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To Broadway, To Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick. Philip Lambert. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-1953-9007-0
Jews on Broadway: An Historical Survey of Performers, Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Producers. Stewart F. Lane. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7864-5917-9
Reviewed by Alisa Solomon
Like those Broadway musicals that are driven by deep emotion and a social conscience, intellectual books about Broadway musicals face a dilemma: how to be serious and popular. Indeed, books may have a harder time. From Showboat to Rent, musicals have managed to challenge audiences with questions about such issues as racism and AIDS even as they have filled the coffers of investors. But to whom is a book on Broadway addressed—to academic specialists or to die-hard show fans? Not that these categories are mutually exclusive (the best scholarship is typically driven by passion, after all), but they can represent vastly different cultures and interests. As publishers increasingly look for “crossover” projects—and as the academic study of musical theater expands—the clashing expectations of these disparate audiences can put some authors in a bind. Read the rest of this entry »
A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs. David Lehman. New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2009. 249 pp. ISBN 978-0-8052-4250-8
Creating America on Stage: How Jewish Composers and Lyricists Pioneered American Musical Theater. Jill Gold Wright. Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009. 135 pp. ISBN 978-3-6391-7142-6
An ever-growing body of critical literature, beginning nearly forty years ago with Alec Wilder’s seminal American Popular Song, has established the lasting cultural value of the classic songs of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and the other great songwriters of what is sometimes called popular music’s “golden era.” (Whether or not one considers that era to have been “golden” has much to do with one’s opinion of rock and roll.) At the beginning of those decades—the 1920s through the 1950s—popular music was dominated by the sheet music publishing industry, centered on a few blocks of West 26th Street in New York City, an area that gave the business its nickname, Tin Pan Alley. But the era also saw the rise of radio and the growth of the recording and movie industries, mass media that eventually eclipsed sheet music as means of disseminating popular songs. The majority of hit songs throughout this period—and in contrast to later phases of popular music history—made their debut in Broadway and Hollywood musicals. Indeed, the history of the popular song in those years is inseparable from the history of the musical comedy. Read the rest of this entry »