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A CurtainUp Book Review
The Oxford Companion to the American Musical
Theatre, Film, Television
By Elyse Sommer
Thomas Hischak has put together a fine, fat reference for musical theater fans and scholars. It covers stage musicals going all the way back to The Beggar's Opera in 1750, as well as those produced for the small and big screen.
The entries are sensibly and intuitively organized in alphabetical order so that whether you're looking for a show title, its creators, cast members or a particular genre, you're likely to find what you're looking for without too much page turning. That's not to say just thumbing through the generously photo-illustrated 827 pages isn't half the fun of owning this hefty volume. It's while browsing that you're likely to stumble across a category like Frontier Musicals and appreciate the broad historic picture you get by having stage, screen and television all between the covers of a single book. Actually the page count comes to 923 if you count the helpful Chronology of Musicals, Musical Awards List, a guide to recordings (By Hischak's wife) and the very thoroughl index.
The entries are well written and comprehensive enough to include many interesting tidbits (for example, the biographical entry on singer Rosemary Clooney includes her nephew, actor-director George). An especially helpful feature is the insertion of text set off in gray-backed boxes and featuring lists of songs and various casts of popular shows' various revivals.
Except for the cover, the illustrations are all in black and white but they're well chosen and there are plenty of them. The book overall is handsomely designed, with an easy on the eyes typeface and nice, smooth paper.
It would be a miracle for an ambitious project like this not to miss its share of items that warranted inclusion. Since such misses are most likely fall mostly within the area of shows that opened Off and Off-Broadway, I did a quick search for two small musicals that have had and continue to have extensive regional productions—The Last Five Years and The Musical of Musicals. Both were there though not as easy to track down as other entries. I found The Last Five Years under composer Jason Robert Brown's biographical entry (but not in the index). The Musical of Musicals seemed to be a total omission but then it showed up under the heading of Pastiche Musicals, though neither the title or its creators are in the index.
Given the wide net Mr. Hischak has cast and the breadth and depth and accessibility of the information, my last comments make me somewhat guilty of nitpicking. Hischak caught a lot more fish than he missed. The fact is that any reference like this needs updating as soon as it's published is the nature of the genre and makes it inevitable that the list of missing entries will grow with each passing theater, movie and TV season. I suppose in a perfect world, this volume would also be available on line, with updates added on a regular basis. Even without such updates, having a CD version included with the book would be a great optional feature.
The Oxford Imprint has long been associated with solidly researched, intelligent reference works. The Oxford Companion to the American Musical is no exception. Whether you buy it as a gift for a friend or yourself, it's too much fun to pick up for quick browsing and too full of interesting facts to gather dust on the bookshelf.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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