SHELF LIFE: Show Tunes, Elaine Paige, American Plays and More

News   SHELF LIFE: Show Tunes, Elaine Paige, American Plays and More
This month's book selection features Elaine Paige in her own words, a celebration of the show tune, a study of the business of producing plays and the annual edition of Theatre World.
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Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers
By Steven Suskin
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: February 2010
List price: $60 hardcover; 624 pages
Steven Suskin's "Show Tunes" is an exhaustive chronicle of the shows, songs and careers of every major composer of the American musical theatre. This latest Fourth Edition includes updated information through May 2009 and, according to publisher notes, "features the entire theatrical output of 40 of Broadway's leading composers, in addition to a wide selection of work by other songwriters." They are all here, from the legendary likes of Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers, Porter, Berlin, Bernstein and Sondheim to relatively more recent composers like Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Flaherty, Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. The artists' work is examined from the standpoint of their innovations, successes — and failures. Almost 1,000 shows and 9,000 show tunes are discussed, and each listing includes production data and statistics, extensive information on published and recorded songs, and commentary on the shows and songs, plus inside backstage information and a comprehensive song index. And it's not just the enduring classics that get Suskin's attention. He also includes shows that closed out of town or were never headed for Broadway and catalogs previously unknown songs that were either cut from shows, or forgotten. Suskin is known to Playbill.com readers for his On the Record and DVD Shelf columns.

Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play
By Todd London with Ben Pesner and Zannie Giraud Voss
Published by: Theatre Development Fund
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
List price: $14.95 soft cover; 296 pages
How do plays get written and produced in America? This seemingly simple question was the impetus behind this new study published by Theatre Development Fund, the not-for-profit performing arts service organization. The book examines the realities of producing new plays from the perspective of American playwrights and not-for-profit theatres, and it turns out that the process is exceedingly complex, revealing, notes the publisher, "a 'collaboration in crisis' between the people who write plays and those who produce them." Author Todd London describes the contradictions and conflicts this way: "On one hand, we have a playwriting profession that is larger, better trained, and more vital than at any time in our history. We also have a profusion of highly professional theatres with a deep commitment to new work. On the other hand, we have a profound rift between our most accomplished playwrights and the theatres who would produce them, an increasingly corporate theatre culture, dire economics for not-for-profits, dwindling audiences for non-musical work, and, perhaps most troubling of all, a system of compensation that makes it nearly impossible for playwrights to earn anything resembling a living." The goal of this study, which draws on six years of statistical and anecdotal research, is to stimulate open discussion between all parties and to ultimately find ways, notes London, "to build on the existing energy in the field and to help open up more opportunities for playwrights and more channels for fine plays to reach the stage." For more information, go to Outrageous Fortune.

Elaine Paige: Memories
By Elaine Paige
Published by: Oberon Books
Publication Date: June 1, 2009
List price: $41.95 Hardcover; 144 pages, illustrated
Elaine Paige's autobiography, with a Foreword written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose shows offered Paige some of her most outstanding roles, is filled with revealing and humorous memories of 40 years in the theatre. Paige begins with her earliest stage appearances in Joan Littlewood's company in London's East End and takes fans on her journey to stardom in such shows as the original London productions of Cats and Evita, where she originated the roles of Grizabella and Eva Peron, respectively; Sunset Boulevard, where she replaced Betty Buckley's Norma Desmond to great acclaim both in London and in her Broadway debut in 1996; and in the London production Piaf, where she essayed the life of The Little Sparrow with heartbreaking emotion. The many color and black and white images throughout the book have been drawn from Paige's personal archives as well as photos commissioned exclusively for the publication. Her story, which as her official web site notes, shares "moments of joy and regret," also focuses on her life away from the stage with tales of her early childhood, her family and her travels, offering a uniquely personal view of one of the most gifted performers to ever grace a musical stage.

