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COMING UP ROSES by Ethan Mordden

COMING UP ROSES

The Broadway Musical in the 1950s

By Ethan Mordden

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-19-511710-7
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

The story of a pivotal 10 years in American musical theater, limned by one of its most skillful historians. The second volume in a decade-by-decade history of the Broadway musical by the prolific film historian and novelist Mordden (The Venice Adriana, 1998, etc.), this account makes an excellent companion to its immediate predecessor, Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920s (not reviewed). Given the general silliness of the ’20s musical, especially when placed alongside the works of a decade dominated by Rodgers and Hammerstein and such other major voices as Bernstein, Loesser, and Sondheim, the juxtaposition may seem odd. Yet it’s precisely because the music has traveled so far in so little time that Mordden’s analysis in the new book compels and satisfies our craving. The 1950s represents “the fourth decade of [the genre’s] golden age,” and also the last. As Mordden ruefully notes in his concluding chapter, rock music would arrive shortly to displace Broadway as the primary source of the common coin of American popular music. But until then, the Broadway musical enjoyed a glorious ascendancy, buoyed by the freedom hurled into the form by Rodgers and Hammerstein, whose pervasive influence runs through both the book and the decade. As a result, the ’50s was a period when “no one knew what the rules were any more” and theatrical creators were able to experiment with darker materials, adapting such unlikely sources as Sean O’Casey (Juno) and Homer (The Golden Apple). The results weren—t always sparkling, but Mordden grasps why the great ones worked and the lesser ones didn—t. His analysis is always intelligent and well put, although the tone of Roses is a bit less flashy than his very best writing. A must for any fan or student of musical theater.