Monday, June 30, 2008

Broadway Nights

Sometimes there's a book that's so much fun, you don't want it to end. I just finished Seth Rudetsky's witty and informative novel Broadway Nights: A Romp of Life, Love and Musical Theatre, and it definitely falls into that category. Emily, who writes the blog Pop Culture Book Review, gave it an enthusiastic review, so I picked up a copy at The Drama Book Shop the last time I was in New York.

Unless you follow musical theatre on Broadway, you've probably never heard of Seth Rudetsky. But if you do follow Broadway, well, he's pretty ubiquitous. He hosts Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, a weekly talk show featuring theatre actors. He writes for and he has a show, Seth's Big Fat Broadway, on Sirius Satellite Radio. And that's not even all he does. If he's not already Mr. Broadway, he probably should be.

Broadway Nights is written in the form of a diary that substitute pit musician Stephen Sheerin is keeping at the suggestion of his therapist. So we hear a lot about his complicated love life, with past, current and soon-to-be boyfriends, and about his opera singer mother, who never gave him enough attention growing up. (She's terribly disappointed when her son decides show tunes are his real passion, not classical music.) There's a funny story about how Stephen's babysitter unexpectedly took him to see Annie, his first Broadway show, and he was hooked.

All that was fine, but what I really enjoyed was the insider's look at how a Broadway musical comes together. Stephen has just gotten the big break of his career: he's hired to be the musical director for a new show, Flowerchild. It's kind of a 1960s jukebox musical, about the residents of a hippie commune making the transition to the 1970s. So we get to accompany him all the way through the process. He attends auditions, deals with the parsimonious husband-and-wife producers, works with the cast during rehearsals, and finally, after a bit of drama, (It is the theatre, after all!) arrives at opening night.

All of the details are probably old hat to veteran Broadway fans, but they were new to me. While the story isn't totally autobiographical - I don't think his mother was an opera singer and his father, her accompanist, who left her for his page turner - Rudetsky has drawn on his own life for a wealth of stories. And he does dish up a lot of stories about Broadway shows. (I'm sure someone who knows more about Broadway could figure out the real-life people upon whom he bases his characters).

Rudetsky has a breezy, conversational style, and he tells Stephen's story with a great deal of humor and sympathy. Stephen's a very likable Broadway journeyman - not a star but one of the myriad musicians, actors, dancers, and singers who toil in semi obscurity, entertaining us and waiting for their moment in the spotlight. My only complaint is that near the end of the book there's a plot twist that's resolved so quickly it practically gave me whiplash. And a second twist, involving Stephen's love life, seems a bit unbelievable. But those really are minor points.

Plus, there are lots of cool facts that I didn't know, but now that I do know them, I can sound like a Broadway insider. For example, I didn't realize that "half-hour" is the time actors have to get to the theatre. Now I understand that verse from "Show People" in Curtains - "Our days are tied to curtains, they rise and they fall. We're born every night at half-hour call." Thanks, Seth!


Emily said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. A while ago, Seth posted video on his blog about recording the cast album with Kristin Chenoweth and Ann Harada. Check it out, it looks like lots of fun.

Esther said...

Oh yeah, I really enjoyed it! It's just a terrific, fun read for someone who loves Broadway. I hope Seth writes a sequel. (Maybe I should e-mail him and suggest that!) And I forgot to mention that there's an audio version. Even though I've already read the book, I was thinking it would be fun to listen to it! I'll definitely check out the video.

MLight said...

Thank you for posting about this - it sounds very interesting!

Esther said...

You're welcome! Thanks so much for the comment. It really is a fun read. There are lots of nonfiction books about Broadway, plus plays and movies that use it as a setting, but I don't know about too many other novels. We need more!