The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

The Secret Life of the American Musical How Broadway Shows Are Built A New York Times BestsellerFor almost a century Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical It often begins in childhood in a

  • Title: The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built
  • Author: Jack Viertel
  • ISBN: 9780374256920
  • Page: 296
  • Format: Hardcover
  • A New York Times BestsellerFor almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will sA New York Times BestsellerFor almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will start the cycle all over again Americans love musicals Americans invented musicals Americans perfected musicals But what, exactly, is a musical In The Secret Life of the American Musical, Jack Viertel takes them apart, puts them back together, sings their praises, marvels at their unflagging inventiveness, and occasionally despairs over their embarrassing shortcomings In the process, he invites us to fall in love all over again by showing us how musicals happen, what makes them work, how they captivate audiences, and how one landmark show leads to the next by design or by accident, by emulation or by rebellion from Oklahoma to Hamilton and onward.Structured like a musical, The Secret Life of the American Musical begins with an overture and concludes with a curtain call, with stops in between for I Want songs, conditional love songs, production numbers, star turns, and finales The ultimate insider, Viertel has spent three decades on Broadway, working on dozens of shows old and new as a conceiver, producer, dramaturg, and general creative force he has his own unique way of looking at the process and at the people who collaborate to make musicals a reality He shows us patterns in the architecture of classic shows and charts the inevitable evolution that has taken place in musical theater as America itself has evolved socially and politically.The Secret Life of the American Musical makes you feel as though you ve been there in the rehearsal room, in the front row of the theater, and in the working offices of theater owners and producers as they pursue their own love affair with that rare and elusive beast the Broadway hit.

    One thought on “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built”

    1. Jack Viertel’s strong writing and impressive depth of knowledge is probably worth 4.5-5 stars, but my enjoyment of the book was really only around the 3-star level so I’m splitting the difference here.Part of my disappointment is that I expected this to be a behind-the-scenes look at the business side of Broadway: literally, how you bring a show to the stage from start to finish. In reality, this is a book-length deconstruction of how the songs within the show succeed or fail. The book is di [...]

    2. A really good and interesting book, just what I was looking for. Two of the chapters are almost completely off-topic but the rest is a gem. I had no previous musical theatre education but while reading this book I had no problems at all. It also was very entertaining and the writing style suited me a lot thanks to its lightness.

    3. Despite the use of the word "built" in the title, this book has nothing to do (unfortunately) with the staging, casting, performing, choreography, or physical production of musicals, but only with how they are constructed as a work. The author has an interesting template--big opening number, star turn, big 1st act closer, etc.--but the book mostly consists of him saying things like, "a big noise number, full of fun and excitement, comes here, and here are 5 examples of such a number." The exampl [...]

    4. Well-nigh irresistible to an erstwhile theater kid, and anyone who's ever loved a musical will surely feel the same. Viertel's favorite musicals and mine don't always line up (I'm with him on Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof, but I've never seen Carousel, prefer The Sound of Music to South Pacific, and never managed to warm up to Sondheim), but his enthusiasm is contagious, his analysis thoughtful, and his love of musicals and firm belief in their importance is apparent on every page. A de [...]

    5. Well researchedabsolutely. Informativetely (I felt like I was taking a college course but I was lacking essential background knowledge). Easily readablewells but too much information. I was thrilled when I won this book on . I love theater. My family is musical and they love to perform on stage. Currently two grandchildren are performing in a local theatre presentation of "Annie" in the roles of Annie and Molly (the youngest orphan). Proud grandma that I am I have seen the show four times and wi [...]

    6. This wasok. I really enjoyed it for the first few chapters, but then it became way too formulaic to me. I was hoping to find out more about the actual creation of the shows, where the ideas came from more so than the formula of songs (I want, act I finale, etc) and examples of each of those and whether or not they were effective. I would be really interested to read a book in the work that goes into creating a musical, not just the types of songs that go into it, but where ideas come from (why s [...]

