Mark Amory

Bookends: Musical bumps

In the Christmas issue of The Spectator there was a review of Showtime: A History of Broadway Musicals, a book which ran to 785 pages. Ruth Leon, in The Sound of Musicals (Oberon Books, £9.99), deals with the whole lot, well perhaps 20 in practice, in 128 much smaller ones; so she has to be selective. The top three, in her view, select themselves: Guys and Dolls (1950), My Fair Lady (1954) and West Side Story (1957) — ‘almost everyone agrees on this’.

Bookends: Musical bumps
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In the Christmas issue of The Spectator there was a review of Showtime: A History of Broadway Musicals, a book which ran to 785 pages. Ruth Leon, in The Sound of Musicals (Oberon Books, £9.99), deals with the whole lot, well perhaps 20 in practice, in 128 much smaller ones; so she has to be selective. The top three, in her view, select themselves: Guys and Dolls (1950), My Fair Lady (1954) and West Side Story (1957) — ‘almost everyone agrees on this’.

In the Christmas issue of The Spectator there was a review of Showtime: A History of Broadway Musicals, a book which ran to 785 pages. Ruth Leon, in The Sound of Musicals (Oberon Books, £9.99), deals with the whole lot, well perhaps 20 in practice, in 128 much smaller ones; so she has to be selective. The top three, in her view, select themselves: Guys and Dolls (1950), My Fair Lady (1954) and West Side Story (1957) — ‘almost everyone agrees on this’. She finds respectable reasons for her enthusiasm: Guys and Dolls has an extraordinary sense of place, My Fair Lady deals with ‘social injustice, and the struggle for personal freedom’ and West Side Story is about ‘alienation and belonging’. While not exactly untrue, these phrases rather miss the point, the fun.

Much more enjoyable are the asides about disasters, rows and, often present, talented shits. Jerome Robbins, choreographer of West Side Story, took the alienation seriously enough to make one member of the cast have lunch alone every day; Rex Harrison characteristically said of Julie Andrews, ‘If that bitch is here on Monday, I’m leaving the show’, but he didn’t, and gave perhaps the greatest performance in a musical, which neither John Gielgud nor Noël Coward, who were considered for the part, could have done. Frank Loesser complained of an actress in Guys and Dolls, ‘She won’t talk to me since I hit her’; but the shows went on.