July 7, 2007

Summer Reading

Summertime and the living is easy and most of us want to spend as much of it as we can relaxing outdoors, if possible with a cold glass of wine in one hand and a good book to read in the other. Or at least that's my idea of a perfect summer afternoon, particularly if the book is about Broadway. If you're making up your summer reading list and you love theater too, then you might want to consider the following for the eight weeks between now and Labor Day:

1. Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration and All that Jazz by John Kander and Fred Ebb, as told to Greg Lawrence.
This oral history, published in 2004, the same year that Ebb died, allows you to eavesdrop on the legendary songwriting duo as they reminisce about their shows from their first collaboration, Flora, the Red Menace, to the Oscar-winning movie version of Chicago. As anyone who has seen a Kander and Ebb musical, or listened to a recording of one, knows, these guys are smart and funny and insightful about show business, and their book is too.

2. On Broadway, Men Still Wear Hats: Unusual Lives Led on the Edges of Broadway by Robert Simonson.
The 18 people profiled in Playbill.com editor Simonson's marvelous 2004 book range from the influential New York Post columnist and TV show host Michael Riedel
to Rozanne Seelen, who owns the rightfully beloved Drama Book Shop, where I have spent more hours and more dollars than I care to tote up. They all love Broadway and it's hard not to share their enthusiasm—or to envy the bit roles they get to play.

3. Ever After: the Last Years of Musical Theater and Beyond by Barry Singer.
Unlike so many books about recent Broadway history that decry the demise of musical theater, this veteran theater journalist's chatty account of the last 30 years of Broadway musicals gives the creative forces behind those shows, from Ira Weitzman, who helped to developed many of them at Playwrights Horizon, to composers Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel, a chance to have their say. The reviewers on Amazon.com have been inexplicably tough on this book, which also came out in 2004, but for me, it was like flipping through a family album and reliving good times and not-so-good ones and treasuring them all.

4. Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes of Broadway's Big Musical Bombs by Steven Suskin.
A longtime theatrical manager, producer and chronicler, Suskin has collected and annotated contemporaneous writings about some of Broadway's biggest flops. The schadenfreude when reading through this 2006 book is irresistible but just as affecting is the visible evidence of a time when so many newspapers and magazines considered Broadway a major story.

5. Making It Big: The Diary of a Broadway Musical
by Barbara Isenberg.
Broadway's growing reliance on converting hit movies into musicals makes this book by my arts writer-friend Barbara as relevant as when it first came out a decade ago. Her almost day-by-day account of how the delicate Tom Hanks comedy about a kid trapped in a man’s body grew from a suggestion by composer Richard Maltby Jr.'s wife into a $10 million monster flop may be the closest you can get to the process without putting on a musical yourself.

6. All That Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway, 1919-1959 by Ethan Mordden
Until now, Mordden, the dean of theater historians, has written primarily about musicals but his latest book, released in April, brings the same in-depth knowledge to American drama, combing critical analysis, social commentary and a generous dose of backstage gossip.

7. Broadway Babylon: Glamour, Glitz and Gossip on the Great White Way by Boze Hadleigh
Published just last month, this is a grab bag of gossipy stories about the theater filtered through showbiz writer Hadleigh's wry, and occasionally campy, sensibility. Not all of it is as entertaining as it pretends to be but there are pages and pages of quotations and aphorisms from theater people that had me alternately nodding my head in agreement, hooting out loud with laughter, and quoting the choicest ones to my husband K.

8. The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway by William Goldman . No theater reading list is complete without the award-winning playwright and screenwriter's inside account of the 1967-68 Broadway season. It became an immediate classic when it was originally published in 1969, the "Moby Dick" of theater books, although far funnier. If you've never read it, you've got a big treat ahead of you. If you've read it before, it's still a treat.

Happy reading and, as for that cold wine, have a glass for me.

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