To Broadway, to Life: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

Article excerpt

To Broadway, To Life: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick. By Philip Lambert. (Broadway Legacies.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. [xvi, 361 p. ISBN 9780195390070. $35]. Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, appendices, index.

This recent installment in Oxford's Broad way Legacies series (six volumes at last count) has taken over some of the territory formerly covered by the Yale Broadway Masters series. The latter produced eight volumes between 2004 and 2011 (with something of a hiatus recently) that focused primarily on the most successful and prolific composers and lyricists from Broadway history. The Legacies series has a broader sweep, with volumes on creators (Dorothy Fields and the volume under discussion, on the team of Bock and Harnick) as well as on individual works (Show Boat and South Pacific, with a projected volume on My Fair Lady). With few exceptions, volumes in both series come from authors who specialize in musical theatre or the specific musicals themselves, lending both series a strong imprimatur; these are foundational texts and often the first full-length studies of their subjects, written by the top experts in the field. As such, volumes in this series typically survey the important biographical and musical elements of the composer's and lyricist's styles, present in-depth studies of some of their more famous musicals, and introduce readers to lesser-known works in their repertoires.

Indeed, the trajectory of volumes in both series serves as a kind of canon-building ex ercise, in which the major works in the repertoire are shored up by scholarship that also allows for new works to be introduced into that canon. A corollary to this scholarship is the "Encores!" series of concerts that has taken place in New York since the mid-1990s. This series presents in a concert setting rarely-heard or lessfrequently- produced musicals to allow audiences access to some of the treasures of the Broadway repertoire without the burden of their production costs. Lesser-known works like St. Louis Woman (Arlen and Mercer) stand along more famous works like On the Town (Bernstein and Comden/Green) and these pared-down revivals provide an alternative to the often commercial and ephemeral offerings on Broadway today while allowing a glimpse into the past.

For Bock and Harnick, the subject of the present volume, the series editor Geoffrey Block mentions specifically the Encores! presentation of She Loves Me and the performance of Kirsten Chenoweth as an indication that a study of the creators is timely and their works worthy of revisiting. Philip Lambert, the author of the volume itself, situates his subjects not only within their own oeuvre, but within Broadway history in general, which is another important function of books such as these. The output of Bock and Harnick falls into one of the most interesting and fraught periods in musical theatre historiography, the end of the Golden Age and the ascendancy of the concept musical and the directorchoreographer. As such, the author can provide commentary on the period and the way in which changes in the creative process reflect some of the changing means of production and focus of Broadway musicals. Lambert particularly wants to portray the team as adhering to the highest ideals of what is called the "integrated" musical (a term that has been applied to many of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, but which is fraught with modernist ideology and indeed has been applied to many works before and after the Golden Age heyday). His emphasis is, then, on how the authors valued dramatic integrity over sheer craftsmanship:

If there is a thread of consistency in their mature work it is their acute sensitivity to drama; they wrote for specific dramatic circumstances and characters, in the best tradition of the integrated musical. They also created little musical dramas within the substance of their scores-dramas of themes, motives, chord types, harmonic progressions, and the like, that interact artfully with the unfolding developments of story and character. …


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