One of the most readable and reliable reference works on the drama bookshelf has been updated and reissued. For the handsome fourth edition of "The World of Musical Comedy," Stanley Green has done extensive revising, expanding, and some pruning. The expansions include seven chapters devoted to 11 writers whose output and influence have, in Mr. Green's opinion, grown significantly, as well as three chapters covering 21 others who have emerged since the 1974 edition.
Here are some typical Green perspectives from the expansion chapters, with titles of representative shows. Bob Merrill ("New Girl in Town," "Take Me Along ," "Carnival") at his best "has shown a laudable dramatic gift for creating the right song for the right person in the right place. . . . " Stephen Sondheim ("A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Company," "Follies," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd") was "the dominant composer-lyricist of the '70s." Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick ("Fiorello," "She Loves Me," "Fiddler on the Roof") were undoubtedly the dominant team of the '60s." Their partnership ended with "The Rothschilds" in 1970.
Of composer Charles Strouse, whose principal collaborator has been Lee Adams (from "By Bye Birdie" to "Bring Back Birdie"), Mr. Green writes that "no other composer since the fabled George M. Cohan has ever shown such single-minded concern for the American experience." STrouse and lyricist Martin Charnin remained in that mainstream with their songs for the long-running, irresistibly optimistic "Annie."
"One of the preeminent of the current scene" is Cy Coleman, who has composed the scores for such musicals as "Little Me" (with Carolyn Leigh), "Sweet Charity" (with Dorothy Fields), "On the Twentieth Century" (with Comden and Green), and "Barnum" (with Michael STewart). Jerry Herman ("Hello, Dolly!" "Mame") is "our theater's leading traditionalist." Of John Kander and Fred Ebb ("Cabaret," "Chicago," "The Act"), Mr. Green writes that "no collaborators on the current scene have more successfully adjusted their creative signatures to conform to the dictates of their musicals."
And what of some of the newer arrivals on this highly competitive scene?
Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, recently represented by "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road," are "the foremost exponents of the woman's experience in the musical theater today." Steven Schwartz's first three musicals ("Godspell," "pippin," "The Magic Show") were each written before he was 27, and each ran more than 1,000 performances. (By contrast, it took more than 40 years for Rodgers and Hammerstein to reach their so far unmatched 1,000- plus performance record -- with "Oklahoma!" "South Pacific," "The King and I," "The Sound of Music.")
Other creative talents featured in the final three chapters of the new edition include Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("promises, Promises"), Mithc Leigh and Joe Darion ("Man of La Mancha"), Sherman Edwards ("1776"), Gary Geld and Peter Udell ("Purlie," "Shenandoah"), Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey (the Broadway long-run champ, "Grease"), Charlie Smalls ("The Wiz"), Marcin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban ("A Chorus Line"), Mr. Hamslisch and Carole Bayer Sager ("They're Playing Our Song"), and Elizabeth Swados ("Runaways"), whom Mr. Green considers "a major innovative force in . . . musical theater."
Two observations near the end of the book reflect upon recent trends in the world of musical comedy. One is the greater creative role being played by producing groups and workshops Off Broadway and beyond New York. On the negative side, Mr. Green notes that most of the new talents belong to "that select but frustrating group of creative people whose record on the Broadway score-board tallies shows one show and one hit."
Of all the many quotations in the book's 480 pages, one of my favorites is French composer Darius Milhaud's advice to Burt Bacharach: "Never be afraid to wr ite a tuneful melody." Amen to that!