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Coming up Roses: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s Paperback – November 26, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This book begins its survey of a seminal decade in American theater in 1950, when the Broadway musical method in which stars like Ethel Merman slogged it out show after show, formula after formula, success after success had run its course, sparking the need for innovation. It ends in 1959, after a decade of innovation had raised the musical to new heights--heights that the genre would not maintain in later decades. In between, Ethan Mordden paints a picture of the musical that is warm and sympathetic, even as it pours cold water on what the author considers the medium's excesses and failures. Mordden isn't shy about sharing his opinions. He links the legendary director George Abbott to the stagnation that set in during the early '50s: "He was a journeyman, not a visionary. He was very, very good at what he knew how to do, and, like all conservatives, never attempted to do anything else." Regarding Can Can he writes, "Clearly, what saved it at first was the score and the production; at length, its dippy book destroyed it." And, at odds with the millions who revere The Sound of Music, Mordden acknowledges its "slight but extremely tuneful score," concluding that the show has a "somewhat disappointing position in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon."

Mordden praises Guys and Dolls--"a classic" and My Fair Lady--"it's culturally imperative ... capitalism at its best." Lenny Bernstein's Candide is the "uniquely influential title" of the 1950s, "perhaps the last crucial revolutionary development in the musical's history." All this praise is lovingly spelled out in chapters that dwell on the productions themselves in a chunky narrative cluttered with an insider's look behind the scenes. Mordden's book forces readers to rethink much of what they know about the Broadway musical and to listen, and listen again, to their favorite soundtracks. --Roy Wadia --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In his celebration of the glorious (and not-so glorious) musicals of the 1950s, Mordden (Broadway Babies and Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920's) relates one of Broadway's hoary old jokes: "If God had really wanted to punish Hitler, He'd have sent him out of town with a musical." This volume offers a rich compendium of the hits and misses that kept theatergoers lining up at the box office during the decade many remember as bland white bread. But with treasures including Call Me Madam, Guys and Dolls, Kismet, My Fair Lady, Candide (considered a flop at the time), The Sound of Music and (closing out the decade) West Side Story and Gypsy, Mordden shows that it was 10 years of change, growth and glory. He explains why he thought playwright/director George Abbott was "in the long run a destructive figure in the musical's history"; discusses the growing influence of choreographers, several of whom became directors, such as Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse, Gower Champion and Jerome Robbins; and how, with the growth of the cast album "great shows no longer vanished when they closed." The 1950s also saw distinctions made between the musical play (The King and I) and musical comedy (Call Me Madam); at the same time original material declined while epic productions based on books or films became more prevalent. Brimming with opinions, reminiscences and anecdotes, (Brooks Atkinson's response to the flop, Flahooley: "More plot crosses that stage than Macy's Thanksgiving Parade"), the pleasure here comes from Mordden's jaundiced eye, sharp wit and passion for his subject. This is a must for every theater lover.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195140583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195140583
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,980,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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I'd probably enjoy reading a dictionary if Ethan Mordden wrote it. It's probably the highest praise I can give to say that this book had me reading about shows I'd never even heard of with the same zeal I'd generally reserve for a well-written suspense novel. As much as this book is about Musical Theater, it's about Ethan Mordden -- his wit, his stunning knowledge of his subject, and his ability to place what might seem trivial into a context that both illuminates and fascinates. Reading this book amounts to the best kind of education: one you simply can't wait to continue. As the previous customer reviews have already covered the general contents of this book, I'll only add that "Coming Up Roses" is one of a series of books by Mordden which catalogs the history of American Musical Theater. Before I even finished "Roses," I had purchased copies of his "Beautiful Mornin'" (about Musicals of the 1940's) and "Make Believe" (the 1920's). His next edition -- "Open a New Window: Musicals of the 1960's" -- will be published November 2001. I'm absolutely hooked, and if you have a passion for Musicals, you're going to be, too. About that title of mine....Mordden's book has me hunting in used record stores for recordings of long-forgotten (and sometimes obscure) titles. This author has done a tremendous service to countless composers, performers and theater artists in recalling their work in its original incarnation, and causing us to reflect upon it one more time. Maybe we're the lucky ones, in fact; thanks to Ethan Mordden, the curtain keeps going up again and again and again.
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Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in American musical theater, the 1950s are a critically important "golden age" both for the musical play and the musical comedy. In 1950 Rodgers and Hammerstein, who had introduced the concept of the musical play in 1943 with OKLAHOMA, were preparing their richest and most timeless work, THE KING AND I, which opened the following year. Even the more traditional musical comedy reached new heights with Loesser's GUYS AND DOLLS, perhaps the most perfectly constructed work of this type ever written. As a testament to their status as classics, both of these breakthrough shows were highlights not only of the 50s, but also of the 90s. Year by year through the decade, Ethan Mordden cites scores of shows to trace developments for both of these musical forms. Having mined the large legacy of recordings still available, backstage stories, critical reviews, and script and musical analyses, Mordden highlights how each show advanced the genre or failed to. He spends whole chapters on the biggest hits-GUYS AND DOLLS, KISMET and MY FAIR LADY-as well as the commercial flops like CANDIDE, which took almost 20 years of tinkering to become a success. Mordden astutely analyzes many other shows, showing how THE PAJAMA GAME "is a so-so-story with an excellent book," but DAMN YANKEES "is an excellent story with a functional book." Mordden also examines the mere flops like FLAHOOLEY and the real "floppos" like ANKLES AWEIGH detailing what worked and what didn't. Mordden ends the decade with discussions of WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY, two totally different blockbusters illustrating how far the musical had developed by 1959, and how audiences were being prepared for more confrontational works-to-come like CABARET.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Having read many of Ethan Mordden's gay-themed stories and novels, I promised myself that some day I would delve into the author's voluminous writings on American musical theater. That day began when I picked up COMING UP ROSES, Mordden's relatively brief Cook's Tour-slash-disciplinary report on Broadway musical theater of the 1950s. While many reviewers praise Mr. Mordden's insight, comprehensiveness, cogent prose and passion for theater, as do I, too many of them in my opinion dismiss his alleged drawbacks under cover of buzzwords like "opinionated." Fact is, there are two Ethan Morddens: one the dark romantic who finds words like "porcelain" to describe a particular soprano's voice; the other the last of the red-hot positivists who insists that we WILL know why certain plays deserved to succeed, even if they didn't. This comprehensiveness serves the reader well when Mordden takes up such disparate musicals as GUYS AND DOLLS, KISMET, THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY.

Perhaps the larger point is that it's all readable, and all good. Along with highly knowledgeable discussions of what makes a show work, Mordden brings a fine historian's knowledge in showing how the field developed, abetted in no small part by enough musicology to show how certain songs found their best berth. And I for one have to admire any critic who will say a good word for THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1959 on B'way), kids or no kids. If you want a smooth bromide of a read, leave COMING UP ROSES alone. If you want an informative, stimulating and occasionally challenging history, go for it.
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Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend this survey of 1950s muscials. Mordden, as he showed in his book on Rodgers and Hammerstein, is much more than a musicals fan. He really challenges assumptions about classic shows and makes you want to reconsider the shows that flopped. I particularly enjoyed his assessment of Kismet. Only thing missing is a discography.
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