counter create hit The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built - Download Free eBook
Hot Best Seller

The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

Availability: Ready to download

A New York Times Bestseller For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something more serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will s A New York Times Bestseller For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something more serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will start the cycle all over again. Americans love musicals. Americans invented musicals. Americans perfected musicals. But what, exactly, is a musical? In The Secret Life of the American Musical, Jack Viertel takes them apart, puts them back together, sings their praises, marvels at their unflagging inventiveness, and occasionally despairs over their more embarrassing shortcomings. In the process, he invites us to fall in love all over again by showing us how musicals happen, what makes them work, how they captivate audiences, and how one landmark show leads to the next—by design or by accident, by emulation or by rebellion—from Oklahoma! to Hamilton and onward. Structured like a musical, The Secret Life of the American Musical begins with an overture and concludes with a curtain call, with stops in between for “I Want” songs, “conditional” love songs, production numbers, star turns, and finales. The ultimate insider, Viertel has spent three decades on Broadway, working on dozens of shows old and new as a conceiver, producer, dramaturg, and general creative force; he has his own unique way of looking at the process and at the people who collaborate to make musicals a reality. He shows us patterns in the architecture of classic shows and charts the inevitable evolution that has taken place in musical theater as America itself has evolved socially and politically. The Secret Life of the American Musical makes you feel as though you’ve been there in the rehearsal room, in the front row of the theater, and in the working offices of theater owners and producers as they pursue their own love affair with that rare and elusive beast—the Broadway hit.


Compare

A New York Times Bestseller For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something more serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will s A New York Times Bestseller For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something more serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will start the cycle all over again. Americans love musicals. Americans invented musicals. Americans perfected musicals. But what, exactly, is a musical? In The Secret Life of the American Musical, Jack Viertel takes them apart, puts them back together, sings their praises, marvels at their unflagging inventiveness, and occasionally despairs over their more embarrassing shortcomings. In the process, he invites us to fall in love all over again by showing us how musicals happen, what makes them work, how they captivate audiences, and how one landmark show leads to the next—by design or by accident, by emulation or by rebellion—from Oklahoma! to Hamilton and onward. Structured like a musical, The Secret Life of the American Musical begins with an overture and concludes with a curtain call, with stops in between for “I Want” songs, “conditional” love songs, production numbers, star turns, and finales. The ultimate insider, Viertel has spent three decades on Broadway, working on dozens of shows old and new as a conceiver, producer, dramaturg, and general creative force; he has his own unique way of looking at the process and at the people who collaborate to make musicals a reality. He shows us patterns in the architecture of classic shows and charts the inevitable evolution that has taken place in musical theater as America itself has evolved socially and politically. The Secret Life of the American Musical makes you feel as though you’ve been there in the rehearsal room, in the front row of the theater, and in the working offices of theater owners and producers as they pursue their own love affair with that rare and elusive beast—the Broadway hit.

