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Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre Hardcover – September 5, 2013
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*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
"[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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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.
It's prime stuff, and his prose remains biting and unponderous, dropping in the occasional research nugget for the obsessives (much as Cole Porter's lyrics often included jokes designed exclusively for first-nighters).
Welcome also is a recap of the 20s, as his decade volume "Make Believe" is out-of-print and often commands outrageous prices on half.com and Amazon. (Mine is a Xerox from a library copy.) Let's hope he keeps this going for years to come.
The book he hasn't quite written, that I'd love to see, would bridge his fascinations with theatre and film -- a definitive history of film adaptations of theatrical originals. Include plays AND musicals, and also TV adaptations (e.g. Hallmark Hall of Fame). Ethan's done the "Hollywood Musicals" book, which touched a little on this. But the way most people today experience Broadway originals is NOT the stage, but through the medium of film or broadcast -- there's a wealth yet to be covered, and it deserves the Mordden treatment . . . issues such as fidelity to the original, compromises, censorship, improvements . . . and what about all those brilliant TV adaptations, like Judith Anderson's "Medea" or Meredith & Mostel in "Waiting for Godot," Scott & Dewhurst in "The Price" . . . Many of us grew up loving the theatre because we saw it first on television or the movies; this deserves a focused review all its own.
much of the same subject,, there is, of course, some overlap in information. He has strong opinions
but nevertheless, the writing is always filled with humor and fascinating tidbits. For anyone who wants
to really 'get into the weeds' of the subject.
As amusing as some of the chapters are to read, on Offenbach, on Victor Herbert, on Lehár’s Widow, on the Desert Song and Rose-Marie, they sometimes make my hair stand on end when Mordden forces his present-day perception of “romantic operetta” upon these shows!
He quotes extensively from various standard books on the subject(s), often forgetting to say where exactly his information comes from. At the end of Anything Goes, there’s a long “recommended reading list.” Funnily, nearly everyone get’s a mention, except Kurt Gänzl. Even though some of Gänzl’s more distinct passages about the “zaniness” of opéra bouffe find their way into Mordden’s narrative. I found this surprising, because Gänzl’s Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre would surely have deserved at spot in Mordden’s reading list. But perhaps they are too much competition, and too similar to what Mordden is writing himself?
Basically, Mordden doesn’t have anything substantially new to say about operetta, and his research is sloppy, to say the least. He gets a great many things that would deserve detailed analysis and description mixed up, probably because he doesn’t care too much to ponder the special nature of operetta.
There are a few photos printed in the middle section of the book. They are randomly placed there and don’t tell a story in themselves. This random quality of the images mirrors that of the text. For those familiar with the other writings of Ethan Mordden, this will not come as a great surprise. The only surprise is: why does Mordden actually get to publish one such book after the other, without anyone forcing him to pay more attention to the details? This one comes straight from Oxford University Press, not a no-name publishing house.