SHELF LIFE: Kazan, Williams, Lloyd Webber, Leiber and Stoller, Women Playwrights

Special Features   SHELF LIFE: Kazan, Williams, Lloyd Webber, Leiber and Stoller, Women Playwrights
This month's mixed bag of books includes the writings of Elia Kazan, a conversational autobiography of Leiber and Stoller, essays by Tennessee Williams, a look at the controversial career of Andrew Lloyd Webber, political playwrights, and more.


Kazan on Directing
By: Elia Kazan
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: April 21, 2009
List price: $30, hardcover; 368 pages
In his vaunted career, Elia Kazan put his distinctive stamp on some of theatre and film's most enduring works. From original Broadway productions of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (which he also directed on screen) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and All My Sons to movies like the searing "On the Waterfront," passionate "East of Eden" and life-affirming "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Kazan's marriage of lyrical staging with unflinching, uncompromising naturalism, as well as his ability to draw inspired performances from his actors, has had a profound effect on the director's art. "Kazan on Directing," with a Preface by Martin Scorsese and Foreword by John Lahr, is a compilation of the director's writing, a record of his creative process drawn from his notebooks, letters, interviews and autobiography (entitled "A Life"). A brief example of that process can be found in this excerpt from the director's notebook regarding the 1947 production of A Streetcar Named Desire that starred Jessica Tandy as Blanche Du Bois and Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalksi: "Blanche and Don Quixote are both emblems of the death of an old culture. This is a poetic tragedy, not a realistic, naturalistic one. The acting must be styled, not in the obvious sense. (Say nothing about this to the producer and actors.) But you will fail unless you find this kind of poetic realization for these people's behavior." With this extensive record of his work, Kazan, notes the publisher, reveals his method: "how he uncovered for himself the 'spine' or core of each script and each character; how he analyzed each piece in terms of his own experience; how he determined the specifics of his production, from casting and costuming to set design and cinematography . . . how he worked with writers on scripts and with actors on interpretation." Along the way, Kazan not only shares his professional stories and secrets but reveals himself to have been a constantly evolving, self-examining artist.

Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography
By: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller with David Ritz
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 2009
List price: $25, hardcover; 336 pages with illustration
In 1995 a show called Smokey Joe's Café opened on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre (now the August Wilson). Subtitled, The Songs of Leiber and Stoller, this jukebox musical revue nabbed seven Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Musical. As the musical's subtitle attests, the team whose tunes (together and with other collaborators) kept the joint jumping for 2,036 performances were songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, authors of such classic hits as "Jailhouse Rock," "Yakety Yak," "Poison Ivy," "On Broadway" and "Stand by Me." This new autobiography of the team takes its name from a song they wrote when barely out of their teens: "Hound Dog," their first hit, was originally written for blues singer Mae (Big Mama) Thornton. Thornton's record, a hard-hitting, down and dirty rendition, met with modest success, but when the song was revamped, reconstituted and recorded by Elvis Presley, it became a megahit. From then on, the Leiber and Stoller story reads like a case study on success in the music business. Their autobiography, "Houndog," co-written in a conversational tone with David Ritz, begins with the unlikely origins of these two blues-loving white kids — Leiber, was raised in a Yiddish-speaking Baltimore family and Stoller was a kid from Sunnyside, Queens. "We were two guys looking to write songs for black artists with black feelings rendered in the black vernacular," says Leiber in this book that recounts the team's successful collaborations with other artists such as Ben E. King, the Drifters, the Coasters and even, writing in a different genre, Peggy Lee (whose recording of their "Is That All There Is?" was a hit for the sleepy-voiced chanteuse).

New and Selected Essays: Where I Live
By: Tennessee Williams
Published by: New Directions Publishing Corp.
Publication Date: April 21, 2009 (revised edition)
List price: $18.95, paperback; 256 pages
Prior to the opening of most of his Broadway plays, Tennessee Williams would write an essay about the play in order to stimulate interest in and thought about the upcoming production. The essays, which most often ran in The New York Times, were collected under the umbrella title of "Where I Live" and published in book form in 1978. And now this volume has been expanded by Williams scholar John S. Bak, with a Foreword by theatre critic and essayist John Lahr, to include all of the playwright's theatre essays, biographical pieces, introductions and reviews. Also included here are program notes and fascinating early published pieces, such as his 1927 essay entitled "Smart Set," which, notes the publisher, answers the question "Can a good wife be a good sport?" In his essay "Five Fiery Ladies," Williams extols the talents of five great actresses who created roles in stage and film versions of his plays: Vivien Leigh, Geraldine Page, Anna Magnani, Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. The volume also includes a portrait of his longtime agent Audrey Woods; tributes to Carson McCullers and Tallulah Banhkead; a 1972 political statement, "We Are Dissenters Now"; humorous stories in response to Elia Kazan's warning, "Tennessee, Never Talk to An Actress"; and his autobiographical essay, "The Man in the Overstuffed Chair."

