If you’re like me, you spent most of June catching up with this past season’s New York productions of musicals. Over a frenzied Memorial Day holiday in New York, I saw six shows in four days! As New York (and most regional) theaters pause before gearing up for next season, the summerstock months are the perfect time for catching up with this past year’s books about musicals – though at a more leisurely pace than a Tony Award rush weekend. Below is the selected list of publications from the 2011/12 season that I’d recommend for your summer reads. If you have any others to recommend, drop me a comment.
Album Produced By… [Bruce Kimmel]. In this honest memoir, Kimmel charts his career from Bay Cities to Varese Sarabande to the launch of his Kritzerland label. Of course, he writes about the stars on his recordings – including Elaine Stritch, Carol Channing, Donna Murphy, and Stephen Sondheim – and Kimmel has a gift for telling tales without grinding axes, though he is somewhat cutting about his colleagues at Varese and Fynsworth Alley. Most illuminating are his ideas on the songs he’s produced.
The Astaires: Fred & Adele [Kathleen Riley]. Before Fred and Ginger, there was Fred and Adele. In this first comprehensive study of the earlier duo, Riley traces the siblings from their humble Midwest origins to their vaudeville stardom and, ultimately, to their breakup when Adele married into aristocracy and Fred headed for Hollywood. In the process, Riley helps us understand the background that led to Fred’s later success.
Broadway Musical MVPs 1960-2010 [Peter Filichia]. Filichia is a perfect cheerleader for musicals and their creators. In this breezy collection of essays, he borrows the sports convention to explore fifty years of Broadway musical history – the MVP performers, producers, directors, and choreographers of each year in the past half-century. It is the perfect companion to his 2010 collection, Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season.
The Irving Berlin Reader [Benjamin Sears]. Sears brings together a broad range of the most insightful primary and secondary writings about Berlin. Grouped by chronology, the some 40 pieces, many written by Berlin himself, include offerings from the earliest accounts of journalists to later recollections of his collaborators in their autobiographies. Reading these selections side by side lends a new perspective and appreciation of the composer’s genius.
Mr. Broadway: The Inside Story of the Shuberts, the Shows, and the Stars [Gerald Schoenfeld]. Completed one month before his death, Schonfeld’s autobiography is a captivating read. He recounts his rise from house lawyer to producer of Broadway’s greatest successes (A Chorus Line) and greatest misses (Amour). Yet this is not just the story of one man but of the last 70 years of Broadway. Schoenfeld often said he saved the Shuberts, and this memoir reveals how he did so, while also critically assessing many of his missteps along the way.
My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan [Seth Rudetsky]. Justin may have the wrong look, the wrong hobbies, and the wrong friends, but he has the perfect plan to turn it all around. Rudetsky’s first novel for young adults is heartfelt and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It’s not your average teen novel, but writer (and musical theater maven) Rudetsky is anything but average. Light-hearted and entertaining throughout, the book ends with a serious postscript to young readers having a hard time dealing with high school life.
Our Story: Jets and Sharks Then and Now [Original Film Cast]. In this collective memoir, a dozen surviving Jets and Sharks (and Girls) from West Side Story share their stories about the Oscar-winning film. Yet, it is not just about the movie, it’s about being a member of the tight-knit community of professional dancers. One of the most compelling stories is from Tony Mordente, who was cast as one of the film’s Jets, but whose wife Chita Rivera (the original Broadway Anita) wasn’t cast among the film’s Sharks.
A Purple Summer: Notes on the Lyrics of Spring Awakening [Steven Sater]. This brief paperback is precisely what the title implies: an insight into the lyrics of the Tony-winning musical. In vivid detail, Sater writes about the origins of the show’s songs and their development over the production’s eight-year gestation. He also writes about his partnership with composer Duncan Sheik and about working with the original cast members.
The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook [Fred Bronson]. For the first time, the children of the film tell their stories about making The Sound of Music, from auditions to rehearsals to their summer in Salzburg. As a bonus, there is a DVD with home movie footage, as well as numerous facsimiles stuffed into the book’s pockets – candid photos, letters home, diary pages, costume designs, premiere tickets, and more. It is a unique and interesting compilation.
Unnaturally Green: One Girl’s Journey Along a Yellow Brick Road Less Traveled [Felicia Ricci]. In January 2010, Ricci began her journey from selling software to understudying the green witch Elphaba in Wicked – her first professional gig … ever. This humorous memoir recounts the greenhorn’s journey, adapted from her blog entries like “Songs of Death” and “The Week I Didn’t Poop.” It may not be easy being green but is sure is fascinating.