THE BOOK SHELF: "Song of Spider-Man," "The Richard Burton Diaries" and More

By Steven Suskin
22 Dec 2013

But... Count up the number of actors, dancers, aerial acrobats and stage managers. Add in the musicians, stage hands and wardrobe/hair/makeup. Don't forget the house staff, cleaning staff, concessionaires and box office, plus the managers and press agents. Take that number and multiply it by 160 work weeks, plus — for many of them — another 10 weeks or so of rehearsal. Multiply that number by everybody's weekly wage, plus pension payments, health coverage and other benefits. Figure out how many people, and how many families, the musical has supported since the rehearsals began in August, 2010. From their viewpoint, Spider-Man has to be considered a big success.

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Yale University Press has released the paperback version of "The Richard Burton Diaries," edited by Chris Williams. Burton (1925-84) kept three diaries: One when he was a Welsh lad of 14, another when he was an emerging star of 35 and a more extensive one he began as a world-wide celebrity of 40 and continued until a year before his death. The later diary is the most informative, as the star discusses his numerous film roles as well as life with (and without) Liz. The first, though, might be the most fascinating. The teenaged lad carefully details every movie he saw in the local cinema, with cast; every football (that is, soccer) match he played, with a description of his efforts; every school exam he took, with grades; and every time he played that newly-released game, Monopoly. (Richard Burton engrossed in Monopoly? And, later, playing Yahtzee with Liz by the pool?)

Growing up in poverty, young Burton also mentions every shilling he either earned or received from one of his numerous older siblings, no doubt feeling guilty about their kid brother's rough living conditions. He also details the pounds and pence he earned by selling newspapers, by collecting used newspaper to recycle at his aunt's fish and chips shop, and by "going up the mountain" to steal buckets of dung to sell as fertilizer. (On occasion, he reports an angry farmer chasing after him.) All of this gives us a new perspective on the most famous, glamorous and highly-paid actor of his time.



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TCG — that is, Theatre Communications Group — has added three recent titles to its releases. Most prominent is a new edition of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County. This was first published by TCG in 2008, but I expect the new one will sell better simply because of a change in cover: This one proclaims "now a major motion picture," with a cast list headed by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Inside, though, it is not the screenplay but Letts' play script. And a mighty good one. "The Manifestos and Essays" by Richard Foreman contains — well, Foreman's manifestos and essays, centering on the question, "What is art?" These Ontological-Hysteric musings are not within my field of interest, but they will surely be pertinent to Foreman's fans and admirers.

These two are joined by Caryl Churchill's Love and Information, which opened at the Royal Court in October 2012. This is a play — at least, it seems to be a play — in seven sections, although it is explained that the many (50?) scenes within the sections can be played in any order. There is no indication, anywhere, as to which character — or which actor, male or female, within the ensemble — is speaking which lines. But we shall see for ourselves, when New York Theatre Workshop presents Love and Information in New York in February.

(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.)