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Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre Hardcover – September 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* One of the two most American contributions to world art, the musical springs (as does the other, jazz) from immigrant stock. Its grand progenitor, Mordden says, is John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), a socially satirical parody of the Italian operas that then dominated London theater. Gay’s wildly popular “ballad opera,” consisting of popular tunes given new words, inspired imitations that gradually shifted from existing to newly composed music, eventuating in Gilbert and Sullivan’s concoctions in England and Offenbach’s confections in Paris. Late nineteenth-century America enthusiastically imported those shows and started mixing their ingredients with those of native musical entertainment, especially the minstrel show and burlesque (and while the former was performed in blackface, the latter didn’t consist of strippers and blue humor). That’s the musical’s beginnings, and its subsequent life is an evolutionary history of varying forms right down to the present. Mordden brightly differentiates those forms, citing hundreds and analyzing dozens of examples of them in a sweeping narrative that, with plenty of sass and tang, wit and even a little snark, not to mention scholarly precision, is obviously the best-ever history of the musical and likely to remain so for a very long time. Individual shows and even numbers leap to life in Mordden’s colorful prose, both in the main text and the hefty bibliographical and discographical essays that propel the volume to a hilarious final bon mot. --Ray Olson

Review


"[T]he book takes us to present day, Mr. Mordden has a lot of ground to cover, but his high-energy style carries us along amiably, and it soon becomes obvious that he hasn't set out to write a reference work but... a survey of an art form seen through the eyes of a breathless and opinionated host." --The Wall Street Journal


"More journalistic than academic, Anything Goes has a relaxed spryness. ("Oklahoma!" in Mordden memorable formulation, "is a musical comedy undergoing psychoanalysis.") It's the work of an expert who is also an unabashed fan, an inveterate theatergoer who can deconstruct a score and reel off sparking backstage anecdotes all in the same paragraph." --Los Angeles Times


"Mordden remains an undisputed heavyweight in his field; his output is impressively comprehensive and his enthusiasm inexhaustible." --Washington Independent Review of Books


"[O]bviously the best-ever history of the musical and likely to remain so for a very long time. Individual shows and even numbers leap to life in Mordden's colorful prose, both in the main text and the hefty bibliographical and discographical essays that propel the volume to a hilarious final bon mot." --Booklist (starred review)


"For four decades he has been entertaining and enlightening readers with mind-boggling regularity and with perspective, perspicacity, and pizzazz. Now with Anything Goes Mordden miraculously manages to stylishly convey in an indispensable single volume, the uncanny and encyclopedic breadth of his knowledge-and the complexity of this enchanted American art form."--Geoffrey Block, author of Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from "Show Boat" to Sondheim and Lloyd Webber, and Series Editor of Oxford's Broadway Legacies


"Simply the best one-volume cronicle of the art-form."

-Stage Direction Magazine


"Anything Goes offers the surest description of the musical, and represents Mordden's own revised conclusions after almost forty years of considering these issues."

--The Gay and Lesbian Review


"[A] treasure trove, enthusiastically recommended for all lovers and serious students of musicals." --Journal of American Culture


"[A] fun and significant contribution to the scholarly literature. Both casual and serious students of musical theater will benefit from Mordden's insightful analysis and criticism, and his unique opinions will surely shape the future of Broadway scholarship for years to come." --Notes


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199892830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199892839
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.2 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Damien Slattery on September 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
First off, I have to admit to being a fan of Ethan Mordden, and I have read every book on the musical theatre that he has written. This new publication is as its subtitle suggests a history of this most famous of art forms, so we start at the early birthing of the Beggar's Opera in 1728, and travel headlong through Gilbert & Sullivan, Burlesque, Variety Shows, 1920's Operetta and the development of the Musical Play, to land finally at the contemporary blockbuster of Stephen Schwartz's musical: Wicked.

