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Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs Hardcover – January 1, 2006

3.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What makes a musical go wrong? Theatrical manager and producer Suskin (Show Tunes; Broadway Yearbook series) attempts an answer in this lightly entertaining, obsessively edited compilation of newspaper and magazine articles and memoir excerpts, enlightened and corrected by Suskin's own commentary. A flop usually boils down to a few variables: conflicting artistic visions and/or personality conflicts, "star vehicles that failed," a nonexistent second act or costly rewrites and recastings. The earliest musical documented is Flying Colors (1932), the latest The Red Shoes (1993), with the majority from the '60s and '70s and no examples from the AIDS-torn '80s. Most of these gossip-laden, name-dropping, cattily amusing essays are too short to give more than the sketchiest outline of a show's trials and tribulations. Aspiring Broadway writers and producers looking for edification may be frustrated. The two exceptions are William Gibson's deeply felt excerpt about the posthumous musicalization of his close friend Clifford Odets's Golden Boy, an essay so literarily superior that Suskin refrains from his standard in-essay editorializing, and the book's grand finale, Lewis H. Lapham's long, funny, in-depth Saturday Evening Post article about the 1965 disaster Kelly. 100 color and b&w illus. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Steven Suskin has written a dozen books on theatre and music. A long-time theatrical manager and producer, he lives in New York.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books; annotated edition edition (January 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557836310
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557836311
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #737,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Earles VINE VOICE on March 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Goldman in his watershed book about Broadway called The Season, wrote that every Broadway show is a series of "little battles to the death". Here in Mr Steven Suskin's book, we get lowdown on the skirmishes and the all-out battles that resulted in some of Broadway's most outrageous productions.

It's actors vs. directors, directors vs. composers, and everybody vs. the producers as we are taken backstage to learn why a show like Jerry Lewis' Hellzapoppin turned into such a fiasco.

This is not a newly written tome. Suskin has gathered a collection of contemporary articles from magazines, newspapers, autobiographies, and biographies. And that is why they are so accurate and timely. The writers were there - they talked to the participants. This is not second-hand gossip. As Edward R. Murrow used to say: "You are there." You are there when a composer/director finds his star/wife having an affair with her leading man. There when one star's part is reduced to five lines in the first act and six lines in the second act. There when a leading man is replaced with an 11-year-old boy. There when two people standing in line at the box office say they want their money back, only to hear the producer behind them say, "So do I."

Among the shows covered are Kelly, Fade Out, Fade In, The Red Shoes, and....well you get the picture. Stars include Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore...just to tap the distaff side.

If you have heard a rumor about a show, it is probably discussed here and confirmed or laid to rest. Suskin helpfully includes his own comments at appropriate places in the articles. These serve to clarify and sometimes give us the end result of a particular action or person.
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Format: Hardcover
Steven Suskin has gathered first hand accounts of the biggest bombs to hit Broadway. He takes his material from news articles and memoirs and adds his own wry comments.

Some of the shows had a chance. "Irene" and "Seesaw" sold tickets but were hobbled by poor production decisions. "Fade In Fade Out and "Hallelujah Baby" died when the stars left.

Some of the shows were simply misbegotten from the get go. "Dude" was a catostrophe that will make you laugh at how so many smart people could've been so wrong and "Cry for us All" was too grim to be a muscial, period.

A few of the shows are memorable only because of what happened afterwards like "Skyscapper" which has a spooky link to the Kennedy assasination.

One show, "Flying Colors" almost drove the producer to suicide.

The book ends with a long article on "Kelly" a turkey that lasted ONE day on Broadway. It was so bad it's still something of a legend. Why anybody thought that Joe & Jane Q. Public would actually want to spend money on tickets, dinner, and a babysitter to see a musical about a dope who jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge on a bet is a mystery.

Second Act Trouble tells the story of how things can go completely wrong even with smart, talented and hard working folks in charge.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those who have laughed out loud at Steven Suskin's previous efforts, particularly his lightning-quick, wittier-than-Coward summaries in OPENING NIGHTS ON BROADWAY, be prepared for a severe letdown. The fault lies not only in his sometimes curious selection of the 25 shows explored here, but in his treatment. The rapier wit is all but gone, replaced by a parched, nuts-and-bolts approach to his material. Suskin the archivist, it seems, prevents Suskin the writer from doing what he does best. In his next project, he would do well to let go of the essays and reviews of the past and write theater history from his own wise, far more illustrative point of view. His combination of wit, accuracy and savvy is too rare to hide behind the likes of Kerr and Chapman or the journalists represented in his latest compilation. That said, SECOND ACT TROUBLE is easy enough to take, though the illustrations are limited to overly familiar playbill covers and a handful of typos are somewhat disconcerting. Suskin, perhaps for the first time, also makes a glaring error: he unbelievably misquotes "A Matter of Time" - Liza Minnelli's collaborative film effort with her father Vincente - as "Somewhere in Time." Even so, the book is another worthy effort from a conscientious historian and gifted writer.
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On 45th Street in Manhattan there is a restaurant that is favored by theatre folk and playgoers alike, Joe Alllen's is it's name and on their walls are theatrical posters, not unusual for the locale, being in the heart of the theatre district, what's notable about the collection of posters is that all those displayed were huge flops. Steven Suskin's, "Second Act Trouble" takes this concept (theatrical failures) and illuminates how once promising shows turn into failures. The collection covers twenty or so Broadway shows(some never made it to The Great White Way) that flopped, losing all or most of their investment. The articles, published previously from bios and newspaper accounts from various writers, are grouped into chapters such as; When Everything Goes Wrong, Star Turns and Battle Stations. Suskin has assembled the most illuminating accounts of; what seemed like a good idea at the time, Liza Minneli directed by Martin Scorcesse-can't fail, right? It is a very enjoyable read although as you follow show after show dive off a cliff it gets a little depressing, how they failed; the who, what and where of" bombs" could be instructive for investors and producers alike, but, alas there is no sure fire formula for a hit show (could you imagine a show about a murderer who dices up his victims and makes pies out of them plus he's singing-Sweeny Todd). I am a theatre goer but even if you are not it's a fascinating peek into Broadway and what makes it tick...and sometimes it's ticking is the prelude to a very large bomb. Fun read.
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