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A CurtainUp Book Review
Making Musicals by Tom Jones

Tom Jones, in case the plain, no-nonsense name doesn't ring the bell is half of the team that gave us that enduring little musical The Fantasticks, as well as 101 In the Shade and I Do! I Do!. Jones is the librettist/lyricist and his partner Harvey Schmidt the composer. Making Musicals, which was just published by Limelight Editions, is a beguiling mix of memoir and self-help. Actually, the book began as a series of lectures given by the slightly professorial Jones at Hunter College in New York. Jones' intention for the book, as it was for the lectures, is to provide " a general introduction to the world of musical theater, with a little autobiography and general "schmoozing" thrown in for good measure." He fulfills his goal admirably and entertainingly and in a sensibly arranged format.

Much of the anecdotal material has been recycled into the revue reviewed by us, The Show Goes On, in which Jones acts as Master of Ceremonies. Naturally, a show which can be illustrated with songs, is more fun than reading a book in which you have the anecdotes without the aural and visual accompaniment but for those who don't get to see the show it's the next best thing. Those who do see the show will enjoy this book as a useful remembrance. While the book would ideally also be available as a CD-Rom with the text illustrated with hyper-linked songs and illustrations from at least some of the shows described Jones has come as close as possible to replicating his easy-listening charm and clarity of vision on the printed page. With its attractive cover (designed by his musical colleague Harvey Schmidt who's a gifted artist as well as a musician) it makes a nice addition to any bookshelf .

Extremely well organized and packed with interesting information, the first half of the book deals in broad and general terms with the growth and development of the American musical. The second half focuses on the practical "how-to" of putting together a musical, using Jones' own career and shows he's worked on as a springboard. The audience he addresses is the layman musical theater buff interested in the behind-the-scenes workings of musical theater as well as those interested in going a step further and actually trying to write for the musical theater. Since Jones is a lyricist librettist the how-to focuses on that aspect--with the contributions of his composition partner thrown in to round out the picture. I might add that much of the writing advice works for other kinds of writing such as short story writing, poetry or greeting card verse.

Since only half the book falls within the category of how-to I'm glad to report that this advice is stick-to-the-ribs solid. No hyperbole. No gratuitous name dropping. Since Jones moves along at a brisk pace and from a distinctly personal perspective even those well-versed in musical theater history, won't be bored by parts of this chronicle with the ring of familiarity. For those with little or no historical background, the book can stand as full meal or as a jumping off point for further reading (Several books are in fact recommended). It covers the standard format and the experimental -- the large Broadway musical and the smaller Off-Broadway (or regional) musical which clearly appeals most to Jones (and Schmidt's) particular sensibilities.

While Jones has plenty of anecdotes with which to season his text the emphasis is on the professional rather than the personal. If you want to know how many marriages it took for Jones, a Korean war veteran, to have a very young daughter, you wont' find it out here. If you want gossipy tidbits about the personalities he and Harvey Schmidt have worked with, save your money.

Having tossed my bouquets, here are some negatives which keep Making Musicals from being as easily accessible and useful as it could be. Though the listing at Amazon states that the book has 224 pages, the copy on my desk clocks in at 189. Those extra pages could have taken care of all the missing enhancements that follow.

Since there's no bibliography included to retrieve the books recommended in the second half of the book--we've pulled them out here with links for checking them out at where Making Musicals is also available:

Making Musicals: An Informal Introduction to the World of Musical Theatre by Tom Jones, 1998, Limelight Editions

Lyrics on Several Occasions by Ira Gershwin 424 page paperback, Limelight Editions,1997

Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein (William Hammerstein, Editor) Hardcover, 296 pp, Hal Leonard Publishing 1985.

Fantasticks by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Paperback Applause 1992 with a brief history called "Trying to Remember that outlines the making of this particular musical in detail.

© January 15, 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

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