I'm the Greatest Star: Broadway's Top Musical Legends from 1900 to Today
By Robert Viagas
Published by: Applause Books
Publication Date: Sept. 1, 2009
List price: $29.99 hardcover; 425 pages; 40 b/w photos
The word legend gets bandied about pretty freely nowadays and celebrity is frequently bestowed upon the unworthy. So, it's refreshing to see a book devoted to performers whose legendary status springs from consistent artistic achievement. Such a study is "I'm the Greatest Star" by Playbill magazine's very own Robert Viagas. Viagas, founder of Playbill.com, editor of the annual "Playbill Broadway Yearbook" and author of "On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line" and "The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks," turns the clock back to the year 1900 and moves forward to the present day, examining the careers of 40 of the most celebrated, charismatic, talented performers to have trod the boards on Broadway. It would seem that Viagas has set himself an impossible task: How does one limit the list to only 40 luminaries? In his Preface to the book, the author lays down the formula he devised that includes this set of criteria: degree of stardom; difficulty of the roles each star attempted; the seeming ease with which they accomplished them; the overall quality of their work; the uniqueness with which they perform and the strength of their individual personalities; and the number of starring roles they had (any fewer than three appearances on Broadway meant exclusion from this rarified list). He's a tough audience: That last qualification eliminates someone as dazzling as Barbra Streisand. Though her Fanny Brice in Funny Girl certainly defined the word star, it was her only Broadway starring role. So, no Barbra. But we do get Fanny Brice, along with a glittering array that includes Bert Williams, George M. Cohan, Al Jolson, Fred and Adele Astaire, Ethel Waters, Bert Lahr, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Danny Kaye, Gwen Verdon, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christine Ebersole, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster, Kristin Chenoweth . . . Well, you get the idea: STARS — their onstage triumphs and notable flops, offstage joys and occasional tragedies, and the special talents and plain old razzle-dazzle that made audiences fall in love with them. Theatre being the most ephemeral of arts, many of these greats will only be known to us from what we read in books or photographs. But, as Viagas notes in his Preface, one of his goals was to "show how today's stars are part of a continuum of stardom stretching back more than a century. Stars of the past had different challenges . . . but responded just as the ones of today do: with their unquenchable talent."
Horton Foote: America's Storyteller
By Wilborn Hampton
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: Sept. 8, 2009
List price: $28 hardcover; 304 pages
Say the name Horton Foote and the image it conjures is of American resilience. From his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Young Man from Atlanta, to his Oscar-winning screenplays for "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tender Mercies" and Oscar-nominated "The Trip to Bountiful" (adapted from his play), the late playwright eloquently expressed our desires, our foibles, our vulnerabilities and our dreams. It is interesting to note, then, that life story of the man who could tell ours so well has for so long gone largely unknown by the public. This is an oversight that Wilborn Hampton, a theatre critic for The New York Times, has rectified with the first comprehensive biography of the playwright. Horton Foote was raised in Wharton, TX, and nourished by storytelling. He grew up listening to tales told by his elders about their families and neighbors. "One thing I was given in life," said Foote, who is quoted in the publisher notes, "is a deep desire to listen. I've spent my life listening. These stories have haunted me all my life." Foote, whom critics have compared to Faulkner and Chekhov, found drama in the way ordinary people face adversity, change and loss. It was a distinctly American landscape he painted — often, specifically, of his native Texas — yet his stories were stocked with universal truths. As his characters often persevered with dignity, so too did Foote whose own story, notes the publisher, is of "an artist who refused to compromise his talents for the sake of fame or money . . . who insisted on writing what he regarded as truth, even when for many years almost no one would listen."
