INVENTING CHAMPAGNE: The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe by Gene Lees

INVENTING CHAMPAGNE: The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe

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Lees (Singers and the Song, 1987, etc.), who recently sang the praises of Laurence Bergreen's mediocre Irving Berlin bio (As Thousands Cheered, p. 699) on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, now releases his own even more mediocre show-biz bio--this gossipy hodgepodge about Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Lees, himself a lyricist, does a very spotty job of surveying the Lerner/Loewe output, along with Lerner's other collaborations. There's welcome material on the little-known pre-Brigadoon shows and on the Lerner/Weill musical Love Life (including its foreshadowing of ""I Remember It Well"" in Gigi). Burton Lane and Andre Previn provide some juicy interview-quotes. But the praise of My Fair Lady is blandly predictable; likewise the disparagement of Camelot's ""breaches of style."" And elsewhere there's strain or imbalance: Lees devotes ten pages to the disastrous film of Paint Your Wagon but only five sentences to the Lerner/Lane show Carmelina; he glibly spots--but doesn't seriously explore--the ""obvious"" element of ""homosexual fantasy"" in Lerner's triangular love-stories; Lees's often-dubious opinions--e.g., ""the Gilbert and Sullivan musicals are not particularly melodic""--undermine his credibility. In any case, Lees often seems far more interested in backstage tittle-tattle (most of it stale) as he patches together old newspaper stories with excerpts from other books and smidgins of new material. Loewe's quirks--his Viennese hauteur, his aging-playboy life with a parade of young girlfriends--get relatively little attention. Lerner's stormier doings get the lion's share: eight marriages; ugly, tedious divorce-court details; long-term addiction to amphetamines injected by a Dr. Feelgood; an affair with Jean Kennedy Smith, etc. (We also get, irrelevantly, old dirt about Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, and others.) But real personality is completely missing here: Lees quotes extensively from Lerner's memoirs but conveys nothing, for instance, of Lerner's intense, moving relationship with Moss Hart. Worth some browsing by knowledgeable musical-theater fans, maybe--but anyone looking for the show-biz excitement surrounding My Fair Lady and Camelot will do far better with Lerner's The Street Where I Live (even if, as Lees contends, a few of its anecdotes are embroidered).

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's