The riotous revival of Broadway.
A New York Post theater columnist and co-host of PBS’s Theater Talk, Riedel brings enthusiasm and authority to this rich, lively debut history of New York theater in the 1970s and ’80s. During Broadway’s golden age, in the 1950s and ’60s, theater audiences averaged 7 million per year. But by the early 1970s, attendance dropped to half: white flight had sent 800,000 New Yorkers to the suburbs; Times Square had become unsavory, a “twenty-four-hour carnival of sex, drugs, and crime”; and in 1969, the stock market crashed. “Money that could have been risked for a flutter on a Broadway show vanished,” writes the author. But three men were determined to save the industry: Gerald Schoenfeld and Bernie Jacobs, who wrested control of the Shubert empire’s 17 theaters from hard-drinking Larry Shubert; and Jimmy Nederlander, who began a theater-buying spree that positioned him as the Shubert Organization’s archrival. “The Great Duel” began, with A Chorus Line opening in a Shubert theater in 1975 and Nederlander bringing Annie to the stage in 1977. Drawing on newspaper articles, reviews, interviews, and memoirs, Riedel vividly portrays the egotistical players in a feud so intense that producers had to take sides. Among them was David Merrick, whose hits included Gypsy, Irma La Douce, and Hello, Dolly! “I have the soul of an alley cat,” he said himself. But the misanthropic Merrick was not the only difficult personality: Jerome Robbins “was a tyrant, notorious for his tantrums”; and choreographer Michael Bennett self-medicated “with pot, Quaaludes, and cocaine.” After meeting with Schoenfeld and Jacobs about their groundbreaking new musical, Cats, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cameron Mackintosh were dumfounded: “These are the people who run Broadway?...They’re all mad.” Riedel masterfully builds suspense as he chronicles productions from idea to stage to reviews to Tony Awards.
A captivating gift to theater lovers.