While many books have been written about notorious musical flops and how they came to be, Suskin's original approach is to reprint accounts of the train wrecks written by people who were either intimately involved or who reported on the events as they happened.
"In the course of research," Suskin writes in his introduction, "I've come across some especially vivid first-hand accounts of the creation of musicals. Going back to them again and again over the years, it struck me that these yellowing accounts—mostly from daily newspapers and weekly magazines, which went out-of-print the day or week after they were published—tell pretty convincing tales in themselves. Why not gather the best of them together, and put them in context, I wondered?"
Nine of the pieces come from the pages of the New York Times. Four came from New York magazine. Two were from the UPI news service. Two came from press agent Harvey Sabinson's memoir, "Darling, You Were Wonderful!" An account of Ilya Darling was taken from Lehman Engel's autobiographical "This Bright Day."
Other authors include Patricia Boswoth (writing up Dude and Seesaw for the Times), Mel Gussow (looking at Irene for the Times) William Gibson (writing of his experience working on Golden Boy), John Gruen (reporting on Breakfast at Tiffany's for the World-Journal-Tribune), Ellen Stern (writing about Mack and Mabel and Cry for Us All for New York, and Nick & Nora in the defunct Manhattan, Inc.), Caryl Rivers (covering Rex for the Times) and Bruce Weber (the recent Times second-string theatre critic, who here details the demise of "The Red Shoes"—the most recent piece in the collection).
The book ends with "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly," a 37-page account, by Lewis H. Lapham of the Saturday Evening Post, of the one-performance 1965 Broadway debacle Kelly. Why is the story so long? Producers gave the reporter complete access to all aspects of the production, even including him in a limo trip to Philadelphia. Second Act Trouble, running 378 pages, is priced at $27.95. It will be published in January 2006.