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Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatreby Ethan Mordden
Synopses & Reviews
After six volumes on the musical's history, decade by decade from the 1920s through the 1970s, Ethan Mordden takes an entirely fresh look at the musical, from The Beggar's Opera to Wicked. Looking at the Star Comic, the Sweetheart Heroine, the war between musical comedy and operetta, the rise of the sexy story in the 1920s, the wedding of ballet and hoofing in the 1930s, the Oklahoma! and Carousel "musical play" in the 1940s, the Novelty Star in the 1950s, and other developments, Mordden takes us from George Gershwin to Ethel Merman to Jerome Robbins to the director-choreographer and the offbeat contemporary show: Porgy and Bess, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Grand Hotel, Grey Gardens, Rent.
In his trademark style that is at once scholarly, witty, and conversational, Mordden emphasizes not only the writing of musicals but the performing of them, taking the reader virtually into the theatre to experience what a great show is like, whether Victor Herbert's The Red Mill or Stephen Sondheim's Follies. Considering the development of dance, the author follows it from zany hoofing in the nineteenth century through the tap "combinations" of the 1920s and the injection of ballet and modern dance in the 1930s and 1940s. Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon: theirs was a time when dance seemed as crucial as music by Richard Rodgers or lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Mordden examines also the changing role of the star, noting how such early-twentieth-century headliners as Fred Stone seldom varied their portrayals, whether as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz or Little Red Ridinghood's fatherly guardian in The Stepping Stones. But Ethel Merman turned stardom inside out in Gypsy, acting her way through a character who was selfish, fierce, and destructive, and today's stars are versatile as a rule. From "ballad opera" and burlesque to the sometimes indescribable titles of today, Anything Goes tells where the musical came from and where it has been heading ever since.
A special feature of the book is the extremely detailed discographical essay, a guide for aficionado and student alike in exploring the recorded archives.
Ethan Mordden has been hailed as "a sharp-eared listener and a discerning critic," by Opera News, which compares his books to "dinner with a knowledgeable, garrulous companion." The "preeminent historian of the American musical" (New York Times), he "brings boundless energy and enthusiasm buttressed by an arsenal of smart anecdotes" (Wall Street Journal). Now Mordden offers an entirely fresh and infectiously delightful history of American musical theatre.
Anything Goes stages a grand revue of the musical from the 1700s through to the present day, narrated in Mordden's famously witty, scholarly, and conversational style. He places us in a bare rehearsal room as the cast of Oklahoma! changes history by psychoanalyzing the plot in the greatest of the musical's many Dream Ballets. And he gives us tickets for orchestra seats on opening night-raising the curtain on the pleasures of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill and the thrill of Porgy and Bess. Mordden examines the music, of course, but also more neglected elements. Dance was once considered as crucial as song; he follows it from the nineteenth century's zany hoofing to tap "combinations" of the 1920s, from the injection of ballet and modern dance in the 1930s and '40s to the innovations of Bob Fosse. He also explores the changing structure of musical comedy and operetta, and the evolution of the role of the star. Fred Stone, the avuncular Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, seldom varied his acting from part to part; but the versatile Ethel Merman turned the headlining role inside out in Gypsy, playing a character who was selfish, fierce, and destructive.
From "ballad opera" to burlesque, from Fiddler on the Roof to Rent, the history and lore of the musical unfolds here in a performance worthy of a standing ovation.
About the Author
Ethan Mordden is a recognized authority on the American musical, and the author of such books as Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920s, Beautiful Mornin: The Broadway Musical in the 1940s, and Coming Up Roses: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s. He lives in Manhattan.
Table of Contents
THE FIRST AGE
1. Source Material
2. The Age of Burlesque
3. At the Turn of the Century
THE SECOND AGE
4. The Witch of the Wood and the Bamboo Tree
5. Victor Herbert
6. The New Music
7. The Variety Show
THE THIRD AGE
8. The Structure of the Twenties Musical Comedy
9. The Structure of the Twenties Operetta
10. Dancing in the Dark
11. Blue Monday Blues
12. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Handbook
13. Something to Dance About
14. After West Side Story
15. The Sondheim Handbook
THE FOURTH AGE
17. That Is the Stae of the Art
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