short disclaimer: I’m pretty sure I am not able to write a ‘real’ review on books, I feel I don’t know enough about books to be a critic or anything. This is more like ‘feelings’ or short thoughts. Or maybe it’s a small review. Who knows that?
I finished Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s book The Untold Stories of Broadway, Vol 1, the first installment of a multi-volume series, a while ago, actually when I was in New York this past spring – which was almost 4 months ago now.
Anyway, I have the feeling that this book (and most like the following volumes as well) is not so much about EVERY single detail, but more about the big picture – which doesn’t mean that all the details and little stories are not important, they actually are, in order to create the bigger picture of the community, of how Broadway is like, was like, used to be like in its ‘Golden Age’.
Let’s start right at the beginning. For those of you who have read my About me page on this blog, the following fact isn’t really new. Over there I quote one of the first sentences of the book, a sentence that actually brought me to tears when I read it for the very first time. This sentence makes everything to perfectly clear with in very first moments of the book. We know why and we get to know by whom these stories that will follow the intoduction are brought to us.
The introduction is followed by longer or shorter stories, snippets, statements taken from interviews Tepper had conducted with actors, writers, ushers, door (wo)men, managers, producers, stagehands, you name it. These texts, interview-snippets and statements are organized by theatre, the first volume includes eight Broadway theatres – some of which are ‘dead’ by now (demolished one could say…), others are very, very much alive, as well as chronologically: so you get really old, historical statements from actors who have been in multiple shows in a specific theatre or in one of the first ones in it or who have returned after years and years spent in other theatres, and then you get to statements from people you have either seen on stage or listened to on cast recordings (for ages!) from the very recnt past. You come across shows I recognize from what you know about Broadway yourself and then across shows pretty much everyone seems to have forgotten about.
This way you can walk, run or speed (depenting on your reading rate) through the history of these eight theatres going fifty, sixty, seventy years back in time. From time to time Ms. Tepper guides us through, sometimes she let’s (her choices) of stories and statements speak for themselves.
And I actually caught myself crying about some of the theatres and places that either aren’t anymore at all or just not like they were used to be.
One thing that made me really happy though was that I was ‘smart’ enough (or maybe just lazy) to take it with me on my most recent trip to New York, as I stated before. I had owned my (electronical) copy of it for a while and it just chilled out on my iPad and when the trip came along I was like: You know what, I’m gonna read that – so I don’t have to pack another book!
This act of laziness and reaction to limited luggage space (backpack!) turned out to be a very good decision. It made everything to much more alive to read about something and then just having to leave the hotel (I was staying at the Marriot Marquis…) and being right there, right where so many theatres are situated. While wandering through the theatre district I’d (from the girls’ perspective) randomly point at buildings and be like “You see this building? Times Square Church? This used to be a theatre until the early 1980’s!”. It made me so happy to be able to process everything ‘live’, reading about it and seeing it later, passing by the theatre the same day or the following, remembering or looking forward to visiting theatres to see shows I had planned or already experienced.
What I want to express by rambling about how I read it in New York and what kind of impact it had on me is, that this is one of these books that are what you as a reader want them to be. You can read it and be like “Okay, stories!” or you could take time and go through it, go back and forth and really dive into it and into the history of everything so deep it literally will be hard for you to put the book away, get up and do whatever you need to do.
This book builds you a imaginative home in the history of these eight Broadway theatres, it makes history somehow processable and understandable and very much alive through these personal stories and statements all these theatre professionals were so kind to share. I am so glad Jennifer Ashley Tepper decided to ask them and they cared to share.
Theatre history seems to be either really under- or really over-rated, both of the cases are not the best. Especially in an art form that relies on signs and hints and going back to other ways other people have done theatre before you we need to embrace history (in a reflected way) and know about it and maybe history should embrace us. In the first volume of The Untold Stories of Broadway exactly that happens: history creeps up on us and embraces us. At least we can get the feeling of it.
(and I’d so go ahead and try to translate this into my own language (including rights and all the other shenanigans) for (musical) theatre people over here to read it in their language, but somehow I have the impression that sadly only a very small number of people would care to read…)