30 review for The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    Jack Viertel’s strong writing and impressive depth of knowledge is probably worth 4.5-5 stars, but my enjoyment of the book was really only around the 3-star level so I’m splitting the difference here. Part of my disappointment is that I expected this to be a behind-the-scenes look at the business side of Broadway: literally, how you bring a show to the stage from start to finish. In reality, this is a book-length deconstruction of how the songs within the show succeed or fail. The book is divvi Jack Viertel’s strong writing and impressive depth of knowledge is probably worth 4.5-5 stars, but my enjoyment of the book was really only around the 3-star level so I’m splitting the difference here. Part of my disappointment is that I expected this to be a behind-the-scenes look at the business side of Broadway: literally, how you bring a show to the stage from start to finish. In reality, this is a book-length deconstruction of how the songs within the show succeed or fail. The book is divvied up by the typical arc of a conventional Broadway plot: introduction, I Want, romance, big Act Break number, etc. etc. Viertel looks at the way the way each song-as-element fits into the bigger narrative arc and then gives many examples from classic shows to demonstrate his points – though, actually, my biggest complaint is probably that he at times gives just tooooo many examples. Still, it’s clear that Viertel knows his shit. He goes into a lot of detail when explicating the songs, and knows how to make his points regarding each song’s purpose in the larger show without being too academic-y in his language. Though, I do take exception to the criticism he levied against the show Wicked in the chapter on ‘I Want’ songs. I know a lot of critics panned the show when it first came out, but I think Viertel’s criticisms miss the mark. It’s only like 2.5 pages of a 250+ page book, but it irked me enough that I wrote nearly 1,000 words rebutting him. That’s not really important, but I do think he’s wrong so that’s at the end of this review if you’re interested. Anyway. I very much like musicals, but I’m not about to jump up and proclaim myself an expert or even someone who is particularly knowledgeable in theater from before my time. I love the big shows from the 90s and the 21st century, but I haven’t spent a lot of time with the classics like Rodgers and Hammerstein and their peers or with stuff that never made it out of New York. Which was honestly why I wanted to read a book about musicals, but it also means that a lot of this book flew over my head. When you’re reading an explication of a song, it’s hard to follow along without having heard the song – but it’s hard to listen to a Broadway song out of context and still feel like you get what it’s trying to do in the big picture. That was the main reason why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I might have, but I feel like a lot of other readers who do have that knowledge base might appreciate it more. Then again, I’m not entirely sure someone with that much knowledge needs this book? You’d think the audience would be someone who doesn’t know a lot about theater, but I can’t imagine I’m the only one who will struggle to get through this without being able to hear the songs in my head and in their proper context. It’s well done…I’m just not entirely sure what audience is going to like this and get the most out of it. And just because it felt good to write it out, here’s my rebuttal to Viertel regarding Wicked. (view spoiler)[Viertel’s main criticism of the show seems to be focused on the idea that there’s too much going on. He cites the opening song as a specific example: “In its prologue, the show tries to get off the ground beginning with a flashback from the Wicked Witch Elphaba’s death to the day when she is conceived, and thence to the the day when she arrives in prep school. The show isn’t ten minutes old yet, and we’ve already been in three different decades and three different locations; we have hardly any idea why.”Yes, the opening song rejoices the death of our main character, with Elphaba’s birth taking place at one point, literally in the background of the stage. That's a little weird, but it’s really not that confusing to figure out what’s going on; more importantly IT EXPLAINS HOW SHE BECAME GREEN AND HOW THAT’S LED HER DOWN THIS LIFE. The second song then immediately transitions us to the boarding school where Elphaba and Glinda met. We gotta get there somehow. The reason for the flashback format is because every member of that audience is going to know that the green girl gets killed in The Wizard of Oz. It’s just a cheeky little nod to acknowledge that. The show could jump in straight to their boarding school years but that would miss the green set up and it wouldn’t tie so neatly into the one big thing we already know about the Wicked Witch of the West: she melts. Which basically brings me into Viertel’s next comment:“By the time we hit the midpoint, we’ve had to keep track of a goat who is being hounded out of his teaching profession by anti-animal fascists, Elphaba’s handicapped sister and her growing crush, a blooming friendship between Elphaba and Glinda, an increasing rivalry between them over an apparently worthless rich boy named Fiyero, and the motives of the headmistress of the school they attend, who is tutoring Elphaba in sorcery. And yet, despite all this plot material and Wicked’s occasional forays into explaining the sources of The Wizard of Oz, audiences remain enchanted much of the time and happy to be tolerant of the rest.”I know that there is a lot going on in the play, but I don’t think it’s particularly confusing or hard to follow. I actually think that the show does a pretty good job keeping a tight rein on those many threads and that they all serve a bigger purpose in the show: they all serve the development of the main characters and most are the forays into explaining the sources – Viertel makes it sound busier than it is. Okay, for one thing: the goat’s plight sets up the main conflict with the Wizard. It’s giving Elphaba something to fight against that will make her the enemy of Oz. Madame Morrible takes Elphaba under her wing as part of this same plot thread – because Morrible recognizes that Elphaba’s powers can help the Wizard’s nefarious plot against the animals. Once Elphaba uncovers the plot she defies gravity and becomes the Wizard’s enemy. Nessarose and her crush on Boq serve a couple of purposes. For one thing, Nessarose’s handicap is important because it’s a source of bitterness for Elphaba. Despite being the better student, she’s only at school because her father wants her to look out for her sister. Nessarose also eventually gets a house dropped on her, an important plot point in The Wizard of Oz that any prequel worth its salt is going to acknowledge. She needs to be in the play somehow, and I don’t think she felt shoe-horned in too uuncomfortably. Any prequel is also going to acknowledge where Dorothy’s three companions came from, which is why we have Boq: he’s turned into the Tin Man when Nessarose tries to cast a spell to finally make him love her and it backfires. The love triangle with Fiyero sometimes feels like it primarily serves to fulfill the requirement that Broadway shows have a romance (bromances like The Book of Mormon or The Producers are okay, but girl buddies apparently still need the love interest as a primary thrust), though it does create some tension between the two leads. Fiyero is used as a bargaining chip for Glinda after Elphaba goes rogue, but he also gives Elphaba an accomplice. He’s on her side, and you know you’re rooting for the right girl when the dreamboat’s doing it too. When he’s turned into the Scarecrow, it’s the proverbial straw for her. That’s when she essentially decides, fuck it, I’mma be the bad girl since y’all already think I am. We need something to propel her into that position, and what better way to get her there than the destruction of the love of her life? But the comment that really irked me is this one: “Wicked has a grip on the most confusing parts of the passage from girl to woman, and it feels no need to deploy its points with the kind of great clarity that is admired by grown-ups.”This is walking the line of sexism, Jack. You’re essentially dismissing it as childish because it’s about female interests. You can do better. Most of the book is better. But that one’s kind of bullshit. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Ritchie

