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Before the Parade Passes By: Gower Champion and the Glorious American Musical Hardcover – October 20, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312337760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312337766
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #878,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Gower Champion died in 1980 at age 59, the lights on Broadway dimmed. It was a fitting tribute to the visionary director/choreographer responsible for Mame; Bye, Bye, Birdie; and 42nd Street. Enrolled in dance classes as a child, Champion turned pro as a teen and by age 27 had teamed with wife Marge to great acclaim. Champion's distinctive style used "story dances," or narratives told through dance and pantomime. Smart and stylish, they became the trademark of the team's nightclub and film work in the 1940s and '50s. When Champion's dancing career ended, he expanded his repertoire as a director and choreographer. His specialty was "two- and three-dimensional choreographic movements" that integrated song, dance, theme and props to dazzling effect. Though Champion directed early TV specials and did innovative work for MGM, his biggest coup was electrifying Broadway. Hypersensitive to criticism, he found his defeats, such as Prettybelle, crushing, but his successes were legendary. (Hello, Dolly! was the first Broadway musical to receive 10 Tony Awards.) Gilvey, a theater professor at St. Joseph's College, has written an exhaustive biography. Though the book suffers occasionally from detail overkill (there's too much information on failed musicals), it reveals the grit behind Broadway's glamour. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Packed with detail, anecdotes and insight, this look at director-choreographer Champion's work leaves no step unturned.In case anyone wonders, Gilvey (Theater/St. Joseph's College) makes clear that Gower Champion ranks next to giants Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Agnes DeMille, et al., as one of the great talents of Broadway's golden age. And in case anyone forgets, or wasn't on the scene, Gilvey's vivid descriptions recall the look and sound of a Champion show taking off. The author begins with Champion's early dance work in clubs with partner Jeanne Tyler, later replaced by Marge Belcher, whom he partnered in marriage and movies (notably 1951's Show Boat). From the start, Gilvey shows, Champion's dances always made a point--told a story, illuminated a character, celebrated a moment. Eventually, the choreographer aimed to direct on Broadway. He hit with Bye Bye Birdie, topping that with Carnival! and then Hello, Dolly! Gilvey provides a full, illuminating account of how Champion turned Dolly from an initially unfocused, battle-scarred show into one of Broadway's most critically acclaimed, longest-running musicals. The second act of Champion's career was less successful. I Do! I Do! did well, but The Happy Time wasn't, and Rockabye Hamlet, his attempt to wed the Bard and rock music, flopped, as did Prettybelle and Mack and Mabel. Tastes and styles were changing, and, Gilvey suggests, Champion's problems with drugs, affairs and divorce marred his work. About to hang it up, Champion returned to Broadway with 42nd Street, an all-out dance musical that summed up and topped off career. In one of the most dramatic finales in Broadway history, Champion, 61, died the day the show opened.Gilvey reaches the top shelf of high-kicking Broadway biographies."--Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review
"A vivid portrait of a wildly talented and wildly complicated man."
---John Kander

"John Gilvey's god-given talent for accuracy, sensitivity, tireless research, and objectivity over the past 13 years has surely filled a serious gap in the musical theater libraries of the world. I offer him a profound bow of thanks to the tune of my favorite song we danced to, 'They'll Never Believe Me.'"---Marge Champion

"Before the Parade Passes By is a meticulously researched, well written account of the life and, more important, the work of dancer-choreographer Gower Champion. Its detailed chronicling of the gestation of Champion's Broadway hits and flops makes it a must for anyone interested in learning about how a Broadway musical is made and sometimes unmade. Lovers of backstage gossip will relish the saga of the clash of control freaks Champion and producer David Merrick. Everyone interested in the American musical will enjoy and learn from this fine book."---John Clum, Duke University, author of Something for the Boys: Musical Theatre and Gay Culture

"Gower Champion's Broadway musicals make us smile, tap our feet and dance in our heads. Gilvey's "Parade" of Gower's life and work mesmerizes, as sure as, 'house to half,' the opening notes of Hello, Dolly's overture give us goose bumps."---David Hartman

"John Gilvey's insightful biography gave me a detailed glimpse of the workings of a great theatrical mind. Reading it brought back so many memories of these fantastic shows that I first saw from Broadway balconies."--- Charles Busch

"Before the Parade Passes By is fascinating. At last the many mysteries and questions concerning a major director/choreographer, Gower Champion, can be answered. At his best, beautiful successful musicals emerged. When his demons took over, look out! Enjoy reading about the glamour of Broadway in its Golden Age and the insight which John Gilvey has given us."---Don Pippin

