The prolific Mordden (The Fireside Companion to the Theatre) has juggled two different series in recent years, one fiction and one nonfiction. Now he offers the fourth title in the latter, a decade-by-decade history of American musicals, following on the heels of Coming Up Roses, about the 1950s. Despite Mordden's authoritative, scholarly approach, the book sings with stylish syncopation and chatty humor. The evolution and transition of 1960s Broadway was signaled by the failure of Irving Berlin's Mr. President, Noel Coward's fading glory (Sail Away) and the beginning of The Fantasticks' four-decade run. New concepts emerged, and fresh talents like Bob Fosse and Stephen Sondheim took center stage. With Cabaret
in 1966, "the new age begins." Darker themes were introduced in Man of La Mancha, What Makes Sammy Run?
and Golden Boy. Detailing the decade's innovations, Mordden tosses in fascinating bits of theatrical lore and history. Hits (Funny Girl) and flops (Sophie) are deftly described with wit, panache and a clever, novelistic eye. Mordden never misses a cue, covering everything from off-Broadway (The Threepenny Opera) to the English musical. Regrettably, the lack of boldface subheads decreases the book's value as a research tool, since many titles are lost in the multitude. Still, scholars will be as anxious to read it as theater enthusiasts. (Nov. 5)
Forecast:Readers will wish a CD had been packaged with this tuneful history, but booksellers can fill that gap by displaying the book with appropriate albums. Mordden's regular readers who queue at the TKTS box office will line up at stores for this one.