    Despite the use of the word "built" in the title, this book has nothing to do (unfortunately) with the staging, casting, performing, choreography, or physical production of musicals, but only with how they are constructed as a work. The author has an interesting template--big opening number, star turn, big 1st act closer, etc.--but the book mostly consists of him saying things like, "a big noise number, full of fun and excitement, comes here, and here are 5 examples of such a number." The exampl Despite the use of the word "built" in the title, this book has nothing to do (unfortunately) with the staging, casting, performing, choreography, or physical production of musicals, but only with how they are constructed as a work. The author has an interesting template--big opening number, star turn, big 1st act closer, etc.--but the book mostly consists of him saying things like, "a big noise number, full of fun and excitement, comes here, and here are 5 examples of such a number." The examples are then given in great detail. Then he moves on to the star turn, etc. It's a lot of fun for a while, but the formula grows stale. By the last third of the book, I was skimming his examples. I'm not sorry I read it, but the title leads you to believe you're getting something more in depth than he provides.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Rubenstein

    This book is a description of musical theater productions in America. The most famous and successful shows are described and analyzed in some detail. The analysis extends to the "rules" of musical theater. These rules are not engraved in stone, but are the characteristics that most successful shows have in common. The overture, the opening number, the "I want" song, the penultimate number, and the finale are all described and analyzed. I was a bit disappointed in the book. It is mostly aimed to t This book is a description of musical theater productions in America. The most famous and successful shows are described and analyzed in some detail. The analysis extends to the "rules" of musical theater. These rules are not engraved in stone, but are the characteristics that most successful shows have in common. The overture, the opening number, the "I want" song, the penultimate number, and the finale are all described and analyzed. I was a bit disappointed in the book. It is mostly aimed to the book-writer and the librettist; the people who write the words and the lyrics. The structure of musicals is the main emphasis. As a composer working right now on a musical, I was mainly interested in how the music is composed and structured. There is not as much about the music itself, as I would have liked or expected. Nevertheless, the book did open my eyes up to the factors that help make a musical successful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Hillary

    A really good and interesting book, just what I was looking for. Two of the chapters are almost completely off-topic but the rest is a gem. I had no previous musical theatre education but while reading this book I had no problems at all. It also was very entertaining and the writing style suited me a lot thanks to its lightness.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ALLEN

    To me, this book was very disappointing, and abstruse to a fault. THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL is not about "how Broadway shows are built" but about how an executive at the JuJamCyn theater group thinks they ought to work. Lots of detail, haphazardly presented. Want to know about Broadway history? Skip this soporific and try Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution by Todd Purdum instead. Want to know how Broadway songs fit the "book" and what makes a good so To me, this book was very disappointing, and abstruse to a fault. THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL is not about "how Broadway shows are built" but about how an executive at the JuJamCyn theater group thinks they ought to work. Lots of detail, haphazardly presented. Want to know about Broadway history? Skip this soporific and try Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution by Todd Purdum instead. Want to know how Broadway songs fit the "book" and what makes a good song part of a great show? Read anything about the Broadway musical by critic Ethan Mordden, particularly his Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre. Here's the 'secret' I'd like answered: In 1963 a good orchestra seat to THE SOUND OF MUSIC on Broadway could be had for less than ten dollars. Today, a good seat to BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL will run you about $160. That's twice the rate of inflation for a show where everybody goes into the theater knowing the songs already. How can that be?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nadja

