cover image Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs

Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs

Steven Suskin, . . Applause, $27.95 (388pp) ISBN 978-1-55783-631-1

What makes a musical go wrong? Theatrical manager and producer Suskin (Show Tunes ; Broadway Yearbook series) attempts an answer in this lightly entertaining, obsessively edited compilation of newspaper and magazine articles and memoir excerpts, enlightened and corrected by Suskin's own commentary. A flop usually boils down to a few variables: conflicting artistic visions and/or personality conflicts, "star vehicles that failed," a nonexistent second act or costly rewrites and recastings. The earliest musical documented is Flying Colors (1932), the latest The Red Shoes (1993), with the majority from the '60s and '70s and no examples from the AIDS-torn '80s. Most of these gossip-laden, name-dropping, cattily amusing essays are too short to give more than the sketchiest outline of a show's trials and tribulations. Aspiring Broadway writers and producers looking for edification may be frustrated. The two exceptions are William Gibson's deeply felt excerpt about the posthumous musicalization of his close friend Clifford Odets's Golden Boy , an essay so literarily superior that Suskin refrains from his standard in-essay editorializing, and the book's grand finale, Lewis H. Lapham's long, funny, in-depth Saturday Evening Post article about the 1965 disaster Kelly . 100 color and b&w illus. (Jan.)