Take A Bow, Razzle Dazzle: A Biography Of Broadway, Second To None

If all the world's a stage, Michael Riedel has captured the backstage stories of Broadway like no one else. Riedel's Razzle Dazzle: The Battle For Broadway (Simon & Schuster) is by far the best, the most thorough, and most fun book ever written about the Great White Way.
Riedel, the New York Post's drama critic, has crafted a delightfully snarky and constantly entertaining saga of the shows, producers, theatres, performers, composers, and playwrights, with all of their love affairs, vendettas, and triumphs cheekily captured for all time.
He focuses his story on the rivalry between the Shuberts and the Nederlanders, the two families that dominated Broadway theatre ownership for decades, especially from the 1960s through the 1980s.
If you love the theatre, this book will be a revelation, an education in the way shows find their audiences, and a snarky, gossipy treat.
For example, David Merrick, one of the most powerful--and strangest--men ever to produce on Broadway, developed a hatred for Frank Rich, the all-powerful New York Times theatre critic. Merrick stuck a snarky ad into the Times by having it dropped off just before midnight, essentially accusing the Rich of allowing his love life and personal likes and dislikes to infiltrate his reviews.
The ad was pulled after only one edition, but long enough for Merrick to exact revenge on Rich, the dream of every producer who's ever gotten a bad review.
Riedel also picked up on Shubert co-boss Bernie Jacobs' comment about the Brits who led Cats into New York, only to abandon their spouses when surrounded by lissome young actresses in feline costumes: "The trouble with the British is they have too many wives."
The backstage backstabbing was often more dramatic than any of the shows these men (they were mostly men) produced.
We see Michael Bennett creating A Chorus Line and we see the damage his drug addiction did to his career before he died of HIV.
We see Joe Papp standing up to City Hall when New York threatened the destruction of precious Broadway theatres.
We see how shows were born, how they were shaped, how they were doctored out of town, and how they made millions or even billions for their producers.
Razzle Dazzle primarily traces the arc of Broadway shows from the early 1960s, when composers such as Rogers and Hammerstein were ending their careers; into the 1970s, when Times Square began to shed its sleaze and Michael Bennett and Stephen Sondheim came to the fore; into the 1980s, when the British Invasion of musical extravaganzas (Cats, Starlight Express, Phantom) changed the economics as well as the expectations of theatre-goers, and finally the Disney-fied 42nd Street of today, where the Lion King pulled down the lion's share of box office receipts.
Riedel reveals how the great plays and musicals took shape and how the bad ones came and went. He pulls back the curtain on who was sleeping with whom; who created the gossip and who spread it; who made the money, who stole the money, and who got kicked to the curb.
The great producers and theater owners - Merrick, Bernie Jacobs and Gerald Schoenfeld, Jimmy Nederlander - stride imperiously across the pages of the book, making and breaking careers without a second glance. These men were often far more dramatic and powerful than a lot of the shows that appeared on their stages.
I grew up in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, when you could get standing room tickets for pretty much anything on Broadway for three bucks. I attended dozens of the shows Riedel discusses, so the book was a memory lane excursion like no other for me.
The sad thing is that many of the great plays of the 1960s and 1970s have no modern counterparts, Riedel suggests. The HIV epidemic may have carried off many of the people who would have been today's Sondheims and Bennetts.
Riedel writes movingly about the HIV epidemic that blighted the theatre community in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He tells of a group of gay men who had dinner together and pledged only to sleep with one another; in a sad footnote, he says that they all died of AIDS.
Of course, many have proclaimed the death of Broadway (to be fair, Riedel doesn't), only to be proven wrong by the next playwright or composer.
Riedel mentions in passing an Off-Broadway musical called Your Own Thing, which he says no one remembers. I saw it when I was 10 and remember it well, most likely because the lead woman unzipped her leather jacket to partially reveal her breasts. Not something you forget quickly, or maybe ever.
If you love Broadway, get your tickets now for Razzle Dazzle. It's a smash hit.