The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

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A New York Times Bestseller

For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something more serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will start the cycle all over again. Americans love musicals. Americans invented musicals. Americans perfected musicals. But what, exactly, is a musical?

In The Secret Life of the American Musical, Jack Viertel takes them apart, puts them back together, sings their praises, marvels at their unflagging inventiveness, and occasionally despairs over their more embarrassing shortcomings. In the process, he invites us to fall in love all over again by showing us how musicals happen, what makes them work, how they captivate audiences, and how one landmark show leads to the next—by design or by accident, by emulation or by rebellion—from Oklahoma! to Hamilton and onward.

Structured like a musical, The Secret Life of the American Musical begins with an overture and concludes with a curtain call, with stops in between for “I Want” songs, “conditional” love songs, production numbers, star turns, and finales. The ultimate insider, Viertel has spent three decades on Broadway, working on dozens of shows old and new as a conceiver, producer, dramaturg, and general creative force; he has his own unique way of looking at the process and at the people who collaborate to make musicals a reality. He shows us patterns in the architecture of classic shows and charts the inevitable evolution that has taken place in musical theater as America itself has evolved socially and politically.

The Secret Life of the American Musical makes you feel as though you’ve been there in the rehearsal room, in the front row of the theater, and in the working offices of theater owners and producers as they pursue their own love affair with that rare and elusive beast—the Broadway hit.

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About the author

Jack Viertel is the senior vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns and operates five Broadway theaters. He has been involved in dozens of productions presented by Jujamcyn since 1987, including multiple Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winners, from City of Angels to Angels in America. He has also helped shepherd six of August Wilson’s plays to Broadway. He is the artistic director of New York City Center’s acclaimed Encores! series, which presents three musical productions every season. In that capacity he has overseen fifty shows, for some of which he adapted the scripts. He conceived the long-running Smokey Joe’s Cafe and the critically acclaimed After Midnight and has been a creative consultant on many shows, including Hairspray, A
Christmas Story, and Dear Evan Hansen. He was the Mark Taper Forum’s dramaturg and the drama critic
and arts editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and he has spent a decade teaching musical theater
at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Sarah Crichton Books
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Published on
Mar 1, 2016
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780374711252
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Drama
Music / Genres & Styles / Musicals
Performing Arts / Theater / Broadway & Musicals
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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When the show was first produced in 1960, at a time when transatlantic musical theatre was dominated by American productions, Oliver! already stood out for its overt Englishness. But in writing Oliver!, librettist and composer Lionel Bart had to reconcile the Englishness of his Dickensian source with the American qualities of the integrated book musical. To do so, he turned to the musical traditions that had defined his upbringing: English music hall, Cockney street singing, and East End Yiddish theatre. This book reconstructs the complicated biography of Bart's play, from its early inception as a pop musical inspired by a marketable image, through its evolution into a sincere Dickensian adaptation that would push English musical theatre to new dramatic heights. The book also addresses Oliver!'s phenomenal reception in its homeland, where audiences responded to the musical's Englishness with a nationalistic fervor. The musical, which has more than fulfilled its promise as one of the most popular English musicals of all time, remains one of the country's most significant shows. Author Marc Napolitano shows how Oliver!'s popularity has ultimately exerted a significant influence on two separate cultural trends. Firstly, Bart's adaptation forever impacted the culture text of Dickens's Oliver Twist; to this day, the general perception of the story and the innumerable allusions to the novel in popular media are colored heavily by the sights, scenes, sounds, and songs from the musical, and virtually every major adaptation of from the 1970s on has responded to Bart's work in some way. Secondly, Oliver! helped to move the English musical forward by establishing a post-war English musical tradition that would eventually pave the way for the global dominance of the West End musical in the 1980s. As such, Napolitano's book promises to be an important book for students and scholars in musical theatre studies as well as to general readers interested in the megamusical.
The Golden Age of American Musical Theatre: 1943-1965 provides synopses, cast and production credits, song titles, and other pertinent information for over 180 musicals from Oklahoma! to On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Concentrating on a 22-year span, this book lists both commercial successes and flops of the Golden Age-when the musicals presented on Broadway showcased timeless, memorable tunes, sophisticated comedy, and the genius of creative artists like Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, George Abbott, Moss Hart, Angela Lansbury, Robert Preston, and many others.

After an introduction and an overview of the history of Broadway, Naden offers a chronological timeline of the Golden Age musicals in America. She then presents details, in succeeding chapters, about the shows, the stars (on and off stage), the theatres, and the awards, beginning with an alphabetical listing of shows. Each show entry supplies the title, opening date, theatre, number of performances, primary cast and crew, and a plot synopsis, as well as other interesting data about the show, such as the awards won. Additional details about well-known actors, singers, composers, lyricists, directors, and choreographers of the period are provided, including birth and death dates, birth cities, born names, a brief biography, and award nominations and wins. Finishing with a bibliography and an index, this book is beneficial to anyone wanting to know more about one of the richest periods in Broadway history.
Winner of the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical

“Dear Evan Hansen lodges in your head long after you’ve seen it or heard it or read it. It feels like a pure expression from young writers at a crossroad of coming to terms with who they are and what they want to say about the world. Its honesty and truths haunt and ultimately open us up to ask the same question, no matter what our age or crossroad: What are the lies we tell ourselves?” –James Lapine (from the Foreword)

A letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told, a life he never dreamed could be his. Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to belong. Deeply personal and profoundly universal, Dear Evan Hansen is a groundbreaking American musical about truth, fiction, and the price we’re willing to pay for the possibility to connect.

*This publication includes the book and lyrics to the musical, as well as a foreword by James Lapine. Please note that it does not include the musical score.*

Steven Levenson is the book writer for Dear Evan Hansen. His plays include If I Forget, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, Core Values, The Language of Trees, and Seven Minutes in Heaven. A graduate of Brown University, he served for three seasons as a writer and producer on Showtime’s Master of Sex.

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul are the song-writing team behind Dear Evan Hansen. Previous musicals include A Christmas Story: The Musical, Dogfight, James and the Giant Peach, and Edges. Their film projects include La La Land (for which they won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “City of Stars,” with composer Justin Hurwitz), Trolls, Snow White, and The Greatest Showman. Their television credits include The Flash, Smash, and Johnny and the Sprites. Both are graduates of the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program and members of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc.

“One of the best literary works of this year” (Miami Herald-Tribune): The true story of a theatrical dream—or nightmare—come true…the making of the Spider-Man musical.

As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together—along with U2’s Bono and Edge—they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.

But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety.

Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor.
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