10 Gifts For Book Lovers
Books about Joseph Papp, Dick Van Patten, Wicked, Forbidden Broadway, and The Ed Sullivan Show make perfect presents for the theater-lover in your life.
Kenneth Turan's new history of The Public Theater, Free For All: Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told, has been over 20 years in the making. Told in an oral-history format consisting of testimony and first-person accounts from over 150 people connected with Papp (who died in 1991) and the Public over the years, the book turns out to be an invaluable means of preserving some of New York great theatrical voices. (Indeed, about a quarter of Turan's cast of characters is deceased.) Moreover, the oral-history format proves to be an intensely dramatic and extremely enlightening way to tell the story of America's preeminent not-for-profit drama organization.
The excitement stems not out of epic battles or tragic moments for Papp and his theater (though there are plenty), but the conflicting accounts of history offered by each of Turan's subjects. For instance, in the chapter about the successful Broadway transfer of the Shakespeare Festival's musical Two Gentlemen of Verona, both LuEsther Mertz and Bernard Gersten claim credit for the idea of having the Public be the sole investor in the Broadway production, a strategy that -- especially in the case of A Chorus Line -- underwrote the Public's operating budget for years. Turan presents these conflicting accounts without commentary, often back-to-back, just as any good dramatist would allow his characters to speak for themselves.
Papp emerges from this tome even more a legend and less a mere mortal than before. What starts as a biography of Papp and his impoverished childhood in Brooklyn quickly refocuses to Papp's professional life and the company he creates by the second chapter. One can tell that, whether they love him or hate him, everyone who comes in contact with Papp has a deep respect for the man. We are introduced to Papp the businessman, Papp the general, and Papp the socialist -- and it is the latter of these roles that Turan's interviewees unanimously agree deeply informed almost all of Papp's decisions about programming. Nothing that Papp produced could be merely "art for art's sake." He wanted the work he put on to have to have a meaningful and progressive social impact.
If we are to believe that "socializing" theater -- especially in terms of access -- was Papp's mission, as Turan's subjects and the book's title suggest, then he accomplished his goal. Despite instances of wealthy theater-goers hiring line-sitters to get their tickets for them, Shakespeare in the Park still offers the masses the most egalitarian way to see free, world-class productions every summer; audiences are only asked to give up the requisite time it takes to obtain a ticket. This "socialized" or public theater, and the myriad copycat companies that it has spawned, is truly Papp's greatest legacy.
Despite its title, Dick Van Patten's new memoir, Eighty is Not Enoughis not all about his experience playing all-American dad Tom Bradford on television's Eight is Enough. Instead, this easy-to-read romp elaborates on the veteran actor's storied stage career, which includes working with such theatrical luminaries as Max Reinhardt, Fredric March, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne. Since Van Patten started his career as a child actor, this is the rare biography that gives equal time to the subject's childhood, which makes for an engaging read. Wicked the Musical: A Pop-up Compendium of Splendiferous Delight and Thrillifying Intrigue offers a richly-detailed abridged telling of the mega-hit musical in 3D. Gregg Call's vivid illustrations explode onto incredibly complex pop-ups engineered by Kees Moerbeek. (The flying monkey spread alone is worth the price of the book.) Teeming with secret nooks and crannies, the book includes little artifacts like the Shiz University Newspaper and Elphaba and Galinda's respective letters home to further enrich and supplement the story. Men in Motion: The Art and Passion of the Male Dancer. Accustomed to photographing relatively stationary subjects with a bulky camera, Rousseau switched to a smaller hand-held to capture these powerful bodies in motion. The stunning results include close-ups, as well as large group tableaux of incredibly intricate dance maneuvers. Rousseau is wide-ranging with his subjects, giving equal time to ballet, modern, Broadway, and break dancers, making this an ideal gift for any sort of dance lover.
Gerald Nachman's Right Here on Our Stage Tonight: Ed Sullivan's Americais a sweeping work of biography, entertainment history, and cultural criticism all rolled into one four-part book. It traces the 23-year history of The Ed Sullivan Show from Sullivan's television debut in 1948 through the advent of rock 'n' roll, which staged its largest invasion of American homes through Sullivan's show in the form of Elvis and The Beatles. Nachman has an encyclopedic knowledge of Americana, and he is particularly good at placing The Ed Sullivan Show in the larger context of America's development.