A Broadway lover’s essential bookshelf

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Four books put the spotlight on the Great White Way


  • Todd Purdum’s “Something Wonderful” is a love letter to the transformative collaboration of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein.

Winners get to pick up their Tony Awards June 10. If we could award a Tony for theater books, here are four nominees from the recently published pile.

“I Wanna Be a Producer” is by Broadway veteran John Breglio, who lent his legal expertise over a 40-year period to luminaries like Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Marvin Hamlisch and Joseph Papp. As an independent, he shepherded the revival of “A Chorus Line” to success.

With this memoir-handbook, Breglio meticulously maps out the essentials of turning an idea into a viable stage production. He examines how rights are secured and explores the mystery of royalty pools. He explains the uneasy alliance between not-for-profit theaters and commercial ones. His memories of playwright August Wilson differentiate critical acclaim (as with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) from commercial success (as with “Fences”), and include the factoid that 90 percent of all plays on Broadway lose either all or most of their investments.

Filled with real-life stories, the text also covers finding the money, dealing with the creative team, auditions, casting, marketing and the press.

Breglio takes an entire chapter to spotlight an unsung hero, the general manager. Among other duties, the GM is the person who works with the lawyer to negotiate contracts and maintain the financial records.

“Broadway General Manager” sets out to demystify what the cover describes as “the most important and least understood role in show business.” Seasoned pro Peter Bogyo begins by taking the reader through the steps necessary to becoming a GM, from how to get an entry level position, to achieving sponsorship in the apprentice manager program of ATPAM, the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. Other chapters sample actual contracts and discuss negotiating tactics.

This is spinach-y stuff, but arts administration students or anyone interested in the fundamentals and inner workings of the usually closed world of theater production will find Bogyo’s book essential reading.

“Fraver By Design” is Frank “Fraver” Verlizzo’s record of five decades of theater poster art, with reproductions of more than 250 of his designs, including “The Lion King,” “The King and I” and “Sunday In the Park With George.”

This is a cocktail-table book, and the graphics are superb. The visuals of shows seen bring rivers of memories. Also included are the different versions Verlizzo created to present to a production team, which might include producers, general manager, press agent, ad agency account executive and others. There were 21 different posters for his Follies art presentation, and we get to see a sampling of the range of concepts.

Verlizzo distinguishes between Broadway and Off-Broadway, mostly because his choices rely on any production’s budget. But he also notes the “aesthetic vibe” of where he’s working, tending to edgier concepts Off-Broadway.

There are subtle revelations about how Verlizzo approaches even the smallest details, and there’s commentary by theater pros like producer and general manager Manny Azenberg, Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters and Ted Chapin of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.

“Something Wonderful” is Todd Purdum’s love letter to the Broadway revolution triggered by the transformative collaboration of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Their names conjure Broadway musicals with enduring emotional power, and with songs that continue to resonate. Beginning with “Oklahoma!” in 1943, and continuing with “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music,” Rodgers and Hammerstein inaugurated something new on Broadway: the serious musical play.

Readers will learn about the flops as well as the hits, and enjoy anecdotes about stars including Ethel Merman, Yul Brynner, Mary Martin and Julie Andrews.

Purdum, a former longtime White House correspondent for The New York Times, has turned his obsession with Broadway into a lively exploration of an unusually productive partnership that saw success on stage, screen, television and radio. As expected given his pedigree, Purdum has done his homework, and his appreciative book is balanced, providing, indeed, something wonderful.

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