Rarely does the reference-book mentality go hand in hand with any degree of critical acumen, so it's a pleasure to report that this awesome research project is invested with a fair measure of discrimination. Bordman has documented, summarized, and described in some detail every Broadway musical (and a few off-Broadway biggies like The Fantasticks) since the late 18th century--before there was a Broadway. Interspersed among these season-by-season, show-by-show entries are mini-biographies of important writers, directors, and performers. Such a format doesn't leave much room for overview history, but Bordman does try to spot trends, separate hacks from geniuses, comment on profit margins or the influence of critics, and correct prevalent oversimplifications (""it can seriously be questioned whether The Black Crook was the beginning of musical comedy in America""). More consistently, he singles out the distinctive songs from each score, wisely taking close guidance from Alec Wilder's American Popular Song for the 1900-1950 period. Bordman is weakest on the steadily deteriorating post-1950 era, lapsing into fatuous social history (parallels between Vietnam and the decline of musical comedy) and--without Wilder to guide him--failing to spot some of the inspired songs from uninspired shows. Still, if there must be constant additions to the top-heavy world of musical-comedy scholarship, let them be as graceful and tasteful as this one.