What Have You Done? The Inside Stories of Auditioning, from the Ridiculous to the Sublime
Edited by Louis Zorich
Published by: Limelight Editions
Publication Date: Sept. 15, 2009
List price: $14.99 paperback; 320 pages
Actor Louis Zorich — whose professional credits include a long stint on TV's "Mad About You" as Paul Reiser's dad and appearances on Broadway in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2001 revival of Follies and the 1993 revival of She Loves Me and whose personal credits include being the husband of actress Olympia Dukakis — has compiled a book of entertaining, funny and inspirational war stories about the triumphs and failures faced by actors as they go through the audition process. Those few moments in a casting director's office that can mean everything to an actor are recounted by a star-studded roster that includes Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand, James Dean, Nathan Lane, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and many more. It is Zorich's love letter to the enduring spirit of the artist.
The Quotable Actor: 1001 Pearls of Wisdom from Actors Talking About Acting
By Damon DiMarco
Published by: Santa Monica Press
Publication Date: August 2009
List price: $16.95 trade paperback; 360 pages
More auditioning stories can be found in this new book that compiles actors' ruminations on everything from rehearsing to aging. Author DiMarco has collected observations about the art and history of acting made by some of its greatest practitioners. The book is divided into categories such as "On Why We Act"; "On Struggling and Building a Career"; "On Gender Differences and Aging in the Biz." Actors offering pearls of wisdom on these and other topics include Marlon Brando (who comments on the rehearsal process), Meryl Streep (who offers advice on building a career) and Al Pacino (who recalls the lean years). Also included are comments from Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ellen Burstyn and Peter O'Toole, all of whom, according to publisher notes, provide "insights into the actor's craft that are equally useful to young actors just starting out and accomplished professionals looking for inspiration in the words of peers."
The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum
By Rebecca Loncraine
Published by: Gotham Books
Publication Date: Aug. 20, 2009
List price: $28 hardcover; 352 pages; with b/w illustration
On Oct. 30, 2003, Wicked opened on Broadway. The Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical, a look at the formative years of everyone's favorite witches from the merry old land of Oz, Elphaba and Glinda, received ten Tony Award nominations (winning three — for actress Idina Menzel, scenic designer Eugene Lee and costume designer Susan Hilferty) and six years later it sits consistently at the top of the list of highest grossing shows currently on Broadway. Audiences fascinated with the backstory of the characters from Oz will also be interested to read about the real man behind the curtain, from whose imaginative mind this timeless fairy tale sprang: author L. Frank Baum. "The Real Wizard of Oz," the first major literary biography of Baum, explores the time in which he lived and how the events in American history left their mark on his creation of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Baum was born in 1856 and died in 1919, a period that encompassed major changes and advances in American society — from the Civil War to the invention of the car and electricity to the early days of motion pictures. His early years were spent in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where he witnessed first-hand the return of soldiers wounded in the Civil War. As a young man, his wanderlust was fueled by circus king PT Barnum, whose traveling tent shows captured his and the country's imagination. Baum married and moved with his wife to the Dakota Territory — where he experienced Mother Nature's violence in the form of fierce tornadoes and drought — and then he found his way to Chicago in time to witness the modernism and fantasy setting of the Chicago World's Fair. His next move was to Hollywood, which was the Emerald City come to life with its own brand of dreamers and smooth-talking wizards. Baum, notes the publisher, "used his adventures and imagination to create a world that blurred his own sense of reality and fantasy . . . He understood the magnitude his fairytale had and began to create a myth around it." Also, notes this biography, he became a slave to it, responding to fans' demands by writing 13 sequels to the original "Wonderful Wizard of Oz," which was published in 1900, writing the first Broadway adaptations of the Oz tales and turning his books into some of the first motion pictures made in the fledgling Hollywood. He co-founded the Oz Film Manufacturing Company to capitalize on his work but was unsuccessful in translating the fantasy to the screen. Twenty years after his death, of course, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer put their young contract player Judy Garland into the role of the little girl who longed for home and "The Wizard of Oz" became a movie classic. Baum's book, too, has stood the test of time. "'The Wizard of Oz,'" notes the publisher, "continues to fascinate and influence us because it explores universal themes of longing for a better world, homesickness and finding inner strength amid the storms."
