In 1976, McNamara (Step Right Up, 1975) became director of the new Shubert Archive: some 4,000,000 items of memorabilia that were crammed, unsorted, into lofts, attics, and basements all over the Broadway area. McNamara's organization of this vast material has led to a series of exhibits--and now to this generously illustrated chronicle, which tends to be livelier in its graphics (and their captions) than in its sturdy, slightly plodding text. Born in 1870's East Prussia, raised by poor immigrant parents in Syracuse, N.Y., the Shubert brothers were led into the theater by charismatic middle son Sam--who, by age 17, had become box-office chief at downtown Syracuse's Wieting Theatre. By 1900, the Shuberts were managing five Upstate New York houses; soon they were leasing theaters on Broadway, building new playhouses around the country, producing successful musicals and farces. When Sam died in a 1905 train crash, brothers Lee (icy, compulsive) and J.J. (crude, pugnacious) moved to the fore--triumphing over the Erlanger ""Syndicate,"" expanding their real-estate empire, filling their stages with revues, operettas, comedies, and the occasional serious play. McNamara highlights most of the major Shubert shows through the 1940's (when they faded out of producing)--from The Merry Widow to the ""inexplicably"" legendary Hellzapoppin' He takes wry note of the Shuberts' ""excessive thrift,"" their stubborn attachment to outdated operettas, their difficult personalities--but plays down the sort of unflattering anecdotes that dominated Jerry Stagg's The Brothers Shubert (1968). The result is a reasonably balanced, densely detailed, yet somewhat juiceless history; the richly annotated 200+ illustrations, on the other hand--including rare photos, programs, costume and scenery designs, etc.--will mesmerize theater buffs.