Beyond the Glitz: Entertaining Reads About the World of Broadway
By: Ellis Nassour
How about some behind-the-scenes tell-all, and real tell-all. Most of it is quite candid; some of it, so candid you’ll be surprised.
Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater [Oxford University Press; 384 pages; SRP $40; brief Foreword by Elaine Paige; Illustrated with various-sized B&W photos; Index; sales benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS] is a compilation of in-depth interviews done by Eddie Shaprio from 2008-2013 with the crème de la crème of leading ladies of the Great White Way – 20 of them – and a theater maven’s dream come true.
Arts journalist Shaprio (co-author, The Actors Encyclopedia of Casting Directors, among others), in quite casual circumstances, get the ladies to talk. And do they! All receive a lengthy introduction in their chapters and a roster of roles. They tell tales, reveal the truth behind rivalry gossip, and speak quite boldly and frankly, offering – straight from the mare’s mouth – insights into their iconic shows, the hits and the flops, changes on Broadway over their careers, how they approach their craft, and, oh, yes, dishing on co-stars, directors, and producers (and giving a couple of them a well-deserved shellacking).
Among the legends and award winners are Laura Benanti, Betty Buckley, Carol Channing (reflecting on how she revisited the same role generation after generation, and its effects on her career), Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Judy Kaye, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone (she doesn’t hold back even when speaking about her insecurities; she also takes you behind the scenes, where things aren’t always as pleasant as you might think), Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera, Elaine Stritch (cantankerous, outspoken, utterly charming, even a bit humble), Leslie Uggams, Lillias White, and Karen Ziemba.
Chapters are presented by the age of the actress, which gives an interesting continuity to trends in the theater. Not surprisingly, some of the elder stateswomen expressed the opinion that today’s younger set aren’t dedicated enough.
Also in print:
Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre [Oxford University Press; SRP $30; No photos; 360 pages, 32-page discography, Index] by Ethan Mordden, often hailed as the "preeminent historian of the American musical." He approaches the age of musicals from the ’20s-’70s as a grand revue, writing in his famous scholarly and conversational (yet witty) style. He takes readers into the rarified world of composer/genius (and all-around nice guy) Sondheim as the master somehow relented and allowed Mordden to observe him composing at the piano; to the bare rehearsal room as the cast of the original Oklahoma! changes history by psychoanalyzing the plot in the greatest of the musical’s many Agnes DeMille "dream ballets"; and, among other fascinating moments, transports readers back to the opening night of Herbert’s The Red Mill and a visit with Porgy and Bess.
In the process, Mordden examines not only the music, but also the role of the star (such as Ethel Merman) and the evolution of dance through the ages all the way to Fosse’s ground-breaking innovations.
Backstage Pass to Broadway: True Tales from a Theatre Press Agent [Heliotrope Books; Trade Edition SRP $18, 192 pages; illustrated with unpublished photos from the author’s collection] by one of theater’s leading press agents, Susan L. Schulman, who takes us, as only an insider could, from producer meetings, through Shubert Alley, into stage doors, backstage, the dressing rooms of stars in hits and train wrecks, rehearsal, and onstage where magic is created: a glamorous world where there’s little glamour and lots of blood, sweat, and tears – not to mention shenanigans, one-upmanship, and back-stabbing.