Theatre World: Volume 65, 2008–2009
Edited by Ben Hodges
Published by: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
Publication Date: November 2009
List price: $44.99 Hardcover; 432 pages, illustrated
This annual publication, now in its 65th year, has become the definitive record of the theatrical season on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. The book, which also includes detailed information on touring and regional companies, covers hundreds of productions — complete cast listings, producers, directors, authors, composers, opening and closing dates, song titles and plot synopses. The reference also includes lists of nominees and winners of the major theatrical awards as well as obituaries. The stars came out last season, and Volume 65 is chock full of information on the Elton John-composed Billy Elliot; Jane Fonda in 33 Variations; Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon in Exit the King; James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis in God of Carnage; Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons in Impressionism; Kristin Scott Thomas in The Seagull; Daniel Radcliffe in Equus; and Tovah Feldshuh in Off-Broadway's Irena's Vow. Regional companies also get their due with coverage of shows like A Civil War Christmas at New Haven's Long Wharf Theater and Minsky's at the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. This theatre lover's page-turner also includes 400 color and black and white photos, bringing last season's shows to life.

The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched
By Paul Woodruff
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: February 2010
List price: $17.95 paperback; 272 pages
Paul Woodruff, Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and noted Plato and Socrates scholar has turned his philosophical eye toward the theatre in this book that examines what is essential about this ancient art form. The book, notes the publisher, is the first "in a generation by a philosopher about the art of theatre as distinct from the arts of film and literature." Taking the view that live theatre is as necessary to the human experience as language, Woodruff analyzes the theory that all theatre—from the traditional to sporting events and social rituals—has the power to transform not only the lives of the watched (performers) but also that of the watchers (audiences). Publisher notes describe the "twin arts of watching and being watched" this way: "Whereas performers practice the art of being watched—making their actions worth watching and paying attention to action, choice, plot, character, mimesis and the sacredness of performance space—audiences practice the art of watching: paying close attention . . . their engagement takes a form of empathy that can lead to a special kind of human wisdom." The question of whether or not we need theatre is enthusiastically answered in the affirmative in this provocative study.

Plays of Note

A View from the Bridge
By Arthur Miller
Published by: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: December 16, 2009
List price: $12 paperback; 96 pages
This recently published version of Arthur Miller's play — with a Foreword by Oscar winner and Tony-nominated actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman — coincides with the Broadway revival (now in previews) that opens Jan. 24 at the Cort Theatre, directed by Gregory Mosher. Liev Schreiber stars as Eddie Carbone who spends his days working as a longshoreman on Brooklyn's waterfront and his nights with wife Beatrice (Jessica Hecht) and niece Catherine, played by Scarlett Johansson in her Broadway debut. The comfort and stability of Eddie's life is challenged with the arrival of Beatrice's relatives, illegal immigrants from Italy. When Catherine falls in love with one of them, it ignites feelings of jealousy and rage in Eddie that lead to tragic, devastating consequences.

2009: The Best New Playwrights
Edited by Lawrence Harbison
Published by: Smith & Kraus
Publication Date: December 1, 2009
List price: $19.95 paperback; 356 pages
Lawrence Harbison has a nose for the work of talented playwrights. For over 30 years he was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc., where his work on behalf of writers saw the first publication of plays from the likes of Tina Howe, Theresa Rebeck, Charles Fuller and Ken Ludwig, among others. Now a freelancer, he edits annual anthologies of plays, the latest of which gathers his personal choices for the finest plays by American Playwrights from the 2008–2009 season. The seven plays included are: Lloyd Shuh's American Hwangap, about a Korean family's 60th birthday celebration (a hwangap) for the father who deserted them years ago; Rajiv Joseph's Animals Out of Paper, a comedy about the art of origami; Steven Leigh Morris' Beachwood Drive, a drama about a Ukrainian woman working as a prostitute in Los Angeles and her relationship with a cop; Catherine Trieschmann's Crooked, the story of a young girl with a crooked spine who moves to another town with her mother and whose life is changed by a new acquaintance; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days, about the surreal Stein family and how their lives are straightened out by an Elvis-jumpsuit-wearing neighbor; Beau Williams' Farragut North, a drama about unscrupulous behavior on the campaign trail; and Wayne Lemon's Jesus Hates Me, a comedy set in West Texas at a religious-themed mini-golf track called "Blood of the Lamb."

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 jsamelson@playbill.com.

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