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A CurtainUp Book Review

Show Time: A Chronology of Broadway and the Broadway Theatre
from Its Beginning to the Present
by Gene Brown

This is an exhaustively researched and immensely satisfying theater reference book. Unlike the pre-opening hype that often loses its fizz by the time the curtain goes up on a new Broadway show, Show Time delivers everything its title tag line and author introduction promises -- and then some.

Besides regaling us with a motherlode of facts about the theater's historically important plays and players, author Gene Brown also charts the industry's financial fortunes and misfortunes. In the hands of a less capable writer, capturing data covering a century and a half of theater lore between the covers of a single book could well have turned into a mish-mash of hard-to-retrieve, dry facts. Fortunately, Brown is not only enthusiastic about his subject but compulsively organized, with a knack for cherry picking the most useful and interesting informational nuggets from a mass of archival sources. What he does with these nuggets perfectly illustrates my 5-C rule of non-fiction writing: To be correct, clear, concise, comprehensive, and compelling. It makes for a delightfully browsable compendium that compels you to keep turning the pages as a box of Godiva chocolates lures you to keep nibbling.

The very sensible and attractive format divides the theater's history into five main sections: The Birth of Broadway, 1826-1914; Broadway Comes of Age, 1914-1924; Broadway in Transition, 1942-1967; Inhibitions and Censorship Break Down, 1967-1982; and The Age of the Mega-Musical, 1982-1992. Within these broad sections, each season is detailed with its own time line chart and chatty introductory overview. These are followed by a chronology of key data about personalities; plays and musicals; business and social matters; births, deaths and marriages. The layout is attractive and uncluttered with lots of clear and well-chosen black and white photos scattered throughout.

To test the book's usefulness and comprehensiveness, I searched the 37-page index for more than a dozen plays, playwrights and actors we've covered and plan to cover at CurtainUp. Sure enough, Show Time helped me to quickly retrieve useful and often new information each time. For example, I learned that Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon was initiated at the Morosco Theatre as a series of special matinees using the cast members of Elmer Rice's For the Defense which was already playing there. This entry led to some highly laudatory review quotes of the play and an excerpt from a letter in which O'Neill wrote to George Jean Nathan (a year later) "I see myself as a beginner--with prospects." In browsing through the overview of the 1973-74 season led to this notation: "a 16-year-old was inspired to become an actress by seeing Collen Dewhurst in Moon for the Misbegotten." That sixteen year-old was Cherry Jones (currently starring in Pride's Crossing.

I could go on and on, but I'll let you do your own browsing, as you will if you add this volume to your own library. At $22.95, (with a 20% discount if you order it from, this is an excellent value and a solid addition to any theater enthusiast's library. With its cover photo of Tommy Tune and Twiggy from My One and Only, the large and handsome volume would look well on any coffee table where it's sure to set a hot game of theatrival pursuit in motion.

Since most theater buffs are also avid movie goers, I'm adding a link to Show Time's predecessor, Movie Time, (same author and format) below.

Show Time, published by Macmillan, January 1998 and available on line
Movie Time , also published by MacMillan (1995) and available on line.

© January 15, 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp

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