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Sunday, 31 January 2010 15:59

Book Reviews: Musical Theatre Must-Haves

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I'm the Greatest StarI'm the Greatest Star: Broadway's Top Musical Legends from 1900 to Today
by: Robert Viagas
(Applause, 425pp, $29.99)

Imagine being given the go-ahead to write a book about the 50 greatest musical theatre stars from 1900 to today only to be told that you have to cut it down to 40 because it would put the project over-budget.  That’s exactly what happened to Robert Viagas and his lively new book “I’m the Greatest Star: Broadway's Top Musical Legends from 1900 to Today.”  To begin with, how do you narrow it down to even 50?  Viagas has found his answer, an algorithm.  By assigning values to things such as the degree of their stardom, the difficulty of their roles, the seeming ease with which they performed them, the overall quality of their work and a few other subjective criteria, Viagas has arrived at his 40.  My only question is, who’s going to tell Liza she didn’t make the cut?

The book starts with Bert Williams and ends with Kristin Chenoweth.  In between we have mini biographies of some of the greatest talent to ever strut the boards, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Ray Bolger, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Tommy Tune, and many, many more.  Viagas has a way with words that makes this a book you don’t want to put down.  The book gives you an historical vantage point from which to view the past 110 years of Broadway musical theatre.  Definitely a musical theatre must-have.  Buy it now.

Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre The Composers and LyricistsGeniuses of the American Musical Theatre: The Composers and Lyricists
by: Herbert Keyser
(Applause, 305pp, $29.99)

What Robert Viagas has done for Broadway stars, Herbert Keyser does with composers and lyricists of the American musical theatre.  His book “Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre – The Composers and Lyricists” is the perfect addition to our reading list for Musical Theatre 101.  The book covers 31 of musical theatre’s most prodigious writing talents.  It includes Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Alan Jay Lerner, Stephen Sondheim, and many, many more.    Mr. Keyser covers both the personal and professional lives; sometimes it isn’t pretty.  This book also gives you a broader perspective of the Broadway industry and how it has changed over the past 100+ years.  Buy it now.


Broadway Musicals Show by ShowBroadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition
by: Stanley Green
(Applause, 443 pp, $18.99)


“Broadway Musicals – Show by Show” is now in its sixth edition.  Originally published in 1985, the book’s author, Stanley Green passed away in 1990.  Since that time, his wife Kay Green has been keeping the book up-to-date (well, mostly).  This terrific reference book gives you the principal players for each show, including composer, lyricist, book writer, director, choreographer, leading actors, song titles from and a synopsis of the show, the total number of performances and even if the show has been recorded and on what label.  It also has a number of valuable indices in the back for theatre, major cast members, librettist, composer/lyricist, director and choreographer.
Despite a somewhat glaring editing error on the entry for Forty-Five Minutes to Broadway, the George M. Cohan show, this book is a must-have for musical theatre fans.  The error I’m referring to is that it refers to the theatre where it originally played, the New Amsterdam.  It then goes on to say that the New Amsterdam is “now a movie house on 42nd Street west of Times Square.”  As you may or may not know, Disney leased the theatre and transformed it back to its original glory in 1997.  The copyright on this book is 2008.  Oops.  But it now.

Last modified on Sunday, 31 January 2010 22:10