    Finally finished!! I find it really hard to review The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built because in the beginning I enjoyed it sooo much - I wanted to see the umpteen musicals Jack Viertel talks about!! - but with time I had to force myself to continue. Chapter for chapter the same thing: Musical after musical which fits best to that "building stage" of the musical/chapter (Opening Number, I Want,..). All together it's a few lyrics and story descriptions just strun Finally finished!! I find it really hard to review The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built because in the beginning I enjoyed it sooo much - I wanted to see the umpteen musicals Jack Viertel talks about!! - but with time I had to force myself to continue. Chapter for chapter the same thing: Musical after musical which fits best to that "building stage" of the musical/chapter (Opening Number, I Want,..). All together it's a few lyrics and story descriptions just strung together and nothing really sticks out. Jack Viertel knows undoubtedly very much about American Theatre but unfortunately he couldn't convey his knowledge to me as reader.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Deyanne

    Well researched...absolutely. Informative...definitely (I felt like I was taking a college course but I was lacking essential background knowledge). Easily readable...well...yes but too much information. I was thrilled when I won this book on Goodreads. I love theater. My family is musical and they love to perform on stage. Currently two grandchildren are performing in a local theatre presentation of "Annie" in the roles of Annie and Molly (the youngest orphan). Proud grandma that I am I have s Well researched...absolutely. Informative...definitely (I felt like I was taking a college course but I was lacking essential background knowledge). Easily readable...well...yes but too much information. I was thrilled when I won this book on Goodreads. I love theater. My family is musical and they love to perform on stage. Currently two grandchildren are performing in a local theatre presentation of "Annie" in the roles of Annie and Molly (the youngest orphan). Proud grandma that I am I have seen the show four times and will be at the closing. With this said, this book just didn't get to the core for me of why I (and so many others like me) love musicals. The academic theories were all there regarding the format for a good show and music, but I missed the "heart" of why we return again and again and leave the theater humming all the way home. Now that I am retired, I currently usher for our local theaters (musicals, ballet, opera and symphony). I am fortunate to often see four events or more a month. August hosts a three week run here locally of "Book of Mormon". I was particularly interested in Viertel's review of this musical which actually heads an entire chapter. Did I see the similarities between this musical and "King and I"? Truthfully, not until he pointed out the similarities in the storylines. Both productions are about immigrants if you will to a new a different country and culture. Absolutely true. However, "The King and I" depicts the differences with sensitivity and a beginning of understanding. On the other hand, "The Book of Mormon" has some truly nasty elements which pushed my boundaries of decency. This author sticks with structures. Two years ago Oscar Hammerstein III came as a guest to a night honoring the works of his great grandfather. I loved the stories he told of the struggles and the ups and downs of growing up in that musical family. I was hungering for more of the "inside" stuff rather than the "outside" structure of musical theater in this book. I think I took the title, "Secret Life of the American Musical" to mean unknown behind the scenes stories. My mistake. Rather, it does a fine job of explaining how Broadway shows are "built". This is a good reference book written by a seasoned and knowledgeable theater expert. I acknowledge this and look forward to sharing this with the other ushers (300 of us). "Hamilton" comes this year. I wonder how many times I will be able to usher for this production. Hopefully several! I appreciate receiving a free copy of this book from Goodreads.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shan

    Well-nigh irresistible to an erstwhile theater kid, and anyone who's ever loved a musical will surely feel the same. Viertel's favorite musicals and mine don't always line up (I'm with him on Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof, but I've never seen Carousel, prefer The Sound of Music to South Pacific, and never managed to warm up to Sondheim), but his enthusiasm is contagious, his analysis thoughtful, and his love of musicals and firm belief in their importance is apparent on every page. A de Well-nigh irresistible to an erstwhile theater kid, and anyone who's ever loved a musical will surely feel the same. Viertel's favorite musicals and mine don't always line up (I'm with him on Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof, but I've never seen Carousel, prefer The Sound of Music to South Pacific, and never managed to warm up to Sondheim), but his enthusiasm is contagious, his analysis thoughtful, and his love of musicals and firm belief in their importance is apparent on every page. A delight from the overture to the curtain call!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Ozawa

