THE BOOK SHELF: "Fosse," "West End Broadway," "Mama Rose's Turn" and The Golden Apple

By Steven Suskin
08 Dec 2013

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I have not had the opportunity to fully read "Mama Rose's Turn: The True Story of America's Most Notorious Stage Mother" by Carolyn Quinn [University Press of Mississippi]. A quick look through the book, though, turned into a lengthy look through the book. Rose Hovick, mother of June and Gypsy — and if you don't know who June and Gypsy were, you are in the wrong place — was quite a character. Tales of creating and shepherding a kid act on the Pantages and Orpheum circuits. Tales of transforming her daughter into the most famous stripper in burlesque. Tales abound of blackmail, murder, husbands, girlfriends and endless tangles with her showbiz daughters. Can all of this be accurate? Quinn dutifully includes it all, even the facts she finds implausible. Rose, Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc were — each of them — so adept at fictionalizing the past that the truth is often a mere impediment.

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On the printed music front, here's something extra special. At last month's Columbia University celebration of the Centennial of composer Jerome Moross, I discovered that Alfred Music published a complete vocal score of The Golden Apple several years back. I quickly got myself a copy and have spent the last week at the keyboard in Olympian splendor. (Mt. Olympus in Washington State, that is.) The Golden Apple, in case it has passed you by, is a one-of-a-kind musical comedy by Moross (1913-83) and John Latouche (1914-56), resetting the Odyssey in Washington circa 1900; Odysseus and his men are just home from the Spanish-American War. ("Oh Theodore/Oh Theodore/the Roosevelt that we adore" sing the soldiers, in six-part harmony.)



The show opened at the Phoenix Theatre in 1954, transferred up to the Alvin, and easily picked up that season's New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The score is inventive beyond bounds; it is regularly overlooked, in part because of an original cast album which captured much of the show but presented it in truncated fashion laced with narration. (The one standard to emerge was the languid "Lazy Afternoon.") I feel optimistic, though, that The Golden Apple will resurface in full glory over the next several years. As for the vocal score, it is much appreciated. For many years, the music was available only in an unwieldy, handwritten rental score that was in places indecipherable. The new edition, edited and carefully corrected by Larry Moore, is clear, clean and playable, all 538 pages of it. (The original Porgy and Bess vocal score runs 559.)

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Seeing as how the holiday season is here, this seems like the proper place to cite our favorite books of the year. The following tomes are more than highly recommended, and you can see why: "The Leonard Bernstein Letters" [Yale]; "On My Way: The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and Porgy and Bess" [Norton], Joseph Horowitz's fascinating examination reconstruction of the creation of Gershwin's folk opera; and director Jack O'Brien's fascinating and friendly memoir "Jack Be Nimble" [FSG]. And for those of you who wish you knew and/or understood Shakespeare better than you do, Ken Ludwig has taken a break from writing plays to give us How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare [Crown].

(Steven Suskin is author of the 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," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)