After two and a half decades, Larry Stempel has composed the first comprehensive history of one of the most shape-shifting, gluttonously consumed art forms—Broadway musical theater. From early Vaudevillian spectacles, to destined-for-revival classics of the ’50s, to record-breaking mega-musicals of the ’80s and onward, Stempel reveals the common thread between each tier to be “how deeply collaborative the musical theater is as a medium.” In its dawning days, the art form was looked on as a workhorse to be exhausted and discarded—script, lyrics and all—once the money stopped rolling in. Yet with much of musical theater’s early evidence gone, Stempel still effectively gives meticulous accounts of the movers, shakers and performances that contributed to what evolved into the Great White Way. But how does the scholar of an ever-evolving genre select just one show as his front-runner? He doesn’t. “If you had 10 children, would you pick favorites?” says Stempel. “As a fan [I choose] Company for its heartfelt, if not wholehearted embrace of ambivalence, and Guys and Dolls for its humanizing balance of vulgarity and wit.” Heart, ambivalence, vulgarity and wit? No wonder one can fall prey to the stage’s allure.
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Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater
Norton / September / 9780393067156 / $39.95
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010