Beautiful Mornin': The Broadway Musical in the 1940s
Ethan Mordden / Author Oxford University Press $55 (288p) ISBN
Once again establishing that he is as impressive a nonfiction writer as he is a novelist (How Long Has This Been Going On?; Buddies), Mordden analyzes the many notable hits (and egregious flops) of the 1940s, and describes how they figured into--and indeed established--that period's importance to the Broadway musical theater. It was a decade of many milestones, chief among which was the emergence of Rodgers and Hammerstein with 1943's unlikely groundbreaker, Oklahoma (""all Broadway gaped as these two partnered up""), followed in 1945 by Carousel (""the piece that truly tells us what a Rodgers and Hammerstein show was""). Mordden's references are up-to-the-minute (he cites the late 1990s Encores! series of revivals at New York's City Center) and his research is meticulous--in his chapter on a particularly significant '40s development, ""The Cast Album,"" he trounces the widely held notion that Oklahoma was the first show to be recorded (it was 1900's Floradora). His gift for the piquant phrase is delightfully evident (Harold Arlen's music for a Bloomer Girl duet is ""a slithery wisteria jazz""), as is his fondness for the direct approach (Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty ""was a total disaster... a bomb with two wonderful elements--the score and the dancing""). And though he delivers the expected encomiums to such stars of the decade as Agnes de Mille and Ethel Merman, he frequently airs provocative, somewhat unusual opinions, as when he says of the composer of Lady in the Dark and Lost in the Stars, ""the Broadway musical would not have been what it was without Kurt Weill."" Nor would it be nearly as enjoyable without this perceptive, witty and informative guided tour. (Oct.) FYI: This is Mordden's third ""take"" on the evolution of musical theater in America, following 1997's Make Believe (the 1920s) and 1998's Coming Up Roses (the '50s).
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999