cover image Coming Up Roses: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s

Coming Up Roses: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s

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

In his celebration of the glorious (and not-so glorious) musicals of the 1950s, Mordden (Broadway Babies and Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920's) relates one of Broadway's hoary old jokes: ""If God had really wanted to punish Hitler, He'd have sent him out of town with a musical."" This volume offers a rich compendium of the hits and misses that kept theatergoers lining up at the box office during the decade many remember as bland white bread. But with treasures including Call Me Madam, Guys and Dolls, Kismet, My Fair Lady, Candide (considered a flop at the time), The Sound of Music and (closing out the decade) West Side Story and Gypsy, Mordden shows that it was 10 years of change, growth and glory. He explains why he thought playwright/director George Abbott was ""in the long run a destructive figure in the musical's history""; discusses the growing influence of choreographers, several of whom became directors, such as Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse, Gower Champion and Jerome Robbins; and how, with the growth of the cast album ""great shows no longer vanished when they closed."" The 1950s also saw distinctions made between the musical play (The King and I) and musical comedy (Call Me Madam); at the same time original material declined while epic productions based on books or films became more prevalent. Brimming with opinions, reminiscences and anecdotes, (Brooks Atkinson's response to the flop, Flahooley: ""More plot crosses that stage than Macy's Thanksgiving Parade""), the pleasure here comes from Mordden's jaundiced eye, sharp wit and passion for his subject. This is a must for every theater lover. (Sept.)