TMTP’s newsletter, Overture, provides you with news about our programs, reviews of recent musical theater books and recordings, and interviews with TMTP artists and our growing circle of friends. To receive the newsletter, register for our e-newsletter and provide your preferred mailing address (optional).
IN PRINT: SHOW & TELL: THE NEW BOOK OF BROADWAY ANECDOTES
Play Santa! Musical theater historian Ken Bloom is my longtime friend and colleague—most notably, for our purposes, the co-founder with me of TMTP’s Harbinger Records—and I promise that his Show & Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes (Oxford University Press) is your perfect stocking stuffer for fellow theater fanatics. Nobody knows this terrain better, particularly with his coterie of insider chums helping to supply astonishing, side-splitting and sometimes touching lore spanning the years from The Black Crook (1866) to Hamilton (2015). But it’s one thing to collect stories and quite another to re-tell them with Ken’s signature breeziness. Let’s open the book randomly…to page 192 and see what we find: “There was a guy who, if he didn’t like a show, would just get up and walk out. As he continued to see shows, his patience grew increasingly short. When he went to see Her First Roman [starring Richard Kiley and Leslie Uggams], the overture began with the hitting of a gong. That’s when the guy picked himself up and left the theater. Other audience members may have wished they had done the same.”
IN PRINT: THEN AND NOW: A MEMOIR
I’ve been lucky enough to interview Barbara Cook twice. Each time I asked her, “When will you give us a book?” Finally, at the age of 88, the finest living interpreter of American theater songs has obliged, and Then and Now: A Memoir (HarperCollins) was worth the wait. Written with Tom Santopietro, it is unflinching. She chronicles her long, ultimately victorious battle with alcoholism and depression: problems that surfaced during her Broadway years but shadowed Cook even after she reinvented herself in the 1970s—the heir apparent to Mabel Mercer as our greatest cabaret singer. But my favorite thing about Cook’s memoir is how analytically she views her musicals. There are wonderful new insights about The Music Man, She Loves Me, Candide and the rest, and her observations about Leonard Bernstein, Oscar Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim reveal a deep understanding of their gifts. Like Mercer, she knows that it’s the lyric that drives the song, and that her work must be personal: “I put my life, everything that ever happened to me, the good and the bad, into [it]… . I believe that art that is authentic can be healing.” And how does Cook, who is still performing, think of herself? As “a work in progress.”
IN PRINT: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL: HOW BROADWAY SHOWS ARE BUILT
In his The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built (Sarah Crichton Books), Jack Viertel, like Cook, is also analytical about musicals, but in this case it’s the raison d’etre of the entire volume. “Built” is the operative word. Viertel, artistic director of the Encores! series at New York City Center, is crazy about the art, but this former dramaturg reminds us that the best musicals win their awards thanks to stellar craftsmanship. For example, on the subject of “This Was a Real Nice Clambake,” which opens the second act of Carousel: “It’s a number about the pleasures of being sated, and Rodgers & Hammerstein knew that audiences might … miss part of it without missing anything much. But it serves as an antidote to the dramatic end of Act One, and the stasis in the number is setting a trap: what follows is all action.” If you want to learn what makes musicals tick—and Viertel takes us all the way to Hamilton—you couldn’t ask for a better, more entertaining teacher.
ON CD: PAINT YOUR WAGON
Paint Your Wagon (Masterworks Broadway), first produced on Broadway in 1951, has always been considered Lerner & Loewe’s oddity. Unlike My Fair Lady and Gigi, which dazzle with Continental suavity, this one is a Rodgers & Hammersteinesque saga of the 1853 California Gold Rush: Americana to the max. Other than its mess of a film version in 1969, the musical has scarcely been seen since the original production starring James Barton. But last spring, Encores! at City Center truly revived it, and the cast album proves that Wagon is, in fact, major Lerner & Loewe. The cast, headed by the still-magnetic Keith Carradine as miner Ben Rumson, delivers quite a song stack including the propulsive “They Call the Wind Maria,” the head-over-heels “How Can I Wait?,” the Latin-inflected “I Talk to the Trees” and the mournful “Another Autumn,” which for my bag of gold dust is the single most beautiful melody Frederick Loewe ever composed.