The American Play: 1787–2000
By: Marc Robinson
Published by: Yale University Press
Publication Date: April 13, 2009
List price: $45, hardcover; 416 pages; 20 b/w illustrations
The American Theatre — from the late 18th century to the start of the 21st — is the subject of this new study by Marc Robinson, professor of theater studies, English American studies at Yale University and adjunct professor of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism at the Yale School of Drama. Robinson looks at more than 200 plays, their styles and staging, to discover the ways in which the theatre has and has not changed over this period. According to publisher notes, Robinson "offers readings of plays by O'Neill, Stein, Wilder, Miller and Albee, as well as by important but lesser known dramatists such as Wallace Stevens and Jean Toomer" and examines recurring themes in American drama as well as how advances in American literature, dance and the visual arts are directly linked to the work of these playwrights.

Andrew Lloyd Webber
By: John Snelson
Published by: Yale University Press
Publication Date: May 18, 2009
List price: $19, cloth or paperback; 288 pages; 34 b/w illustrations and 27 musical examples
Andrew Lloyd Webber has had great success in the world of musical theatre with shows that include The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He has won Tony Awards for his scores for Evita (1980), Cats (1983), and Sunset Boulevard (1995), a host of other Tony nominations and Grammy Awards. However, his work has also been visited by occasional controversy and critical acrimony. In this study of the prolific composer, Snelson, editor of publications at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, looks squarely at the controversial aspects of Lloyd Webber's work and, according to publisher notes, has written a sympathetic survey in which he asks and answers the questions, "Why have both the man and his work provoked such extreme responses? Does he challenge his audiences, or merely recycle the comfortable and familiar? … Has Lloyd Webber changed fundamentally what a musical can be?" Snelson explores the influences that have shaped Lloyd Webber's work as well as the role Lloyd Webber's work has had in shaping the modern musical theatre. PLAYS OF NOTE

Front Lines: Political Plays by American Women
Edited by: Alexis Greene and Shirley Lauro
Published by: The New Press
Publication Date: Spring 2009
List price: $19.95, paperback; 400 pages
This new collection of plays provides an introduction to the politically inspired work of some of America's leading female playwrights. As playwright Shirley Lauro notes in her Preface: "Ever since this country came into being, women have waged battles for rights in the pages of their plays, and on the stages where those plays were performed." The playwrights whose work is included are Jessica Blank (The Exonerated, written with Erik Jensen, based on interviews with unjustly incarcerated American prisoners), Emily Mann (Mrs. Packard, the story of Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, wife of 18th century Calvinist minister Theophilus Packard, who was incarcerated in a state-run mental asylum with no public hearing, based solely on her husband's declaration of her insanity), Nilaja Sun (No Child . . ., a one-woman play about an inner-city school teacher's approach to her rebellious students that won the Outer Critics Circle's 2007 John Gassner Award for Best New Play), Paula Vogel (Hot 'n' Throbbing, about sexual violence and the effects of pornography on relationships), Shirley Lauro (Clarence Darrow's Last Trial, a courtroom drama based on fact), Quiara Alegría Hudes (Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue, about a young soldier just returned from Iraq and his harrowing experience of war) and Cindy Cooper (Words of Choice, about women's right to choose). "Front Lines" also includes short biographies of each of the playwrights as well as a production photo from each of the plays included. The Black Monk and The Dog Problem: Two Plays
By: David Rabe
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 7, 2009
List price: $15, trade paperback
With this collection of two seemingly disparate plays, notes the publisher, Tony and Obie Award–winning David Rabe — author of such critically acclaimed works as Hurlyburly, Streamers and In the Boom Boom Room — "reveals a deft touch and sly humor in the face of madness, death and violence." The Black Monk, which is based on a novella of the same name by Anton Chekhov, concerns the presence, indeed the necessity, of madness in everyday life. A famed horticulturist, whose daughter and adopted son have fallen in love, is visited by an apparition — a black monk — that threatens the trio's grasp of reality. The Dog Problem is a racy and raucous tale about a man, a woman, a dog and a one-night stand gone bad. Judy Samelson, former editor of Playbill, gathers information on theatre-related books, including published plays, for's monthly Shelf Life column. Write her at
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