    I love musicals, and I’m glad to have read something from a strictly American standpoint. Webber and the creators of Les Mis and Miss Saigon are talented, but I want to know about more than that. Viertel breaks down the structure of a good musical and explains why each component makes a show successful. Plus, he’s funny.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mariane

    Really enjoyable read that’s got me exploring some shows I’d never seen before. Not what I expected it to be, but I enjoyed it more because it was so different from my expectations!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ayelet Reiter

    I wasn't going to review this but so many things started bubbling up and eventually becoming gigantic gaps in Viertel's analysis, that I felt like I had to acknowledge it. I absolutely love musical theatre and I love exploring the tropes that are most often present within the canon. I also feel like it's a pretty under-analyzed field, especially in academia, so I appreciate anyone who starts off their work by saying they want to explicate musicals in a way usually reserved for Shakespeare. That I wasn't going to review this but so many things started bubbling up and eventually becoming gigantic gaps in Viertel's analysis, that I felt like I had to acknowledge it. I absolutely love musical theatre and I love exploring the tropes that are most often present within the canon. I also feel like it's a pretty under-analyzed field, especially in academia, so I appreciate anyone who starts off their work by saying they want to explicate musicals in a way usually reserved for Shakespeare. That said, what started as a fun read that I was looking forward to quickly became boring and then infuriating. Some of my more major qualms: -The choice of what to include and more importantly exclude. I'm glad I read the preface where Viertel at least acknowledges that he's not going to write anything about William Finn because I could at least brace myself for disappointment, but seriously, there were so many shows that were so overused that he could have at least devoted part of those sections to better deserving shows. Like literally anything by Finn. And speaking of overusing shows... -...I was so sick of Guys and Dolls by the time I finished this. And let me clarify, I actually like Guys and Dolls. Not exactly in my top 10, but a show that I still found enjoyable nonetheless. After reading waaaaay too much about how it's basically the best musical since ever, I think I like it just that much less. Yeah, yeah, his love of it is a personal preference but damn, I wish someone had informed him of just how poorly it has aged or that sometimes it adheres to tropes (particularly the misogynistic ones) so well, that in hindsight, it just comes off as bland and unfunny. -And speaking of shows that have aged poorly, Viertel, like many, clearly prefers his musicals from the golden age (although to his credit, is not nearly as condescending about new musicals as some of his peers may be), which is fine. But this was published in 2016, so maybe you could at least pretend like you're almost woke? I mean, are you really going to pour heapless praise on The King and I without mentioning how racist it comes off to today's audience? Or the aforementioned Guys and Dolls and talk about its misogyny as if it's an asset? You're really going to assert that hip-hop has roots in rock music and Woody Guthrie rather than acknowledge that rock music appropriated black artists' work? And these unacknowledged issues definitely don't stop with the contemporary musicals. Viertel somehow manages to praise "Keep It Gay" from The Producers without writing that that song is basically 6 minutes of nonstop homophobia and manages to overlook white saviorism in Hairspray and racism in The Book of Mormon. Ugh. -Give the Eleven O'Clock Number its own chapter! Viertel mentions it but then says because it's not present in a lot of musicals (a lot of the tropes which do get their own chapter aren't) and it doesn't appear as often nowadays (which I think is completely wrong, even Hamilton has one, as do many new shows). And yeah, he at least names his old favorite "Rose's Turn" as one and also mentions "Lot's Wife" from Caroline, or Change which is a great and very underrated example but then completely ignores "The Ladies Who Lunch," "Last Midnight", the title song from Cabaret, "What I Did for Love," "Send in the Clowns," and SO MANY MORE. And while we're on the topic of bringing up a trope but forgetting the best examples, you really want to talk about a musical's protagonists achieving their goals midshow only to realize they have bigger goals and not mention Into the Woods? Talk about an oversight. Viertel clearly has a lot of passion for (certain) musicals. The analysis that he does do is astute. But at the end of the day, this book feels so much longer than it actually is and still somehow neglects so many of the most important points.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sally Sugarman

