THE COMPLETE BOOK OF 2010s BROADWAY MUSICALS By Peter Filichia
He’s done it nine times before, and now he’s done it again.
Dan Dietz has thrilled and amazed us all with his THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BROADWAY MUSICALS series, which has spanned the 1920s through the first decade of the 2000s.
Now, after having achieved this triple-triple crown, he brings us his tenth jewel: THE COMPLETE BOOK OF 2010s BROADWAY MUSICALS.
Dietz sprinkles the book about the past decade with facts, figures, the name of each and every creator and cast member, snippets of reviews and – not so incidentally – his own opinions.
When covering the 2012 revival of EVITA, Dietz deems that “the richly melodic score was Webber’s finest.” However, he does say of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” that “the song’s popularity is somewhat surprising because even in context the lyric is oblique and abstract, almost dadaesque. As a result, EVITA may well be the only musical with a stream-of-consciousness hit song.”
Regarding CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Dietz shrewdly observes that “It was a clever touch to cast the foursome” – meaning the children – “with adult actors because all of them come to fiendish ends and perhaps their terrible fates didn’t seem so harsh to young audiences because on stage it was adult and not child performers who meet their doom.”
But in plentiful paragraphs, Dietz leaves the majority of the opinions on the musicals to Broadway’s most important aisle-sitters. So here are the salient points of the last decades’ reviews in one 515-page tome.
Dietz reports that Ben Brantley of The New York Times went to London to see GROUNDHOG DAY and called it a “bright whirligig of a show” in which Andy Karl was a “top-of-the-heap” star.
Then, when it came to Broadway, Brantley didn’t change his tune about the tuner, but still maintained that it was “dizzyingly witty” and “outrageously inventive.” What’s more, in Karl he saw … the full emergence of a newborn bona fide musical star.”
We learn or are reminded that Elisabeth Vincentelli called A CHRISTMAS STORY “the rare family entertainment that doesn’t feel like a soulless, dumbed-down corporate product.” Frank Rizzo in Variety deemed THE PROM a “twenty-first century BYE BYE BIRDIE.” (Both critics make fine cases for two very fine musicals.)
So the critics give us the good (ONCE was “the sweetest and most romantic show on Broadway” — Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Daily News), the bad (SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK “set the bar low and reaches it.” – Linda Winer, Newsday) and the very bad (KING KONG: “Kong had an advantage over the human actors because he didn’t have to sing the songs and speak the dialogue.” – Robert Hofler, The Wrap).
What Dietz cites from David Rooney’s review of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS in the Hollywood Reporter isn’t an opinion. Rooney complained that at the end of the show he was “knocked in the head” with one of the beach balls that the cast threw into the audience. The critic then ominously added that there’d be a “lawsuit pending.”
(Wonder how that turned out? Has Rooney been able to retire on the damages that were awarded him?)
SPONGEBOB, Dietz notes, is just one of the albums now available on vinyl (which is enjoying a nice renaissance). He also cites that option for IF/THEN, KINKY BOOTS, ONCE, THE PROM and the Bette Midler HELLO, DOLLY!
When a critic for The New Yorker (who didn’t reveal a name) assessed ON YOUR FEET, he or she “wished jukebox musicals would abandon all ‘pretense of plot’ and emphasize the music.” Well, that’s what original cast albums are for, aren’t they?
And for all the moaning and groaning that many of us do about the very existence of jukebox musicals, Dietz reports that the decade gave us sixty-one shows with brand-new scores compared to twenty-nine with pre-existing songs. Granted, there was a time when the number in the latter category was zero or darn close to it. But let’s be heartened that we still get more new musicals than non-new ones.
Lucy Van Pelt in YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN dispenses many “Little Known Facts” but Dietz reveals more –
and HIS are accurate. Do you know or remember that the hit production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS tried out in its namesake city? Dietz did. He also knew that CHAPLIN was called LIMELIGHT for a while and later BECOMING CHAPLIN before landing on its single-word title.
You’ll occasionally find information about shows from other decades, too. When examining BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, Dietz mentions that this 2014 musical was Woody Allen’s first foray into any kind of Broadway musical entertainment since FROM A TO Z in 1960.
(For the record, Jerry Herman and Fred Ebb made their Broadway debuts with that show, too. Herman only had to wait a year to get his first full Broadway score via MILK AND HONEY, but Ebb had to endure five before FLORA, THE RED MENACE got him to The Main Stem.)
Although the PROMISES, PROMISES Dietz covers is the 2010 revival with Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, he reminds us that when the show was first produced in 1968 it was “an important milestone in the history of the American musical” because the sound of Burt Bacharach’s music was then “radically different.” (Nice to see it get its due, lest we forget.)
Dietz will tell you when a cast album offers a bonus track, such as HEAD OVER HEELS’ lagniappe of The Go-Go’s doing “This Town” and Elena Roger singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” in Spanish. Along the way, he gives us other bonuses, too. When discussing the Midler HELLO, DOLLY! he mentions that when DBS Books published the script in 1969, it contained “a memorable misprint on both its dust jacket and title page which credits the musical’s source to ‘Thorton’ Wilder.”
(Hmmm, I never noticed that the first “n” in “Thornton” – the one that should be between the “r” and the “t” – wasn’t on my copy. That sent me to my bookshelf where I saw no misspelling at all. Ah, but upon further examination, I see that I have a mere second edition that was published a year later. Nice to know that DBS got on the ball after the first edition.)
And whatever you do, don’t accuse Dietz of product placement. When covering IF/THEN, he mentions that a scene in Madison Square Park included “a woman drinking from a franchise’s coffee cup.”
(As you’d assume, the word “Star” appears quite often in the book and there are three “Bucks” in the index for “Chris,” “Heather” and “A. Randall.” That, however, is as close as Dietz gets in giving a certain company a plug.)
Not that he had to, but Dietz went the extra ten yards by even listing twenty-three new musicals that, at the time of publication, had been produced in regional theaters but hadn’t reached Broadway. Perhaps some or all will get the breaks and money that will get them there. If so, you can bet that Dan Dietz will have quite a bit to report and say about them in THE COMPLETE BOOK OF 2020s BROADWAY MUSICALS.