The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: The Making Of Chronicles

Originally published on The Craptacular.

The Making-Of Chronicles

I’m not sure when gift cards became a controversial gift (are they lazy? are they thoughtless?) because frankly, I think they’re the actual best. Seriously. The only thing better than money, is money that comes with the explicit designation that it can only be used for a particular kind of frivolity. When I was younger, gift cards meant one thing: cast album binge! But as I’ve matured (and acquired a Spotify Premium account), I find myself more and more drawn to filling my bookshelves (and my Kindle library) with books about our collective favorite obsession: Broadway musicals.

Actually, there is a particular sub-genre of books about Broadway that I love most, and that’s the Making-Of Chronicle. (This should come to no surprise, given that you are currently reading a column I write about the history of Broadway musicals.) Like a good Behind the Music episode, the best of these manage to break through the necessary conventions of the form to bring to life the dramas behind the drama and the personalities that gave birth to the shows we love – or occasionally, the shows we love to hate.

Right now, the Making-Of Chronicle spotted most frequently on the subway is Glen Berger’s Song of Spider-Man. Certainly, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has all the elements of a great making-of story: huge personalities, high stakes, and a disastrous journey from idea to opening night. I haven’t seen any version of the Spider-Man musical, but I will admit that reading the book makes me want to try to catch it before it closes on January 4th. Berger, the show’s book writer, acknowledges from the start that he can’t really create any sort of distance from the events he documents, and you may find his editorializing and finger-pointing exciting or exasperating, depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing.

But if you’re like me (or aspire to be), you’re probably more interested in Chronicles of shows long gone than documents of disasters still running (however fleetingly) on Broadway. So here’s five suggestions to add to your Amazon Wish List today, so you can order them with your gift cards on Christmas morning. I can’t claim to have read every “Making-Of” book. Hell, I can’t even claim to have read every “Making-Of” book currently sitting on my bookshelves… or even on this list. But these are the five (plus one honorable mention) that spring to mind first when the subject comes up, and you won’t go wrong starting with any one of them. Continue reading

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Fynsworth Alley: David Shire

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

David ShireDavid Shire is composer of Starting Here, Starting Now, Closer Than Ever, Baby, and Big, as well as an Emmy and Oscar-winning film composer whose work includes Saturday Night Fever, Return To Oz and the recent television film These Old Broads. He is currently working with longtime collaborator Richard Maltby, Jr. on a new Broadway-bound show called Take Flight.

DL: Let’s start out talking about your days at Yale, and how you began working with Richard Maltby.

DS: When I went there, I knew I wanted to write shows, and so did he. He came from a prep school in one place, and I came from a prep school in another place. We were looking for collaborators to write what in those days were called Varsity Shows, to be produced by the Yale Dramat. A mutual friend introduced us in the freshman dining hall one day. He thought I was a hick from Buffalo, and I thought he was a theatre snob. We were both kind of right. We started writing together, and 40-plus years later, we still are. We wrote two shows at Yale which were produced by the Yale Dramat in rather elaborate productions. One of them was later done at Williamstown. And that’s how we met.

DL: Those shows at Yale helped launch your career and brought you some professional notice…

DS: A little bit. They didn’t really affect anything. We were trying to get further productions of the shows. Theatre people came up, and though they thought we were talented and promising, neither one of those shows went any further. Curiously enough, the people in the shows who we worked with at Yale were more valuable in terms of future work, even in films. The stage manager of one of the shows was John Badham, who I later scored a lot of TV movies for, and finally Saturday Night Fever, which was my biggest financial windfall. There were people like Dick Cavett in the show, and Austin Pendelton and Peter Hunt, who I’ve either worked with or stayed pretty close with through the years.

We pretty much had to get to New York. After we got the National Guard out of the way – the six month reserve program – we moved to New York and started writing an Off-Broadway show there which was produced about a year after we got there. That attracted professional notice. It was like a calling card, even though the show didn’t run that long. Continue reading