    As a devotee of the American musical, this was a wonderful book to read. Viertel, who is a Broadway producer, has worked at the Mark Taper Forum and produced the City Center Encore series, is a perfect guide to the musical and its evolution over time. The book starts with the early days of the musical and goes up to and includes Hamilton. Viertel shows what makes a successful musical, song by song, giving examples from many musicals. As he talks about the changes, he also talks about what is con As a devotee of the American musical, this was a wonderful book to read. Viertel, who is a Broadway producer, has worked at the Mark Taper Forum and produced the City Center Encore series, is a perfect guide to the musical and its evolution over time. The book starts with the early days of the musical and goes up to and includes Hamilton. Viertel shows what makes a successful musical, song by song, giving examples from many musicals. As he talks about the changes, he also talks about what is constant, what engages audiences and what is special about the musical form. His discussion of primary and secondary plots is enlightening. He highlights those musicals that changed the form. What is essential over time is not only the music, but a story and characters that engage the audience. His discussion of the eleven o’clock number, the I Want song, the second act opening number are all informative. He writes with humor as well as knowledge that comes from his years of experience and his pleasure in the form and the great performers. His analysis of Gypsy is an example of how he captures the power of a particular musical. His discussion of the transition from the piano to the guitar is fascinating. As a Woody Guthrie fan, it was nice to see his influence acknowledged. Having seen many of the musicals on Broadway or in regional productions, finding out how their magic works was a pleasure. As an added bonus, Viertel reviews available recordings of the musicals he discusses as well as some outstanding musicals that he did not discuss. This a must read for anyone who cares about the unique contribution of the American musical to world culture.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Jack Viertel is a "tote." A tote, according to my group of friends, is someone who is so totally into a subject that you become swept up in their enthusiasm. Jack Viertel knows Broadway shows and writes eloquently and knowledgeably about the architecture that makes them tick. I loved his totie take on the subject and look forward to listening to the many cast albums he recommends in the final chapter. Best parts for me were the examples of problems that were fixed on the road, turning potential Jack Viertel is a "tote." A tote, according to my group of friends, is someone who is so totally into a subject that you become swept up in their enthusiasm. Jack Viertel knows Broadway shows and writes eloquently and knowledgeably about the architecture that makes them tick. I loved his totie take on the subject and look forward to listening to the many cast albums he recommends in the final chapter. Best parts for me were the examples of problems that were fixed on the road, turning potential turkeys into hits. Good stuff.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Darren

    I'm not deluding myself into thinking that a non-theater person would find this as fascinating as I did, but this was first-rate. Viertel's walk through the architecture of musical theater delivered a lot of familiar info, but it was also loaded down with stuff that had never occurred to me. Plus, it's just fun because of all of the examples that he uses to illustrate his points. This is going to change the way I watch any musical. I'm not deluding myself into thinking that a non-theater person would find this as fascinating as I did, but this was first-rate. Viertel's walk through the architecture of musical theater delivered a lot of familiar info, but it was also loaded down with stuff that had never occurred to me. Plus, it's just fun because of all of the examples that he uses to illustrate his points. This is going to change the way I watch any musical.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    This looks totally fun. Positive NY Times review. This looks totally fun. Positive NY Times review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I loved this book. I have seen most of the musicals discussed, and have a list of new musicals where I need to track down and listen to the cast recording. The only problem? Every time he quoted songs lyrics for a song I knew, I had to stop and sing!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brigitta

