Picks and Pans Review: Notes on Broadway

updated 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn

Chatty and full of famous names, this book would be a real treat for anyone who's ever wondered how composers go about writing songs for musicals or is interested in some backstage Broadway anecdotes. Containing lengthy interviews with 27 composers, it was obviously a labor of love for Kasha and Hirschhorn, a songwriting team that has won two Oscars (for The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno) and two Tony nominations for best score (Copperfield and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). While their attitude toward their subjects borders at times on the reverential, the composers present themselves as distinctly more human. Marvin (A Chorus Line) Hamlisch laments that his work is never taken as seriously as he would like. A couple of composers—Mary (Once Upon a Mattress) Rodgers and Jule (Funny Girl) Styne—gripe about how hard Judy Holliday was to work with. Rodgers recalls Barbra Streisand being turned down for the lead role in her Hot Spot, and Styne notes that Streisand was only a desperation choice for Funny Girl, after Eydie Gorme, Carol Burnett and a number of other performers had been ruled out. Leonard (West Side Story) Bernstein seems to wince at the thought of his 1976 flop, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which ran four days: "Humiliating, embarrassing." Bernstein also complains that today, except for the work of Stephen Sondheim, "most of the stuff you see around Broadway is lamentable—one commercial nonsense after another." Sammy (High Button Shoes) Cahn will never forget what columnist Dorothy Kilgallen said after seeing a pre-Thanksgiving benefit preview of his 1965 show Skyscraper: "I had my turkey early this year." Alan Jay Lerner remembers that his partner Frederick Loewe wanted to cut the On the Street Where You Live number from My Fair Lady, not to mention wanting to retitle the show Fanfaroon. These are also people, however, who obviously are thoroughly in love with what they're doing and love show business. Says Cahn, "I tell this to every performer I meet: 'Take stage eagerly; leave it reluctantly.' " (Contemporary, $22.95)

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