A Chorus Line of Showbiz Books
SONDHEIM By Martin Gottfried Abrams 192 pp., $49.50Skip to next paragraph
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THE ZIEGFELD TOUCH: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FLORENZ ZIEGFELD JR. By Richard and Paulette Ziegfeld Abrams 352 pp., $49.50
SING OUT, LOUISE: 150 STARS OF THE MUSICAL THEATRE REMEMBER 50 YEARS ON BROADWAY By Dennis McGovern and Deborah Grace Winer Schirmer Books 232 pp., $28
WHO PUT THE RAINBOW IN THE WIZARD OF OZ? By Ernie Harburg University of Michigan Press 454 pp., $35
THE COMPLETE LYRICSOF IRA GERSHWIN By Robert Kimball Alfred A. Knopf 414 pp., $45
`PEARLS ... Rubies ... Diamonds ...'' If you find yourself unconsciously starting to sing the opening lines of ``Stranger in Paradise'' from ``Kismet'' this Christmas, it could be because the treasures potentially sitting under your tree come from America's stage-struck publishers.
Martin Gottfried's Sondheim is a winner. The author writes with intelligence and verve. As former critic for Women's Wear Daily and the author of two previous coffee-table heavyweights, ``Broadway Musicals'' and ``More Broadway Musicals,'' the man knows his stuff.
The volume is a relatively slender 191 pages, but then, Sondheim is still alive, well and abundantly creative; who knows, after another decade, we might get ``More Sondheim.''
Meanwhile, the author helps us simple folk understand what makes Sondheim Sondheim, or rather, how a genius tortures word and music into being. Breaking his subject's professional life into five parts, starting with his lyrics for others (Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne) and going on to his collaborations with director Harold Prince, Gottfried provides generous excerpts from Sondheim's trunk of brilliant lyrical invention, together with his own tough, incisive critical overview.
One could complain that there is not enough of Sondheim talking about himself, but perhaps the maestro is saving that for his own book. Meanwhile, the big splashy color photos alone make it a natural for gift-giving.
If you want more for your money, though, try The Ziegfeld Touch: The Life and Times of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. In 352 thoroughly researched and photo-rich pages, Ziegfeld's cousin Richard and his wife, Paulette, bring to life the golden age of the master showman Flo Ziegfeld (1876-1932), whose glittering showcases for beautiful women and vaudeville stars set standards for extravagance that have never been equaled.
After a touching introduction by Patricia Ziegfeld Stephenson, Flo's daughter by his marriage to the adorable Billie Burke (she followed Anna Held), this volume plunges the reader into the ``no expense spared'' mentality of Flo Ziegfeld's compulsive desires to please, to entertain, and to enchant.
The text is immensely readable and lively; the authors neatly divide the book between the man and the shows. With a slightly larger format than the Sondheim volume, created by the same publisher, this immersion into an unstinting world of beauty and romance makes one long passionately for time travel. You'll want to go there right now.
Theater aficionados are the best potential audience for Sing Out, Louise: 150 Stars of the Musical Theatre Remember 50 Years on Broadway, a smaller-format book that mixes interviews with numerous theatrical personalities from both sides of the footlights and filler material about shows known and little known. There are frustratingly few photographs, however. More critically, the fascinating information is not well-organized by Dennis McGovern. A single page will go from ``Flora the Red Menace'' to ``Oklahoma'' (Alfred Drake speaking!) to a tale about ``The Boys from Syracuse.''