    7. Jack Viertel is a "tote." A tote, according to my group of friends, is someone who is so totally into a subject that you become swept up in their enthusiasm. Jack Viertel knows Broadway shows and writes eloquently and knowledgeably about the architecture that makes them tick. I loved his totie take on the subject and look forward to listening to the many cast albums he recommends in the final chapter. Best parts for me were the examples of problems that were fixed on the road, turning potential [...]

    8. I love musicals, and I’m glad to have read something from a strictly American standpoint. Webber and the creators of Les Mis and Miss Saigon are talented, but I want to know about more than that. Viertel breaks down the structure of a good musical and explains why each component makes a show successful. Plus, he’s funny.

    9. A must for lover of musicals having an extensive repertoire. His analysis made me appreciate in new ways, shows I have seen dozens of times.

    10. As a devotee of the American musical, this was a wonderful book to read. Viertel, who is a Broadway producer, has worked at the Mark Taper Forum and produced the City Center Encore series, is a perfect guide to the musical and its evolution over time. The book starts with the early days of the musical and goes up to and includes Hamilton. Viertel shows what makes a successful musical, song by song, giving examples from many musicals. As he talks about the changes, he also talks about what is con [...]

    11. My introduction to musical theater, which eventually led to opera, began with Mary Martin's Peter Pan and Disney movies of the 1950s. The fact that Jack Viertel mentions both early on in this book endeared me to it immediately. You can tell he's taught this as a course, because it's clearly laid out and easily understandable. He divides the classic American musical into its components, using five or six primary examples--then he shows how successful musicals have played with these components. Pu [...]

    12. A course turned into a book makes perfect sense, as Jack Viertel has had years of experiences from audience member to producer to teacher to consider the subject. Here, he ruminates at length structuring the most readable book as a musical, from Overture to Curtain Call. To maintain focus, he sticks to just a handful of musicals to illustrate each point although he sprinkles in many others from throughout the Golden Age of the musical, from 1943's Oklahoma to 1975's A Chorus Line. He keep things [...]

    13. I think I would have liked this book as a theatre fan, too. (Full disclosure: I work for the Des Moines Community Playhouse.) Jack Viertel does a beautiful job of laying out the structure of nearly every musical, from a little before Show Boat through Hamilton. He gives great examples. I've since thought about some of my favorite musicals and how they fit the model. Viertel also shares a few glimpses behind-the-scenes to what it takes to bring a show to the stage, and how the business has change [...]

    14. I'm not deluding myself into thinking that a non-theater person would find this as fascinating as I did, but this was first-rate. Viertel's walk through the architecture of musical theater delivered a lot of familiar info, but it was also loaded down with stuff that had never occurred to me. Plus, it's just fun because of all of the examples that he uses to illustrate his points. This is going to change the way I watch any musical.

    15. Not the usual Broadway history through gossip. The subtitle tells it all. "How Broadway Shows are Built."Viertel covers 90 years of Broadway history analyzing how certain kinds of song worked or didn't work in particular positions in shows.I think every musical fan would really enjoy this book. And if you're a musical writer, you might get a few hints.

    16. I loved this book. I have seen most of the musicals discussed, and have a list of new musicals where I need to track down and listen to the cast recording. The only problem? Every time he quoted songs lyrics for a song I knew, I had to stop and sing!

    17. It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows my reviews that this book went to the very top of my "to read" list on the first day it became available in an accessible format. In fact, I thought seriously about abandoning my usual Christmas reading so that I wouldn't have to wait to tackle this, but then decided that it would be great to have something to look forward to immediately after the holidays.Did it live up to my ridiculously high expectations? Yes, it most certainly did. With that [...]

    18. Sometimes a book comes along that is just so perfectly up your alley that it feels like the Tooth Fairy left it just for you under your pillow while you've been dreaming of your own Broadway debut. Such was The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel. Viertel has been a longtime veteran of American theatre, as a dramaturge, critic, and producer, on Broadway and in regional theatre, that he is an ultimate insider. Luckily for us (and for him, I guess, too) he is an ardent fan of the f [...]

