THE BOOK SHELF: Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Actors' Equity, Yip Harburg, Stella Adler and More

By Steven Suskin
30 Dec 2012

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Ethan Mordden, who has since 1976 been providing a provocative look at the world of musical theatre with a series of much-discussed books, returns with his latest, Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya [St. Martin's]. His prior works in the field are all show biz, all the time. "Love Song" is rather different, as most of the Weill/Lenya saga takes place far away from Broadway; Weill was only in America for 15 of his 50 years.

This gives Mordden the opportunity to discuss not only a decidedly unconventional marriage of two artists but a different world altogether, which is to say Germany before and between the wars. The focus is, understandably, on the two intermingled lives, which the author does in an interesting manner. Be advised, though, that readers expecting a comprehensive Morddenesque discussion of the eight Broadway musicals of Kurt Weill won't find it here. What you get is the "Love Song."

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As I started to write this column, I quickly browsed through Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights edited and with commentary by Barry Paris [Knopf]. I almost immediately threw it down, though. This is a collection of transcribed scene-study lectures by the legendary acting teacher, the scion of a great family of Yiddish actors and an original member of The Group Theatre; Adler actually trained with Stanislavsky himself, apparently the only American actor to formally do so. Every page I stumbled upon had something so incisive that I decided I'd better save Stella until I have time to read her carefully. If you're interested in what it means to translate O'Neill, Odets, Williams, Miller and Albee from the page to the stage, you should do so, too. Read it carefully, that is.

For example, take Adler's 16-page analysis of the first act park bench scene between Lorna and Joe in Golden Boy. This exchange is familiar at the moment, as the play is presently being revived — and stunningly so — by Lincoln Center Theater at the Belasco. Adler, whose slightly younger brother Luther created the role of Joe Bonaparte in 1937, explains the scene — and the play, and the world of the play — line by line. Read "Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights" and learn.

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The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical [HarperCollins] is likely to be of interest to at least some readers of this column, but it shall not be discussed here. I find it pretty interesting myself, yes, but I wrote the thing (which incorporates the book and lyrics by the Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Robert Lopez, interviews with the creators and the entire original Broadway cast, and hundreds of photos by Joan Marcus). So I won't say a thing, except that it's my kinda book.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," now available in paperback, "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's On the Record and The DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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