The Astaires: Fred & Adele

Kathleen Riley. Oxford Univ., $27.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-19-973841-0
In this comprehensive coverage of Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele Astaire, Riley (Nigel Hawthorne On Stage) offers a splendiferous glimpse of gaiety, scintillating style, syncopated rhythms; and lost glamour, noting, “The story of the Astaires conjures up a vanished world.” Leaving their hometown of Omaha in 1905, the two began in vaudeville as child performers, receiving vocal and dance training in New York. While touring the country in 1908–1909, one manager said, “The girl seems to have talent, but the boy can do nothing.” By 1917, both were on Broadway in the patriotic Over the Top, and during the next 15 years they were showered with accolades as they performed in London and New York. The celebrated siblings split up after Adele married in 1932. Offering fascinating anecdotes and surprising details, Riley contrasts Fred’s perfectionism with Adele’s alluring impudence: critic Richard Watts found her “funny and bewitching.” Riley writes with zest and authoritative expertise, displaying a grace and elegance equal to her subjects. Her scholarly skills are showcased in this effervescent, spirited history, with a concluding “Chronologies,” an informative 18-page chart, printed sideways, that lists all Astaire shows with their musical numbers, production personnel, and theaters. 50 b&w halftones. (Mar. 1)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 03/01/2012
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