THE BOOK SHELF: Ken Ludwig on Shakespeare, Peter Filichia on Musicals, an Encyclopedia of Jerome Kern

By Steven Suskin
14 Jul 2013

As he mentions the shows, we get a brief picture of what else was happeing that season; what did, in fact, win; and what Filichia believes should have won. Most of the discussion, though, consists of something like a conversational description of the plots of the musicals. For readers who only know these shows via their cast albums, and most readers of this book are likely to have many of the cast albums memorized, Filichia helpfully fills in the picture by telling us what actually happens between the songs.

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There are musical theatre reference books of all sorts. Many wind up on our shelves, but only some provide information that we haven't already seen. Count "The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia" by Thomas S. Hischak [Scarecrow] among the latter group. This is one of those books in which shows, songs and people have their own alphabetical entries (which sometimes results in overlapping information).

What makes this one different, though, is the scope of the material. Most Broadway reference books use 1925, or 1927, the year of Kern's Show Boat, as a starting point. Kern died at the age of 60 in 1945, so much of his career falls prior to that golden year. This makes it mighty difficult to dig up information on his earlier work. The influential Princess Theatre musicals, are an example: six shows written by Kern and Guy Bolton — mostly with P.G. Wodehouse — which are generally credited with setting the course for the modern American musical theatre. "The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia" — quite naturally — gives us full information on these shows. On all of Kern's 40 pre-Show Boat musicals, in fact.



There are some questionable inclusions. Bob Hope spent nine months of his 100 years in a Kern musical; Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Swanson and Ann Miller appeared in one Kern film. They each get a full page bio. Here we get listings for musicals like Have a Heart and performers like Fred Stone. That's the value of "The Jerome Kern Encyclopedia," which gives us quick access to hard-to-find, early information.

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Amy Herzog is one of the several bright new playwrights who have lately burst on the scene with one good play after the other. Four since 2010, in Herzog's case; so much so that an intriguing and provocative play like The Great God Pan could get more or less overlooked by audiences. Her first two plays to reach New York, 4000 Miles and After the Revolution [tcg], have now been published. Those of you who haven't yet had the opportunity to see Herzog's plays might want to read them and find out what we critics have been so excited about.

(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)