Magazine article The Sondheim Review

You Know I'm Right

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

You Know I'm Right

Article excerpt

Dan Dietz's new reference books traffic in more than just the facts

Dan Dietz has produced two voluminous reference books in The Complete Book of 1950s Broadway Musicals and The Complete Book of 1960s Broadway Musicals. I'm not in any position to judge if they are really "complete" when it comes to documenting Main Stem musicals during those two decades, but they certainly feel thorough, covering new musicals, revivals, imports, revues, concert appearances and even productions at New York City Center and, later, Lincoln Center. Though each sports a decentsize bibliography, Dietz introduces the 1950s volume saying that "most of the information in this book was drawn from source material (programs, souvenir programs, window cards, fliers, recordings, scripts, films, letters and newspaper advertisements)," and I am inclined to believe him. He's even tracked down authors' demos and live bootleg recordings and is particularly informative about script, score and cast permutations at all stages of a show's life.

The impressively detailed books collect a myriad of information in one handy place while allowing the reader to put a musical in the context of its time. So why isn't my hat higher in the air? Dietz insists on including his own florid, highly idiosyncratic "critical commentary," which never met a superlative it didn't like - positive or negative - while being delivered with the kind of histrionic certainty that comes after the fourth martini at Marie's Crisis Café in New York City. It's merely opinion, not criticism, and it mars the entire enterprise.

Fortunately, the Sondheim shows covered - West Side Story, Chpsy.A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle and Do I Hear a Waltz? -largely escape the heavy breathing. Dietz also reports on West Side Story's return Broadway engagement in 1960 following a national tour and the show's 1968 Lincoln Center production. The entry template opens with credits and statistics (opening and closing date, length of run, theatres played, etc.), then comprises a list of musical numbers and who sang them, a synopsis, review quotes, information about other first-class productions and film and TV editions, recordings, published scripts, background detail regarding the show's gestation, awards won, interesting trivia and, of course, those artistic pronouncements from on high.

For a Sondheim fan, there probably isn't much new here, but Dietz does raise an issue I've been asking about since Sondheim's Hat books were published: Why wasn't the lyric for the song "Philadelphia," cut out-of-town from Waltz included? …

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