Synopses & Reviews
From the anthemic "God Bless America" to wistful "White Christmas," Irving Berlin's songs have accompanied Americans as they fall in love, go to war, and come home for the holidays for over a century. Widely recognized as one of the foundational figures of the Broadway musical, Berlin made contributions to the American theater which remain as relevant today as they were in 1910, when his first lyrics appeared on the Great White Way. Award-winning music historian Jeffrey Magee's chronicle of Berlin's theatrical career is the first book to fully consider the songwriter's immeasurable influence on the American stage as it restores the rich cultural and theatrical context to some of Berlin's most enduring songs like "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Always, "and "Puttin' on the Ritz."
Magee's ground-breaking study of Berlin's work in and for the theater shows how the songwriter's unfailing ability to tap into the heart of his audience helped define Broadway as we know it today. Berlin arrived in the United States at age 5, the son of poor Russian Jews who moved into the crowded immigrant lower-east side neighborhood of New York City. His career as an entertainer began when he took a job as a singing waiter to earn money for his struggling family. Magee traces how singing for pennies made an impression on the young Berlin, who kept hold of that sensibility throughout his career and transformed it into one of the defining attributes of Broadway shows. Whether writing topical revues such as the World War II show This is the Army, zany vehicles for the Marx Brothers like The Cocoanuts, or full-fledged integrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun, Berlin became a pioneer by combining the contemporary with the timeless with equal parts wit and poignancy.
In Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater, Magee does not shy away the darker aspects of Berlin's career. The anti-Semitism Berlin faced left a deep mark on the composer, and despite the unfailing tenderness and optimism that distinguishes his songs, Berlin struggled with depression throughout his life. Magee also thoughtfully confronts the implications of Berlin's involvement with minstrelsy, one of the more disturbing episodes in the nation's history, and its consequences for the formative years of Broadway and the institution today. Uplifting, provocative, and full of fascinating details, Magee will delight theater aficionados as well as serious students of music, drama, and popular culture-and all interested in the story of a man whose life and work expressed so well the American dream.
From patriotic "God Bless America" to wistful "White Christmas," Irving Berlin's songs have long accompanied Americans as they fall in love, go to war, and come home for the holidays. Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater is the first book to fully consider this songwriter's immeasurable influence on the American stage. Award-winning music historian Jeffrey Magee chronicles Berlin's legendary theatrical career, providing a rich background to some of the great composer's most enduring songs, from "There's No Business Like Show Business" to "Puttin' on the Ritz." Magee shows how Berlin's early experience singing for pennies made an impression on the young man, who kept hold of that sensibility throughout his career and transformed it into one of the defining attributes of Broadway shows. Magee also looks at darker aspects of Berlin's life, examining the anti-Semitism that Berlin faced and his struggle with depression. Informative, provocative, and full of colorful details, this book will delight song and theater aficionados alike as well as anyone interested in the story of a man whose life and work expressed so well the American dream.
About the Author
Jeffrey Magee is Associate Professor of Music and Theater at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has given public lectures on Irving Berlin at Brooklyn College, Harvard University, and the Library of Congress. His first book, The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz
(OUP, 2004) won the Irving Lowens Award from the Society for American Music and a Certificate of Merit for Excellence in Recorded Sound Research, Jazz Category, from the Association of Recorded Sound Collections.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Irving Berlin's Century
1. Irving Berlin's Theater
2. Legitimate Vaudeville: The Dillingham Shows, 1914-1915
3. Berlin's Follies, 1918-1919
4. "America's Greatest Show": The Music Box Revues, 1921-1924
5. "An Ideal Combination": Berlin, Kaufman, and Hart, 1920s-1930s
6. Musical Theater of War: This Is the Army, 1942-1945
7. Something for the Girls: Annie Get Your Gun, 1945-Present
8. State of the Union: Berlin, Lindsay and Crouse, 1950-1962
Conclusion: "This Is America"