By Wallace Shawn
Published by: Haymarket Books
Publication Date: Sept. 1, 2009
List price: $18.95 trade cloth; 175 pages
In this new book of essays, actor and Obie Award–winning playwright Wallace Shawn, author of such plays as Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever and The Designated Mourner, forsakes his usual penchant for fiction to, as he writes in the book, "go off to the place called Reality for a brief vacation." Still, his non-fiction writing bears a certain resemblance to his plays, as his essays similarly challenge readers to view their own behavior more honestly. Shawn's diverse essay subjects include writing about sex, the relationship between art and politics, the strange world of Manhattan's cultural elite and the genesis of his plays. "With his distinctive humor and insight," notes the publisher, " Shawn invites us to look at the world with new eyes, the better to understand — and change it."
Dinosaurs on the Roof
By David Rabe
Published by: Simon & Shuster
Publication Date: Aug. 11, 2009
List price: $16 paperback; 484 pages
This new novel from David Rabe, author of such plays as Hurlyburly, Streamers and In the Boom Boom Room, takes place in a small town in Iowa and focuses on one day in the life of its two central characters: Jane Cawley, a recently divorced woman who has quit both her teaching job and her ex-colleague lover, and is now looking for some peace and quiet where she can "fall apart," and Bernice, best friend of Jane's deceased mother. It seems Bernice has been informed by her preacher that she and the entire congregation are to be visited by the Rapture that evening and she is desperate to find someone who will feed her dogs and cats and care for them after she departs this earth. So much for Jane's dreams of solitude. "Through that night and into the next," announces the book's cover, "the lives of these two women are inextricably woven together as they struggle to find reason in the incomprehensible, sometimes ludicrous events that unfold, and search for tangible signs of faith in themselves and the world around them."
The Cambridge Companion to Harold Pinter (2nd Edition)
Edited by Peter Raby
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: April 2009
List price: $28 paperback; 346 pages; 15 b/w illustrations
This updated and revised second edition Companion to the work of Harold Pinter examines the playwright's writing for the theatre, radio, television and big screen, as well as focusing on his work as a director and actor. Covered, too, are events including Pinter's 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, his appearance in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape as well as other productions of his plays. The Companion includes essays by both academics and theatre professionals that offer new perspectives on Pinter's writing and, notes the publisher, includes "new production photographs, five updated and revised chapters and an extended chronology." PLAYS OF NOTE
By Emily Mann
Published by: Theatre Communications Group
Publication Date: July 2009
List price: $13.95 paperback; 120 pages
Winner of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award, Emily Mann's Mrs. Packard is a harrowing dramatization of one woman's struggle for her rights. Based in fact, the story concerns Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, wife of 18th century Calvinist minister Theophilus Packard. When she questioned her husband's repressive doctrine, she was cruelly incarcerated in a state-run mental facility for three years, with no public hearing, based solely on her husband's declaration of her sanity. The play alternates between Elizabeth's time in the asylum and testimony from the Packard vs. Packard trial that went to court after her release. The play premiered at McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, NJ, where Mann is artistic director and resident playwright, and was produced at the Kennedy Center.
Grasses of a Thousand Colors
By Wallace Shawn
Published by: Theatre Communications Group
Publication Date: July 2009
List price: $13.95 paperback; 96 pages
The landscape is bleak: The world is dying off because of the lack of available nourishment caused by scientific interference in the world's crop growth. Yet the central characters in Wallace Shawn's first full-length play in more than a decade — a scientist, his wife and his two mistresses — manage somehow to survive "tasting the good life, admiring the beauties of nature, feasting on animalistic sex and finding love." Publisher notes describe the work as "frankly erotic, weirdly disturbing and undeniably funny." Judy Samelson, former editor of Playbill, gathers information on theatre-related books, including published plays, for Playbill.com's monthly Shelf Life column. Write her at email@example.com.
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