cover image Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920's

Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920's

Ethan Mordden / Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (272p)

The 1920s was the decade that transformed the American musical from a string of generic formula tunes and specialty acts into a cohesive play that advanced plot and expressed characterization through individualized and dramatic songs. So claims critic and author Mordden (Broadway Babies; How Long Has This Been Going On?) in this convincing book that goes even beyond musicals and operettas. Mordden, who often writes for The New Yorker, seems to be familiar with every star, song and show that appeared on Broadway during that decade, but his erudition is happily leavened by a schmoozy, jocular style, which embraces the reader as another theater insider. Examining the reactionary appeal of operetta, the domination of personalities like Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Miller, and the advancement of stagecraft, Mordden shares new insights into the black musicals--both revues and book shows--of the time, and into the influence of jazz on George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers and the other composers who were to shape what would be the golden age of musicals. In one chapter, Mordden persuasively argues that the 1927 musical ""Show Boat,"" based on Edna Ferber's novel of race and show business, introduced that age. Sprightly, opinionated and well-informed, this will be a hit with theater lovers. (May)