Broadway: The American Musical Updated
By Ellis Nassour
The lavishly illustrated Broadway: The American Musical [Applause Books; 498 pages, Updated edition; softbound, Show chronology; Bibliography; Theatre Districk maps 1928/2010; Index; Foreword by Julie Andrews; SRP $35], co-authored by Michael Kantor and NYU professor/theater historian Laurence Maslon and based on Kantor’s 2004 documentary [originally a companion to the six-part PBS series] is the first comprehensive history of the musical, from its early 20th Century roots and into the new millennium.
In addition to the six chapters covering 1893 – 2009, what makes the book a valued collectible is the treasure trove of photographs [many oversized and double-truck size], poster art, vintage Playbills, sheet-music covers, lyrics, scene design, production and rehearsal shots, excerpts from scripts, bios, even caricatures.
Just as the PBS series did [hopefully, the network will repeat it soon], the book, weighing in excess of five pounds, brings alive the epic story of musical theater and its inextricable link to 20th and 21st-Century American life through portraits of the creative artists on and off stage who have defined theater.
When Florenz Ziegfeld arrived New York in 1893 to find acts for the Chicago World’s Fair, Broadway and 42nd Street was no one’s idea of "the crossroads of the world." In fact, there were no theatres North of the intersection. In the famed tradition of Build-it-and-they will come, with the New Amsterdam Ziggy found the magic formula: music, spectacle and sex appeal. By 1913, his Follies had become an amalgamation of everything that was happening in America.
In addition to introducing such stars as comics Weber and Fields, Fanny Brice and W.C. Fields, Ziggy integrated Broadway long before it was socially fashionable by introducing dancer Bert Williams.
Peppered throughout B:TAM are such historical moments such as Gershwin’s visit to Folly Island, SC, where he began to compose Porgy and Bess; the decline of operetta and revues and the introduction of book shows that touched on social issues, such as Show Boat, South Pacific, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story; and as the book reaches the latter part of the 20th Century, the impact of Herman, Sondheim, and Lloyd Webber..
Sidebars highlight the stars, shows, composers [Sondheim on Kern, Hart on Rodgers], and tunes that made the musical great; original cast albums; and many lesser known shows. Among the spotlighted artists are the Astaires, Will Rogers, Brice, Fields, Bea Lillie, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Ethel Waters, Alfred Drake, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Gwen Verdon, Barbara Cook, Zero Mostel, Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, and Bernadette Peters.
There’s a discussion with Rodger and Hammerstein, articles on Berlin, Porter, Kaufman and Hart. Cameron Mackintosh writes on producing; Mel Brooks on musical comedy; Graceiela Daniele on Fosse; Hal Prince on Follies.
Broadway: The American Musical is still available in a DVD boxed-set [PBS/Paramount Home Entertainment; six hours; SRP $50] and as a five-CD package [Sony/Columbia Masterworks; SRP $60].