THE WORDSMITHS ~ Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner
Book review and technical detail THE WORDSMITHS ~ Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner Stephen Citron
|Technical detail of THE WORDSMITHS ~ Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner|
|Title||THE WORDSMITHS ~ Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner|
|Category||Entertainment & Sports|
|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
|Publishing Date||1st January, 1970|
Twice-told tales of two legendary Broadway lyricists. Citron (Noel and Cole, 1993, etc.) works chronologically: The first quarter of his text is pure Oscar Hammerstein (18951960) and the last quarter all Alan Jay Lerner (19181986); in between, he intercuts the stories but makes little attempt to relate them to each other. Despite some similarities, the two men had radically different personalities. Hammerstein was a moralist, an old- fashioned lyricist and librettist whose early work was in the accepted operetta style of the day. He had two extremely lucky breaks in his long career: One was an invitation to collaborate with Jerome Kern in 1927 on Show Boat, universally acclaimed as the first ``modern'' musical; the second was a late-in-life partnership with Richard Rodgers, beginning with the smash Oklahoma! (1943), which transformed him into a living legend. Lerner was a much more uneven and unpredictable worker. He benefitted from one important professional relationship, with Frederick Loewe, a Viennese-born composer who perfectly balanced Lerner's fiery temperament with his steadier musical hand; the duo are best remembered for My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960). While Hammerstein was a warm family man, genuinely loved by his colleagues, who had a lifetime of theatrical hits, Lerner passed through a slew of stormy marriages, battled a long addiction to amphetamines, and experienced a relatively short period of success. Citron offers insightful readings of both men's lyrics, as well as some interesting remarks about the evolution of their best-loved works. But his narrative is marred by awkward constructions (``all was not as bad as it might appear in the preceding paragraphs'') and oddly inappropriate clichCs (``rumors...ran through the theater community faster than money through a drunkard's pockets''). Several previous books have already covered much the same biographical ground. Best read for its analysis of the songs; otherwise, little flesh on these bones. (b&w photos, not seen)
Incomparable and unique in their ability to write both libretti and lyrics, Oscar Hammerstein and Alan Jay Lerner brought the musical theater to an artistic peak that remains unsurpassed. From Show Boat, Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music to Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot, they wrote book and lyrics for one glittering gem after another, capturing the verve of the Golden Age of the musical at its peak. Their works continue to hold a preeminent place on stages around the world. Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished manuscripts, lyrics, letters, and interviews, Stephen Citron's generous dual biography brilliantly brings to life the strikingly different worlds of Hammerstein and Lerner--two remarkable artists who revolutionized the musical theater. Citron's narrative brims with fascinating stories and telling anecdotes about these two master wordsmiths, sweeping us along Hammerstein's roller coaster career with its mixture of hits and flops. This is contrasted sharply with Lerner's endless rewrites, eight marriages, and debilitating drug habits. We learn how Hammerstein and composer Richard Rodgers first wrote musicals together as undergraduates at Columbia, then parted company for twenty years before reuniting to produce one smash hit after another. We also discover that the Loewe-Lerner team almost never made it past Brigadoon, due in part to Loewe's aspirations to become a serious composer and Lerner's chronic (and often exasperating) insecurities about his own talent. Along the way, we meet the century's greatest composers, actors, and actresses--including George Gershwin and Kurt Weill, Mary Martin and Rex Harrison--whose transcendent melodies and showstopping performances combined with Hammerstein's and Lerner's words to leave an indelible mark on one of America's greatest contributions to twentieth-century popular art--its musical theater. And not only does Citron offer consummate analyses of his subjects' lyrics and probing insights into their plots and dialogue, but he provides us with a mini-reference packed with photographs of notable productions and of the artists themselves. The book provides a complete list of their works, an extensive bibliography, and a quintuple chronology of their lives in relation to world and theatrical events. In The Wordsmiths, Stephen Citron has penned what will surely be the definitive guide to the art of writing story and lyrics as well as an exhilarating dual biography. It is as well a fascinating read for all lovers of the American stage.
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