July Playbill Readers Circle

Special Features   July Playbill Readers Circle
Two books that examine recent important plays and musicals are featured in the July Playbill Readers Circle: "The Best Plays of 2001-2002" and "The New American Musical."

"The Best Plays of 2001-2002" Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins (Limelight Editions) is the latest edition in a series once known as the Burns Mantle Theatre Yearbooks, which covered the entire 20th century season by season, and embarked on the 21st with a slight format change. As of two years ago, Jenkins and Limelight jettisoned the longstanding policy of presenting condensed scripts of the ten best plays in favor of essays on each by the likes of the Village Voice’s Michael Feingold, The New York Times’ Bruce Weber and a range of scholars and critics.

The choices for the season ending in May 2002 are Charles L. Mee’s Big Love, Richard Greenberg’s The Dazzle, Rebecca Gilman’s The Glory of Living, Tony Kushner’s Homebody Kabul, Melissa James Gibson’s [sic], Kia Corthron’s Breath, Boom, Richard Nelson’s Franny’s Way, Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphosis and Suzan Lori Parks; Topdog/Underdog.

Some of the choices are obscure, but offer an overall excellent survey of the most exciting, influential and thoughtful new plays that bowed during that season, mainly in New York, but also elsewhere. Both the year’s Tony-winning Best Play and Pulitzer winner are on the list, but, interestingly, no musical made the cut this year.

As fans of the long-running series know, the plays themselves are just part of yearbook’s appeal. It once again contains its invaluable survey of every show presented on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off- and many regionals, with complete cast lists, creative team lists, number of performances, awards, recordings, national tours, replacements for major roles, a necrology, etc.,

On a sad note, "Best Plays of 2001-2002" also offers what turns out to be the last full season of Al Hirschfeld caricatures, a foundation stone of this series for decades. Hirschfeld will appear in the necrology of the 2002-03 edition, having passed away in January 2003. Who Will Buy: Theatre fans outside major production centers; researchers, scholars. If you’re interested in theatre and haven’t heard of some of these plays, this may be exactly the book for you.

"The New American Musical" Edited by Wiley Hausam (TCG) offers the first mainstream anthology of 1990's postmodern musicals. This volume contains the librettos to musicals Floyd Collins (1996) by Adam Guettel and Tina Landau, Rent (1996) by Jonathan Larson, Parade (1998) by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, and The Wild Party (2000) by Michael John La Chiusa and George C. Wolfe.

What draws them together for editor Wiley Hausem (executive director for the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University) is a 1956 quote from composer Leonard Bernstein, envisioning that musicals would someday evolve into "a new kind of opera . . . a new form. . ."

Though Hausem spends much of his introductory essay talking about Stephen Sondheim and his influence, he also discusses the search for a balance between art and popular entertainment. He notes that of the four shows, only Rent was a popular success.

The scripts themselves offer a textbook in how drama works in postmodern musicals: the jumpy narrative, the interior monologues that reveal character, the distrust of big dance numbers, the complex emotions, the striving for originality in storytelling.

Here’s also hoping for a follow-up edition that will contain some or all of Hello Again, Violet, Running Man, Dream True, Saturn Returns, Juan Darien, Falsettos, First Lady Suite, Little Fish, A New Brain, The Spitfire Grill, Marie Christine, The Last Five Years, My Life With Albertine and Light in the Piazza.

Who Will Buy: Fans of musical theatre, aspiring writers of musical theatre, historians, devoted fans of these cult shows.

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