The author has already produced a series of books on the 20/21st century decades of Musical Theatre, so this one is more than just a distillation of them. This new work has an entirely new text and covers areas of the origins previously unexplored. Mordden sees musical history as divided into four ages (the Golden Age being the third) and notices a form of devolution occurring after the achievements of Stephen Sondheim. This opinion is subjective of course, but I do tend to agree with him. He traces the evolution of the influence of director/choreographer to the art form, and acknowledges that integration of the varied constituents of song/story were already utilised long before the Show Boat of 1927. Mordden also corrects the myth that The Black Crook of 1866 was the first musical. On examination, he discovers that this unknown work does not truly share any of the elements that make a musical a musical.
He always brings an astute intelligence to his opinions and I can think of no one writing about Broadway as expert. I only wish he hadn't titled the book: Anything Goes, as that has too many associations with the Cole Porter classic musical, and I half expected this 346 paged hardback to be exclusively about the creation of that monument before I bought this publication.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bruce from Forest Hills on October 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reading Ethan Mordden's books on Broadway musicals is like spending an evening sharing a conversation and a bottle of good wine with a brilliant, witty mind. The digressions are often more enlightening than the main story. Mordden will tell you things you never heard before and show you ways of thinking you never thought of before.

The focus on Victor Herbert makes me look forward to exploring more of his music. The focus on the great early comedians makes you wish you had been there to see them. Mordden shows how their disappearance may have been necessary for the development of the musical as an art form. Yet, you can feel a palpable loss.

Most interesting for me was Mordden`s focus on Allegro as a major piece in the development of the modern-day musical. I think I have read all of the "decade" books that Mordden has written. However, those books do not have the luxury of making the vast leaps between eras that this book makes.

My only criticism is not about the book itself as much as it is about the marketing. It is one of the most comprehensive histories of the musical I ever read. It goes far from Broadway to discuss the importance of The Beggars Opera and The Tales of Hoffman. However for a book to be both this comprehensive and this short, I think the reader has to know quite a bit about Broadway musicals.

But if you think you know your musicals, and you don't mind being enlightened by someone who knows more than you do, you should be reading this book.

Unless, of course, you have tickets to a good musical.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By New Yorker on November 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Ethan Mordden is the most engaging of the writers in this field, making
all that oldtime history come alive. He is also very funny, with a wicked
sense of humor. When they were bringing Debbie Reynolds to Broadway for her
first musical, a revival of Irene, who did they hire to direct? Jerome
Robbins? Bob Fosse? Agnes de Mille? No, the Shakespearean tragedian
John Gielgud. So Mordden says, "Perhaps Mao Tse-Tung and Lawrence
of Arabia weren't available." His best quality is a tight writing style that
lets him fill an average-sized book with information. Mordden sails through
the eras and the changing styles of the musical at a high energy, and he gives
you plenty to think about even when discussing Oklahoma!, Gypsy, or other shows
you may already know. And if you're new to this history, he helps you along, so
that even the first chapters, filled with apparently famous shows I never heard
of from way in the past, are fun and explanatory. Not at all confusing. I like
the use of boldface type each time a new genre appears, because "burlesque" in
the 1800s isn't Gypsy Rose Lee's kind, and then there's "comic opera" and the
"minstrel show" (well, that I did already know about), and so on. Mordden also
mentions odd bits that escape everyone else, like giving credit to Marc
Blitzstein as "the most acute character composer of the time, able to limn
an individual in a single number." Blitzstein isn't famous, but he's one of
my favorite composers. It's great to see him get credit for something besides
his progressive politics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Allen Smalling TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Never mind the Cole Porterish title: Ethan Mordden's ANYTHING GOES: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE (2013) covers the whole of its topic, from 18th-Century importations to the most recent years. Fans of Mordden's writing, and in particular his prior volumes on the Broadway musical in the 20th Century, will be cheered to know that Mordden, once again, teaches us things we did not already know, and zeroes in on shows and songs to celebrate, even those that weren't always the biggest successes. It is no secret that Mordden considers the post-1980 period of the Broadway musical to be a general 'devolution' of the genre, but he is a little kinder and not so dismissive of this era as he was in his previous THE HAPPIEST CORPSE I'D EVER SEEN, which many thought too harsh in its denigration of the imported, electronified, Disneyesque and dark-themed spectacles he took on in that 2004 book. If nothing else, his dissatisfaction here does not stretch on at book length.

Some caveats: this book works partly by historical time-line, partly by anecdote, and as such can get digressive. You can see this most clearly in the author's treatment of SOUTH PACIFIC, which does not get the linear treatment of the kind that OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL ahead of it did, but instead is referenced in about half-a-dozen places during a general treatment of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Another way of saying this is that some competence in the history of Broadway musicals is assumed. But then, if Mordden had hewed strictly to a this-happened-then-that-happened chronology, pure linear history, this book would not have been nearly as much fun.
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