It's a Hit! The Back Stage Book of Longest-Running Broadway Shows, 1884 to the Present

By David Sheward

New York: Back Stage Books/Watson-Guptill, 1994. 368p. illus. index. $21.95. ISBN 0-8230-7636-9.


From Adonis (1884) to Jelly's Last Jam (1992), and also including the longest-running off-Broadway productions, this book covers every show--musical, revue, and straight play--that ran for at least 500 performances. Each show entry is substantial and includes basic information such as creators, cast, and date opened; several paragraphs of summary and history; some information about the creative personnel; and later projects related to the production, such as movie versions. The entries on off-Broadway productions tend to be shorter than those for Broadway shows. The book has many sharp and gorgeous black-and-white pictures depicting scenes from the shows or occasional backstage moments. A short preface describes the rationale behind the book. Useful appendixes include Pulitzer Prize-winners for drama, Tony award winners, and Drama Critics Circle awards. There is also a substantial bibliography.


A decent book, though one wishes it hadn't used "The Present" in the subtitle, as it is, of course, out of date now and could be misleading to casual readers. But it's clean--the only typo I found was Cady "Hoffman" instead of Huffman--and provides a considerable amount of often hard-to-find information. It does falter at times, most notably in what it says about musicals. Musical plot summaries range from good to feeble. For example, the idiots who put together the so-called booklet for the CD I Love My Wife didn't bother to provide either a plot summary or information on which actors played which roles. While It's a Hit! rectifies the latter problem nicely, its plot summary is too skimpy to clarify many questions one would have about that show and how its songs fit into the plot. Speaking of songs, a serious lapse is that few musical entries even mention song titles from the show, let alone provide complete song lists. A check of the entries for Fiorello!, Annie, Sweeney Todd, and Hello, Dolly!, for example, finds not a single song title mentioned, which seems odd, especially given the popularity of "Tomorrow" and "Hello, Dolly." In the Tony Award appendix, the only awards mentioned for any shows are Best Play/Musical and awards given to actors, omitting the crucial Best Book and Best Score.


This book is most valuable for the history it provides about all the shows it lists. Someone interested in the details of straight plays will find it of more overall use than a reader looking for details about musicals, though it has its uses for someone interested in then-popular, now-neglected shows (e.g., Raisin, Shenandoah) that were way too successful to be mentioned in Not Since Carrie but rarely get mentioned in more general books about musicals.

Review copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved

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