FROM THE BOWERY TO BROADWAY by Armond Fields

FROM THE BOWERY TO BROADWAY

Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theatre
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Long-winded but unrevealing bio of Jewish-American vaudevillian Lew Fields, who produced Rodgers and Hart's first successes and fathered lyricist Dorothy Fields (``I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby'') and musical librettists Herbert and Joseph Fields. Born Moses Schonfeld in 1867 in Eastern Europe, Fields came to Manhattan's Lower East Side at the age of five. Hoping to escape the drudgery of his father's sweatshop, he began a career performing in the dime museums that dotted the Bowery. His partner was Joseph Weber, and the two developed a knockabout comedy act, performing in German dialect as ``Mike and Meyer.'' Eventually, they were able to open their own music hall, noted for Fields's elaborate satires of contemporary plays. Fields left the act in 1904, vowing to create a new type of musical comedy, one with a coherent plot and songs that furthered the action rather than interrupting it--a goal he apparently failed to achieve. A decade- long association with the Schuberts, who took Fields for a financial ride even as they stifled his artistic growth, was followed, in the 20's, by his major work as a producer--launching, with his son Herbert, the first musicals of the young songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart. A life story as rich as this one raises many questions--about ethnicity, the nature of comedy, and the difficulty of balancing artistic goals and popular appeal--but the authors (Fields's nephew and the nephew's son) address none of them adequately, opting instead for elaborate ancestor worship (``while he lacked the charisma of Ziegfield and Cohan...Fields' influence has been subtler and more pervasive''). (Fifty photos--not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-505381-8
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993




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