Black (The Magic of Theater, 1993, etc.), in his new memoir, offers a colorful account of his life in the Broadway theater.
People in show business always seem to have the best stories. Maybe it’s the strength of their personalities or the heightened cultural setting or the chance that someone famous might pop up at any time. All these things are true in Black’s memoir, which gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the Great White Way (with requisite appearances by celebrities big and small), as well as an examination of the complicated life of a theater professional. Black details his childhood as the son of an influential atheistic minister, his marriage into the upper crust of Boston society, his time as an opera singer in Europe, and his long career in the fast and fickle world of Broadway. The most interesting sections detail his work in the 1960s, producing shows such as the musical George M!, a revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and most surprisingly, Richard Nixon’s 1969 Inaugural Gala in Washington, D.C. Just as engaging, though, are his relationships with his family and his lovers, and his personal trials define him even more than the professional ones. At just over 150 pages, it’s a short volume, as Black is no completist when it comes to his own memory; he provides only the moments he wishes to discuss. He writes in a highly anecdotal style, one story following the next, yet the memoir somehow manages to avoid feeling digressive or directionless. Instead, his life unfolds in brief but meticulous fables that, together, present a quirky but comprehensive biography. Some stories are poignant, but most are simply funny, and Black’s wonderfully dry humor and inclination toward self-deprecation truly carry readers through the book. Overall, he seems to have enough respect for life and art to know not to take either too seriously. In theater, there are tragedies and there are comedies; Black has thankfully interpreted his life as the latter.
A quick, humorous memoir about storytelling, on and off the stage.