A memoir about musicals that doesn’t come up roses.
Recalling a spat with a friend over the musical Cats, Brockes admits, “I don’t know quite what point I’m trying to make here.” Agreed. The disagreement, however vital to the arguers, comes to only a vague, general point and verges on banality. A lack of focus dogs the rest of the book, a fuzzy commentary about musicals inspired by a mother who sped the author on her way by singing songs from The Sound of Music. Brockes works on an extremely shaky foundation. She places the golden age of musicals as occurring between 1950 and 1965, despite a critical consensus that places the heyday as taking place during the ’40s and ’50s. She zigzags, often unclearly, from stage to film musicals without considering the vastly different ways they work and affect audiences. Problems with fact and rhetoric further undermine her discussion. She cites “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” as the “happy ending” number in Gypsy, when the number actually climaxes in the first act and the musical reaches an unhappy ending in the second act with “Rose’s Turn.” She argues that in Carousel, Billy Bigelow returns to earth only to slap his daughter’s face, ignoring the penultimate scene in which Billy imparts faith to his daughter and expresses love to his wife. Her commentary on Show Boat overlooks the 1936 James Whale version, which many critics cite as one of the greatest of film musicals. She deems Flower Drum Song a flop, though on stage it was a critical and commercial success. She reports that Jane Darwell won an Oscar for Gone with the Wind when the actress actually won for The Grapes of Wrath. And she bills Alice Faye as the star of King Kong, though it was actually Fay Wray.