    A must for lover of musicals having an extensive repertoire. His analysis made me appreciate in new ways, shows I have seen dozens of times.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    I learned a lot from this book: first and foremost, that my two all-time favorite musicals (Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera) are not American musicals at all but are actually British. So, with that rather embarrassing admission, you can see why this book fits into: 2020 Reading Challenge Category: A book on a subject you know nothing about. Fortunately, I found the topic of American musicals fascinating. Viertel does a great job of exploring the history and structure of American musicals in gener I learned a lot from this book: first and foremost, that my two all-time favorite musicals (Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera) are not American musicals at all but are actually British. So, with that rather embarrassing admission, you can see why this book fits into: 2020 Reading Challenge Category: A book on a subject you know nothing about. Fortunately, I found the topic of American musicals fascinating. Viertel does a great job of exploring the history and structure of American musicals in general, and does a deep dive into analyzing several specific shows (none of which I have ever seen and some of which I had never even heard of before.) I can't say how much someone more well versed in the history and inner workings of Broadway would enjoy this book, but for me, The Secret Life of the American Musical was inspiring. It opened my mind and expanded my worldview in the way that only a good book can. And thanks to the magic of the internet, I've even listened to a few of the new songs myself and added several shows to the list of musicals I'd like to see in person. If I had to note the tiniest of tiny downsides, it would be that more recent American musicals, like Hamilton (which I have seen--it is amazing!) and The Book of Mormon (which I have not seen in person but want to now), get comparatively little attention in this book. Most of the attention is paid to older shows like Gypsy (never seen it) and Guys and Dolls (ditto.) Learning about these classic shows was a great education (see 2020 Reading Challenge Category above), but I would have loved to have had a bit more of a peek behind the curtain into the creation / structure / inner workings of the newer shows.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    Jack Viertel really knows his sh*t - he's produced or consulted on a wide variety of Broadway hits over his career. This book isn't a memoir or autobiography however, although there are bits of autobiography sprinkled throughout. Rather, this is a masterclass of the mechanics of the musical, written (and written well) by a true expert; Mr. Broadway becomes Professor Broadway (as narrated by David Pittu, it's exactly like being in a masterclass as well; if I ever would hear the real Jack Viertel Jack Viertel really knows his sh*t - he's produced or consulted on a wide variety of Broadway hits over his career. This book isn't a memoir or autobiography however, although there are bits of autobiography sprinkled throughout. Rather, this is a masterclass of the mechanics of the musical, written (and written well) by a true expert; Mr. Broadway becomes Professor Broadway (as narrated by David Pittu, it's exactly like being in a masterclass as well; if I ever would hear the real Jack Viertel speak in person, I would be confused to not hear David Pittu's voice coming out of Jack's mouth). Viertel's knowledge is positively depth and breadth too. He breaks the musical down into chunks, and then uses shows from Showboat to Hamilton to explain everything from the beginning of a show to the end: the overture, various kinds of songs, characters and scenes, and even the intermission (the most autobiographical part, actually and really interestingly). This is a hearty stew, meaty and with gossipy tidbits sprinkled here and there. Lovers of musical theater should DEFINITELY pick this one up.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    This was a really interesting exploration of different 'typical' musical numbers and their history, illustrated by taking a close look at some examples. I got a lot out of this and was tempted to rate this 4 stars, if it weren't so limited to the author's own preferences. He does acknowledge this, but then still makes very decisive judgments and focuses on whatever he wants to focus on. That's his right as an author, of course, but I sometimes felt it made the book jump around a bit and distribu This was a really interesting exploration of different 'typical' musical numbers and their history, illustrated by taking a close look at some examples. I got a lot out of this and was tempted to rate this 4 stars, if it weren't so limited to the author's own preferences. He does acknowledge this, but then still makes very decisive judgments and focuses on whatever he wants to focus on. That's his right as an author, of course, but I sometimes felt it made the book jump around a bit and distributed the focus somewhat unevenly between topics. Still, I really enjoyed it and definitely learned from it, too!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eli

    This book was a magnetic read despite being pretty analytical throughout, which I suspect is a consequence of being structured the same way that musicals are themselves (with an opening number, a big finish, and even an entr'acte in the middle describing how the author got into producing in the first place). It also helps that the topic of discussion is one that's close to my heart, and that Viertel's way of thinking about it was one that's completely new to me. In any case, I thought his analys This book was a magnetic read despite being pretty analytical throughout, which I suspect is a consequence of being structured the same way that musicals are themselves (with an opening number, a big finish, and even an entr'acte in the middle describing how the author got into producing in the first place). It also helps that the topic of discussion is one that's close to my heart, and that Viertel's way of thinking about it was one that's completely new to me. In any case, I thought his analysis was spot-on, and his humor and the love he lavished on his favorites made this a delightful read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Fox

