Sing Out, Louise! 150 Broadway Musical Stars Remember 50 Years
By Dennis McGovern and Deborah Grace Winer
New York: Schirmer Books/Macmillan, 1993. 232p. illus. index. $18.00. ISBN 0-02-864618-5.
In this chatty book, the authors interviewed some 150 musical actors and actresses (no creators, choreographers, set designers, etc.) on all kinds of topics regarding their craft. Nearly all these interviews appear to be exclusive to this book--I don't believe they were taken from other sources.
Jerry Orbach contributed the Foreword as well as other quotes in the book. Other individuals who speak here include Gwen Verdon, Lee Roy Reams, John Raitt, Rosetta Le Noire, Martin Vidnovic, Liz Callaway, Carole Demas, Carol Channing, Taina Elg, Nanette Fabray, Maria Karnilova and George S. Irving, Barbara Cook, Susan Johnson, Glynis Johns, Sally Ann Howes, Anita Gillette, Karen Morrow, Elaine Stritch, Phyllis Newman, Mary Beth Piel, Russ Thacker, Chita Rivera... the list just goes on and on, covering people at every level of Broadway stardom and cult status.
In their brief preface the authors explain the rationale behind the book ("a living account of what day-to-day life is like as a performer in the American musical theatre"), thank various individuals for their contributions, and lament that Larry Kert died before they could take advantage of his willingness to talk. The various chapters are:
- "Sing Out, Louise!"--"doing it loud and doing it right... just doing it and loving it."
- "Situations Wanted: Trying to Get Work in the Theatre"
- "Losing the Job"
- "Stars Are People, Too"
- "They Sing, Too (Sometimes)"
- "Trouble Away from Home"
- "It Really Should Have Worked"
- "It Didn't Work"
- "Closing Too Soon" (this one is a heartbreaker)
- "Life with the Director/Choreographer"
- "Don't Call Him George" (about George Abbott)
- "Legendary Stars: The Women" (Ethel Merman, Beatrice Lillie, Vivien Leigh, Judy Holliday, Mary Martin)
- "Legendary Stars: The Men" (Yul Brynner, Danny Kaye, Ray Bolger, Zero Mostel, Robert Preston)
- "The Second Team: Replacing in the Theatre"
- "Ready, Willing, and Able"
- "The Present and the Future"--lots of actors and actresses lamenting about the then-current state of Broadway, including plenty of dismay at the European intruders and how they were destroying musicals.
The format is thus: The authors introduce the topic and then start quoting individuals on the topic, often connecting the quotes with pertinent text. Every so often there will be a much longer story in a box. For example, Carol Lawrence talks about an experience she had in West Side Story, and Michael Kermoyan relates an anecdote about Richard Burton and Liz Taylor coming to his apartment for dinner.
In addition, the book has some splendid photographs, many from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, but also photos from some of the people interviewed and some from the authors' private collection. Most of the photos are centered in two special sections, but there are a few elsewhere, including reproductions of letters or telegrams firing someone. Finally, there are an index of musicals and a general index. These indexes are immensely helpful in tracing all the quotes or mentions of a particular person, since there's no particular order to the quotes in the book.
This is one of the best compilations of quotes by musical people ever published. The range of performers is impressive. The stories they tell are often screamingly hilarious (I always get a laugh from Carole Demas's tale of auditioning for Neil Simon, and what she accidentally did before she got on stage) or quite telling (June Havoc's account of beating up her producer after Sadie Thompson closed). The quotes illuminate both their speakers and what they're speaking about; for example, it's interesting to see how different people viewed Yul Brynner or Ethel Merman. And the quotes do precisely what the authors intended them to do: humanize the world of theatre. There's little glamour in these pages (and when there is glamour, it's usually star glamour that pisses people off), but lots of heartache, hard work, tedium, complaint, and frustration. There's also excitement, pride, joy, love, and deep satisfaction, not to mention fascinating history. And thank god the pictures are mostly ones we haven't seen--it makes me nuts when I get a book and the pictures are all the same old stock photos or promotional stills that we've seen a thousand times. There's a great one of the entire cast of Applause naked except for checkered tablecloths and one feather boa! (And yes, Lauren Bacall is in the center of it all.)
If you love musicals and the people who perform in them; if you're an aspiring musical theatre actor who wants to know what the life is really like; if you're interested in theatre history; or if you just want a good laugh, this book is something you'll want to get post haste. The photographs are themselves worth the price of admission.
Review copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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