A witty and absorbing demonstration of the interplay of minority and mainstream—with the minority culture here being of...

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NEW YORK'S YIDDISH THEATER

FROM THE BOWERY TO BROADWAY

Take my wife…please! Nahshon (Theater/Jewish Theological Seminary) charts a transformative artistic lineage from the shtetl to Broadway, the Borscht Belt, and beyond.

This companion volume to a new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York introduces figures who deserve a broader place in American cultural history but who in many cases are all but unknown: Jacob Adler, for one, who commanded the Jewish theatrical stage from its years on the Bowery to the Jazz Age and who, had things turned out differently, might have introduced Tevye to the Broadway crowd a couple of generations before Theodore Bikel did. Sholem Aleichem didn’t have the hit he hoped for because, the author suggests, Jewish audiences in early-20th-century New York wanted something else: they were in a new world, after all, and “had left behind the world Sholem Aleichem stood for.” By such means does art evolve. Nahshon traces the origins of a specifically Jewish theater not to biblical antiquity, though Purim does figure in the story, but instead to a Romanian wine garden where, in 1876, a writer named Abraham Goldfaden joined forces with two folk singers for whom he “provided a skimpy storyline that offered narrative continuity to their musical numbers.” Both song and story grew more sophisticated, arriving in New York as a theater of nostalgia and sentimentality that branched in several directions, including vaudeville, from which stand-up comedy in turn evolved. Familiar names turn up, among them the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and Sophie Tucker, but mostly the text, wonderfully well-illustrated with handbills, portraits, advertisements, and the like, yields a constant discovery of new show people, such as matinee idol Boris Thomashefsky, whose name was famous not just in theatrical circles, but “was evoked just as frequently for being at the center of juicy scandals.”

A witty and absorbing demonstration of the interplay of minority and mainstream—with the minority culture here being of outsize influence over the larger culture of Broadway, Hollywood, and America.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-231-17670-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2016

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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