The autobiography of conductor-composer Lehman Engel constitutes an anecdotal insider's history of musical theater from the 1930's of the WPA to the David Merrick era of the 1960's. It is also an affecting personal account of the artistic awakening of a mother-coddled boy from the South who wet his bed and lived in terror of bullies who persecuted him as a ""sheeny."" Engel offers common sense practical criticism of theater production based on his experiences with Virgil Thompson, Martha Graham, Orson Welles, Michael Redgrave, John Garfield, Melvyn Douglas, Scan O'Casey, Lillian Gish, Kurt Weill, Charles Ives, John Gielgud, Dame May Whitty, Leonard Bernstein, Billy Rose, Barbra Streisand. . . among countless others of equal stature. The narrative sometimes careens a bit wildly through this sea of faces (is a catty remark at the expense of Irene Selznick necessary?), but the lessons of this natural friend and teacher are there to be distilled from the anecdotes. Though Engel is glad to have avoided the cranky genius of Beethoven and Wagner, he concludes ""my life was a failure in spite of some obvious success."" Such modesty, back to back with his own proud listing of achievements, is touching.