Michael Adams at Open Letters Monthly:
The Golden Age of the American musical—flourishing between the corn-fed optimism of Oklahoma! in 1943 and the scruffy discontent of Hair in 1969—rested on the shoulders of a coterie of composers, lyricists, librettists, directors, and choreographers working at the height of their gifts. Radios hummed with songs mined from the latest scores. Living room turntables spun with original cast albums. Magazine covers regularly trumpeted the newest hits.
But it was the performers, the stars, who provided the delivery system, who became the worshipped—dazzling entertainers with outsize personalities who often seemed almost identical to their Hirschfeld caricatures. Alfred Drake, Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Robert Preston, Gwen Verdon, Judy Holliday—above-the-title names that defined an era, but who are today alive mainly in the memories of those who witnessed their dazzle first-hand.
This summer brings us a sturdy biography of one of Broadway’s defining mid-century stars as well as a frank, entertaining memoir of another, less celebrated light—though one who, ironically, may leave a more powerful mark in theatrical history.