breakthrough, heralding a period that included important works by Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Robert Wright and George Forrest, Harold Rome, Frank Loesser, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, and the first stirrings of the next generation in Stephen Sondheim.
Offering a unique panoramic essay on British theatre of the Golden Age, West End Broadway is an authoritative, challenging and diverting contribution to an understanding of a forgotten aspect of the Broadway musical.

 

Craig Zadan: Sondheim & Co.

Sondheim & Co is the complete, behind-the-scenes story of the making of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals. Written with the full co-operation of Sondheim himself, it examines each of Sondheim’s masterpieces – including “West Side Story”, “Gypsy”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, “Company”, “Follies”, “A Little Night Music”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods” – as well as the other Sondheim productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in repertory, as revivals, as opera, on film, and on television. this account is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Sondheim and his associates.