cover image When Broadway Went to Hollywood

When Broadway Went to Hollywood

Ethan Mordden. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-939540-8

Mordden (On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide), a noted authority on the American musical, explores the melding of Broadway and Hollywood in this informative and enlightening survey. Mordden is quick to clarify that his main focus is on Broadway-identified songwriters in Hollywood, following such notable men as Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, and George and Ira Gershwin. To set the stage, he offers a brief history of early Hollywood musicals, beginning with The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson, and going on to Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade and Whoopee! with Eddie Cantor. Dividing the book into chapters devoted to specific songwriters, he surveys the roles of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and others in the development of the Hollywood musical. He touches upon Berlin’s snapshots of American life in songs such as “How Do You Do It, Mabel, on Twenty Dollars a Week?” and Gershwin and Porter’s contributions to lesser-known musicals such as, respectively, Delicious (1931) and Born to Dance (1936). Mordden’s examination is fact-packed and sometimes intimidatingly dense, though aficionados will delight in the level of detail. This authoritative and illuminating book is an informed look at a pivotal slice of film and theater history. (Dec.)