THE BOOK SHELF: "Theatre World," "Playbill Broadway Yearbook" and a Press Agent's "Backstage Pass to Broadway"

By Steven Suskin
03 Nov 2013

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The Broadway press agent's lot is not a happy one, necessarily. There are ups and down and ups and downs, as your work experience is to some extent dependent on the success of the plays and musicals you represent. Even a smash hit — with an egotistical monster as star, director or producer — can be long-running torture. If you are level-headed, sensible and have a sense of humor, though, you can make a fulfilling career of it. So goes the lesson of "Backstage Pass to Broadway: True Tales from a Theatre Press Agent" by Susan L. Schulman [Heliotrope].

Schulman is what we might call a veteran. She was thrust directly into the cauldron early on, when Lauren Bacall, about to star in her first musical, the 1971 Applause, decided that she wouldn't talk to anyone in the press office except Schulman, a lowly assistant to an assistant. Bacall, as we all know, was no piece of cake, but the star decided that she could trust the 23 year-old novice, and the novice carefully protected her star.

Schulman, who is still actively toiling in the field, dwells on the highlights of her 50 years, both the best and the worst. She was with the difficult Zero Mostel on his last show, during which he died during the out-of-town tryout; the exacting Bob Fosse on Dancin'; the commanding George C. Scott; and more. A full 16 pages are given over to the disastrous 1997 Johnny Mercer revue Dream and how it was fully and fatally sabotaged by its star, Lesley Ann Warren. Schulman convincingly explains how one person can willfully destroy everything for everyone. There is also an extended section of the trials and tribulations of the 1996 stage musical State Fair.

"Backstage Pass to Broadway" is not, perhaps, exactly a backstage pass to Broadway. But it does cover a good deal of ground, not only giving the reader a fair picture of what a theatrical press agent does but also a realistic glimpse at what really goes on.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at