    I was expecting background on stage set up, casting, costuming, etc. That isn't what this book is about. It's about the writing of musicals and what makes them a success. It was informative, and the author cites great musicals and examples (songs and scenes) from them that explain how and why the show was a success. It covered so many musicals and really gave great back ground on the writers and musicians. I liked the book. I just wanted to know the nitty gritty of people working their way up to I was expecting background on stage set up, casting, costuming, etc. That isn't what this book is about. It's about the writing of musicals and what makes them a success. It was informative, and the author cites great musicals and examples (songs and scenes) from them that explain how and why the show was a success. It covered so many musicals and really gave great back ground on the writers and musicians. I liked the book. I just wanted to know the nitty gritty of people working their way up to be in a musical and how those dynamics all play out.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Montana

    gets five stars because I love the subject. Plus he shares my fan dom of Gypsy and a few other favorite shows. Only complaint is a few of the newer great shows are left out. Also seems like he has more "life in the theatre" shows in him. But I read it in two days because this is right up my alley, and it is a very breezy read. gets five stars because I love the subject. Plus he shares my fan dom of Gypsy and a few other favorite shows. Only complaint is a few of the newer great shows are left out. Also seems like he has more "life in the theatre" shows in him. But I read it in two days because this is right up my alley, and it is a very breezy read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I kind of wish this was just an essay instead of a book. I thought this was going to be more of a history book but it was instead an outline of how most shows are plotted. Each chapter is a common point in the story(opening number, "I want" song, etc). The author explained the purpose of the song and then went on for a long time with a ton of examples. It got repetitive and boring. I kind of wish this was just an essay instead of a book. I thought this was going to be more of a history book but it was instead an outline of how most shows are plotted. Each chapter is a common point in the story(opening number, "I want" song, etc). The author explained the purpose of the song and then went on for a long time with a ton of examples. It got repetitive and boring.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tori Niewohner

    It was interesting to read about common patterns in the song structure of a musical, but I was hoping the book would cover more aspects of musical theatre and it didn't. I quickly became weary of Viertel's biases towards certain musicals, particularly when some of them have problematic parts that he neglected to discuss (i.e. swooning over Guys and Dolls with no mention of its misogyny). It was interesting to read about common patterns in the song structure of a musical, but I was hoping the book would cover more aspects of musical theatre and it didn't. I quickly became weary of Viertel's biases towards certain musicals, particularly when some of them have problematic parts that he neglected to discuss (i.e. swooning over Guys and Dolls with no mention of its misogyny).

  26. 5 out of 5

    Barry Joseph

    He's right and will change how you view musicals - all the hidden structures are revealed. He's right and will change how you view musicals - all the hidden structures are revealed.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kasey Cañas

    Inside look at the structure of musicals. Excited to have this knowledge moving forward when watching musicals to be able to look for this structure. Also looking for musicals that break this structure and how successfully these musicals accomplish this and their ability to survive.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    Chatty and educational, this book really feels like a singalong.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marisa Carpico

    Didn't make me miss theater as much as I'd expected, but was supremely enjoyable and informative nonetheless. This may be less enjoyable without a working knowledge of musical structure or simply the musicals mentioned and analyzed here, but I was lucky to at least be familiar with all of them and have seen some version of almost all. The examples are all solid, but it would perhaps be useful to go into a few more examples particularly of musicals from the last 10 years to see how these structure Didn't make me miss theater as much as I'd expected, but was supremely enjoyable and informative nonetheless. This may be less enjoyable without a working knowledge of musical structure or simply the musicals mentioned and analyzed here, but I was lucky to at least be familiar with all of them and have seen some version of almost all. The examples are all solid, but it would perhaps be useful to go into a few more examples particularly of musicals from the last 10 years to see how these structures are still active today. That said, I suppose this is already 4 years old and it at least does some decent work on Hamilton so maybe that's asking a lot.

  30. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    A fun foray into not only the history of the American musical but also the formulaic story and theatrical elements that constitute a successful show (read: The audience). It took me so long to read this because I would pause to go listen to a soundtrack to a musical that was just referenced. Footnote: Love the critique of "Wicked". It describes my feelings for that production and explains its popularity despite my personal gripes. A fun foray into not only the history of the American musical but also the formulaic story and theatrical elements that constitute a successful show (read: The audience). It took me so long to read this because I would pause to go listen to a soundtrack to a musical that was just referenced. Footnote: Love the critique of "Wicked". It describes my feelings for that production and explains its popularity despite my personal gripes.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.