Judi Dench has certainly had enough adventures in her 54-year career to fill a compelling book or three. "And Furthermore" by Judi Dench (as told to John Miller) [St. Martin's Press] is not autobiography; rather, it fills in the gaps and continues the story told by Mr. Martin in his 2002 biography "Judi Dench: With a Crack in Her Voice" and by Ms. Dench and Mr. Martin in the 2007 follow-up "Scenes from My Life." And does so in a most entertaining manner. Ms. Dench takes us from one project to another, tells us an anecdote or two, and quickly moves on to the next. Famous names abound, of course, but Dame Judi doesn't seem interested in the fame; it's the character facets that catch her attention, thus giving us a refreshing look at life atop her various worlds.
The 100th birthday of Tennessee Williams has brought forth not one but three books from a New Jersey outfit named Hansen Publishing Group. "Tenn at One Hundred: The Reputation of Tennessee Williams" edited by David Kaplan contains 18 essays on various aspects (or, as the editor puts is, "the story of how Williams' reputation was constructed, earned, championed, manipulated, undermined, and renewed"). Contributors include John Lahr, Amiri Baraka and John Patrick Shanley.
"Tennessee Williams and Company: His Essential Screen Actors" by John Di Leo looks at Williams' work by concentrating on 11 actors who played major roles in film versions of his plays. What does a look at the entire screen career of Vivien Leigh or Elizabeth Taylor tell us about Tennessee Williams, even if it does concentrate on their appearances in two or three Williams-derived films? Well, there is something to be said for it — but it might be seen as a bit of a stretch. At any rate, that's what Mr. DiLeo does, and conscientiously. And look at it this way: we get a full chapter on the career of Madeleine Sherwood, and where else are you going to find that? Besides Leigh, Taylor and Sherwood, we get Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, Geraldine Page and Mildred Dunnock; the male side is stronger, consisting of Brando, Newman, Burton and Karl Malden. Briefest and most unusual of the bunch is "Tennessee Williams in Provincetown" by David Kaplan. This tells of the playwright's four summers in Provincetown, beginning in 1940; at this point, he was 29 and awaiting the start of rehearsals of his first major play. (As it turned out, the Theatre Guild's production of Battle of Angels opened disastrously at the Wilbur in Boston and was quickly withdrawn.) What we get in Provincetown is the still young-and-struggling playwright. Mr. Kaplan ties together a narrative with the help of some old-time intimates of Tenn; one of them even dug a couple of eyebrow-raising photographs out of the ol' shoebox. Should you want to see a photo of Williams cavorting like Pan on the dunes without a bathing suit, this is the place to find it.
Face it, no book is gonna provide a magic key that will enable musical theatre actors to go out and get every job they audition for. Even so, "The Enraged Accompanist's Guide to the Perfect Audition" by Andrew Gerle [Applause] provides guidance and tips in a helpful and entertaining way. Mr. Gerle is, as you might guess, an accompanist who plays auditions; he is also an up-and-coming composer (Gloryana, Meet John Doe), four-time recipient of the Richard Rodgers Award.. He does not seem to be the enraged type; rather a calm and supportive presence. What seems to get him enraged, for the purposes of this book, is not performers who are objectionable but performers who self-sabotage themselves. Little things, those simple mistakes that are likely to result in a failed audition before the singing even begins.
It is Mr. Gerle's theory that if you walk in feeling confident in what you are doing and how you are doing it, you will come out ahead. You might not get the part; you might simply not be what they are at that moment in time looking for, even if you give an exceptional audition. But a good audition is likely to be remembered — by directors, choreographers, casting directors, or even accompanists; the next time you walk in the room, they might even say to the others around the table, "this singer is good." A poor audition, a disorganized audition, a self-sabotaged audition; these are no help to anyone.
Mr. Gerle gives the reader "techniques, strategies, and customary practices to make the experience as familiar and comfortable as possible." His aim: "you will, at the very least, have an audition experience that is vastly more relaxed and enjoyable for everyone than 90 percent of your competition." Easier said than done; but every little bit helps, no? "The Enraged Accompanist's Guide to the Perfect Audition" says it all in a friendly and entertaining manner, for 17 bucks.
Our March "Book Shelf" saluted the arrival of the first comprehensive book I've seen about musicals of the Off-Broadway variety. No sooner did I recommend it than a second volume came in, "Off Broadway Musicals, 1910-2007: Casts, Credits, Songs, Critical Reception and Performance Data of More Than 1,800 Shows" by Dan Dietz [McFarland & Company]. Both books — the earlier one being "Off Broadway Musicals Since 1919" by Thomas S. Hischak, from Scarecrow — cover the same basic field. But Hischak's book is an overview, with about 381 musicals; Dietz has compiled a veritable encyclopedia, with five times as many entries. And a list price of $295, it must be said. But Dietz really does give us the aforementioned information — and let me tell you, this stuff is not easy to research. Statistics, synopses and related information are relatively easy to find for Broadway productions; Off-Broadway information, though, takes serious digging. If you are serious about finding what you want to know about Off-Broadway when you want to know it, Mr. Dietz's book is for you.
An unusual book crossed my desk this month, "Collision: When Reality and Illusion Collide" by Ron Bruguiere [AuthorHouse]. This has got to be one of the more puzzling — and nondescriptive — titles I've come across. This is not a book of psychology, philosophy, sociology, or any other -ology; Mr. Bruguiere is referring, specifically, to the collision between illusion and reality as seen from the vantage point of the pass-door between backstage and the front of house. That is to say, this is the memoir of a theatrical manager. Bruguiere tries to square life inside the theatre with life outside the theatre, with his pages populated by show people of the sort whom Irving Berlin wrote "there's no people like."
Bruguiere started his career ushering at Wildcat in 1960; graduated to summer stock at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in 1961, where he was personally in charge of a celebrity apprentice (named Liza) and his duties included sneaking her mother (named Judy) surreptitiously into the theatre when she wanted to see the show; served as company manager of Richard Rodgers-produced Music Theater of Lincoln Center series; became general manager of ANTA, and house manager of the ANTA Theatre; served as company manager on shows like the original production of Hair and the successful Maggie Smith tour of Private Lives; and wound up his career in Los Angeles, with 25 years as house manager of the Mark Taper and then the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
It is impossible for me to gauge the reactions of the general reader; I found "Collision" steadily interesting and a quick read, but I spent many years in the same profession and worked with many of the same people. Bruguiere offers numerous glimpses of life within the business end of the legitimate theatre, and the sort of closeup view of performers like Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Deborah Kerr, and especially Ms. Smith (with whom he apparently had a strange and unresolved relationship), that only a manager can give you. *
The Limelight Editions "Music on Film" series has issued two additional titles, "Music on Film: Amadeus" by Ray Morton and "Music on Film: Cabaret" by Stephen Tropiano. These slender paperbacks do a fine job of telling you how the properties in question made it from the stage to the screen. They do not, though, concentrate on the making of the stage versions, which I expect would be more interesting to readers of this column. The story behind the making of the Cabaret film, though, centers on Bob Fosse — which does, indeed, make it of more than incidental interest.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's On the Record and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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