Customer Reviews

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See all 15 customer reviews
Thoroughly enjoyed it and found it fascinating.
J. F. Parker
John Gilvey thinks so and in this biography, this tribute to Gower Champion he makes a good case.
John Matlock
Anyone interested in musicals would learn a great deal from reading this book.
Roland Calvert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By krebsman VINE VOICE on November 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gower Champion had one of the more interesting careers in Broadway history. After minor stage work and major Hollywood and TV work, he wowed Broadway with his production of BYE BYE BIRDIE, following that success with three other big hits, CARNIVAL, HELLO DOLLY! And I DO, I DO. He then had a long series of flops and misfires before going out on a blaze of glory with his production of 42ND STREET. He died on the day of the show's opening but the news was kept a secret until after 42ND STREET'S triumphant opening night curtain call. BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY is a much-needed critical re-assessment of the work of Gower Champion. As John Anthony Gilvey points out in the final chapter, he is usually excluded from mention with the other great director/choreographers of the period, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett. Gilvey pleads a good case for including Champion in that pantheon. What's best about the book are his descriptions of how the individual shows were put together and how the musical numbers were staged. What's disappointing about the book are the parts dealing with the director's personal life. Some major bombshells are dropped but then not elaborated upon like this quote from Alexander Cohen: "He was a dictator and a fascist...and he had strange sexual alliances. First Marge, then a girl in the show, then a guy in the show." There are illusions to his buying a house in Topanga Canyon and living a bohemian life of drugs and sexual experimentation. No details are provided. Perhaps Gilvey is reluctant to go into the unsavory elements because he is a Catholic priest, although this is not revealed in the author's bio and his picture doesn't show him in his priest's clothes.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on October 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Gower Champion! Forgotten name as the parade passes by. His greatest achievements on the stage failed to make it onto the screen, though shreds of his glory can perhaps be glimpsed through George Sidney's sensible restaging in his film of BYE BYE BIRDIE. And something of his flagwaving spirit makes it through Gene Kelly's otherwise terrible treatment of HELLO DOLLY. But alas, MGM never did make CARNIVAL the way Champion envisioned it. And actually, who would really want to see a movie of I DO, I DO, or SUGAR? (I would have enjoyed, however, seeing the film he planned of THE FANTASTICKS.) He threw away a lot of his pearls in front of a lot of swine. And Gilvey was there for all of it, or so it seems. Could he have been? He doesn't seem that old in the jacket photo.

You wind up not really liking Champion very much. His sense of self makes even Michael Bennett, Bob Fosse and George Balanchine seem well-adjusted socially, even a bit on the wallflower side. After reading this book, I admire Marge Champion more and am eager to seek out some of the work she did with Gower in the derided MGM musicals they danced in.

His career seems like an odd amalgam of hard work, talent, and a hell of a lot of luck. The appearance on Ed Sullivan--a whole Ed Sullivan show devoted to the Champions, just when MGM had dropped them and they were really facing Hasbeen House--seems nothing short of a miracle.

The book gets repetitive and it always takes Gower's side, but the amount of research is prodigious and even a seasoned theatergoer will find something of interest on nearly every page. It's a book of monsters, but fascinating monsters at that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on November 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It could be argued that the Golden Age of the American Musical Theater ran from Gower Champion's 'Bye Bye Birdie' in 1960 to Gower Champion's '42nd Street' in 1980.

John Gilvey thinks so and in this biography, this tribute to Gower Champion he makes a good case. It is certainly a well written and intimate story of his life and of the way he re-defined the way musicals were made.

The book is quite detailed in the description of how the hits, 'Birdie' and '42nd Street' of course, but also 'Mame,' 'Hello Dolly' (10 Tony Awards), 'I Do, I Do,' and others were made. He also covers the flops that if nothing else showed how not to do it.

Professor Gilvey is a professor of speech and theater, and wrote this book based on extensive interviews with family, friends and colleagues including Marge Champion, and many well known Broadway names including Carol Channing, Jerry Orbach and Debbie Reynolds. It is an excellent tribute to Gower Champion and a good history of this time in the theater.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Wolf Dakota on May 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When thinking of the "Golden Era" of Broadway and some of its "glorious musicals," it is likely that Bye Bye Birdie, Hello, Dolly! or 42nd Street will come to mind. With these, as with many of Broadway's finest musicals, the name Gower Champion is closely related. In John Anthony Gilvey's Before the Parade Passes By, the life and works of Gower Champion are chronicled and brought to the public eye for the first time, allowing readers to experience the story of the man behind the musicals.

The book encompasses his whole life, both on and off stage, providing an intimate portrait of who he was and how his personal life affected him and his work. It also does not skip a single major work that Gower was part of. Not only are all of his creative endeavors mentioned (including his nightclub and films with partner/wife Marge Champion), but they are discussed in such detail that even if you had not seen the productions (as was the case with this reader for the majority of them), it feels as though you have because costumes, sets, choreography and casting are described so vividly.

This well researched and detailed book is written with a passion and respect for Gower Champion and a love for the classical, elegant "Golden Era" in which he was a prominent driving force. Those who lived through that time will enjoy this "behind-the-scenes" look at how Gower shaped and molded some of Broadway's biggest successes as well as works that should have been laid to rest. For those unfamiliar with this time, Parade is an opportunity to gain knowledge of where present-day musicals find their roots: in the heartfelt, extravagant days of the "glorious American musical."
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