    19. This book was very through. It took me quite a while to read, which was a bit surprising but mostly because it was very technical. That is not a bad thing, however. This dude, Jack Viertel really knows his stuff, and you can tell that. I really liked how it was laid out like a show, too. It inspired me to watch more shows, or at least find out about them more, and there were two whole lists of recommendations for shows to watch. It was great. I would love to do a more in-depth review of this lat [...]

    20. This proved to be a fascinating book, truly delightful. Viertel deciphers formulas that make the story progress in the American musical genre (you only have two or two-and-a-half hours, usually), but it's about so much more than that! He has an original way of looking at a show that lets him see patterns that most of us wouldn't recognize. He identifies trend-setting works in the genre, and even inspired me to buy a ticket for a touring show that is returning to Seattle for probably the third ti [...]

    21. Viertel states at the beginning of this enjoyable read, that “The Secret Life of the American Musical” is “basically a ramble” of intriguing stories, flashes of dramaturgical insight and solid reminders of why some musicals work and some musicals don’t. Structured like a show from overture to curtain call, each chapter dissects aspects of famous musical that succeeded and those which infamously failed. From the opening number through the “I Want” song, the conditional love songs, t [...]

    22. If you’re a fan of musicals, this is a fun book, for have you ever really stopped to ponder what makes a musical work well? And why you like them? And why the ones you may not like as much don’t seem right, or have some random comic number near the start of the second act?This book is written in a straight-shooting tone of voice, by someone who has long experience in the industry, is a lifelong lover of musicals and has both practical experience but also has put a lot of thought into the sub [...]

    23. For lovers of the Broadway musical, this is a great big birthday cake of a book. Jack Viertel, a veteran producer who is also director of City Center's celebrated Encores! series, examines each part of a well-constructed musical from the overture to the finale, each in a separate chapter. He gives very specific examples of how these elements were made to work in the most successful musicals (and how they failed to work in a few unsuccessful ones), showing us how very difficult it is to put toget [...]

    24. This is great! I was slightly worried it would be a bit dry and academic since its origins are in a US college class, but Viertel's writing is really quite engaging. It only covers American musicals so I did feel at times it was ignoring some really quite pivotal shows from the Broadway canon, but it has given me some new ideas for shows to listen to which is GREAT. (It also pushed me into buying a ticket for Follies at the National Theatre which is excellent for them seeing as I also bought the [...]

    25. This is a non-fiction study of a Broadway show, essentially the "formula" involved in the timing/placement of the songs. I initially expected a more behind-the-scenes so it started a little slow for me. Once I realized what it was and got involved in the book then it became much more interesting. It walks through the opening number all the way to the ending number and focuses on a handful of shows. Not super compelling reading, but one that got better as I got farther along in the book. I will k [...]

    26. Pop culture as academic subject is one of my favorite genres, and this doesn’t disappoint. Viertel takes us through all of the major beats of a musical, from the I Want Song to the 11 O’Clock Number, using examples from myriad shows to illustrate how some follow the traditional mold and others break the formula, to varying degrees of success. It was fun to compare all of the shows I’ve seen to his roadmap. He has clear favorites that are discussed more often than others, but I didn’t min [...]

    27. I am not literate enough in musicals to really appreciate this book - I haven't seen many of the musicals the author talks about. He describes the plot in too much detail (if you know a musical, you don't need the description of the plot, if you don't, it won't help, plots alone often make very, very little sense) and dwells too much on the examples he gives: I skipped long fragments. Otherwise - interesting in baring the structure of the musicals, the ropes. I will go back to the book when bett [...]

    28. 3.5 stars: I needed a little brain time-out from reading Hamilton and figured this would do the trick did. I enjoyed reading about the (intentional or not) structure of the American broadway musical and, since I've been introducing many of them to my kids (albeit via their movie versions), many are fresh in my mind and others are now back on my radar screen. I'm sure it wasn't intended in this way (the author is clearly a Broadway insider who has seen and been involved with the production of man [...]

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