Broadway Musicals Show by Show, 5th ed.
By Stanley Green. Revised and updated by Kay Green.
Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 1996. 386p. illus. index. $16.95. ISBN 0-7935-7750-0.
This book is a chronological encyclopedia of important musicals, from The Black Crook of 1866 to Rent. Each musical receives about a page worth of information, including basic production details (songwriters, directors, casts, etc.), songs lists (usually partial), New York run, a slightly opinionated synopsis/history, people who replaced important cast members, and original cast album publisher, if any. Sometimes, in the case of a theme musical (e.g., musicals based on comic strips), a list of other productions within that theme is provided--often including musicals that were not listed in the book. In general, the more important a musical, the longer the entry. Successful revivals are not re-synopsized but are listed with their production information. There are indexes of shows, composers/lyriciss, librettists, directors, choreographers, original major cast members, and theatres.
Broadway Musicals is an interesting and useful book, but one that is flawed in several ways. On the positive side, it provides information about many mostly forgotten musicals and musical performers, successful in their heyday but sadly neglected now. Stanley Green's original text has a certain amount of dry humor that makes the entries fun to read; for example, in describing the Al Jolson vehicle Sinbad, he mentions that "All the Jolson entertainments were presented by the Messrs. Shubert, directed by J. C. Huffman, [and] had easily ignored books by Harold Attridge...." He also throws in interesting trivia tidbits (e.g., of the musical Li'l Abner, he notes that Al Capp "ironically would later adopt some of the views the show derided"). The black-and-white pictures are small but numerous and add value to the book as windows onto vanished eras and lost shows. I found the information about who replaced whom quite useful; sometimes Green lists as many as five or six replacements for a part. He also lists the individuals who took major parts in touring companies, and provides some information on important revivals, London casts, movie versions, and TV presentations.
On the negative side, the book was very poorly edited; typos abound, with occasional howlers (e.g., a song is described as "souring" instead of "soaring"). Actually, these are weird typos, since one wouldn't normally type "souring" for "soaring," "seen" for "soon," etc; it looks like either someone with little brain and poor sight transcribed this book, or a hard copy of the 4th edition material was subjected to a scanner with a weak optical character recognition program. (I suspect the latter.) In either case, why didn't anyone bother to proofread the result afterwards?
Other problems: in the entry for Passion, the phrase "No songs are listed in the program" appears in the "Songs" category; looks like someone neglected to patch all the holes. New material by Kay Green was inserted in a different typeface. Also, Kay Green's contributions are workmanlike and have none of her husband's flair. Some choices for inclusion and exclusion are questionable; for example, why list Pacific Overtures but not Anyone Can Whistle, Merrily We Roll Along, or Assassins? If The Golden Apple, a critical success but commercial flop, can be listed, then where is Mack & Mabel, considered to be Jerry Herman's best score and surely of more importance than such deservedly forgotten popular shows as They're Playing Our Song, or the ALW floppola Aspects of Love?
Things I missed in the book include consistent mentions of awards and "live" cross-references--sometimes musicals that are chronicled elsewhere in the book have a cross-reference page number listed, other times not. Also, one wishes the song lists had been complete, since usually only six or seven tunes are listed. Hell, one wishes the musical lists were longer; I mean, it's easy enough to find information on major musicals, but the lesser ones deserve chronicling as well. Finally, more contemporary critical reaction would have been nice, to give some context to the importance of these shows.
Despite its problems, this is a useful overview of major musicals that should answer the majority of questions one would have for a book like this. It's not the Ganzl, but it's a good cheap alternative. I hope there will be a 6th edition--and that the publisher spends a little money on a proofreader!
Review copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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