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BOOK REVIEW: Gerald Schoenfeld's Mr. Broadway

The late Chairman of the Shubert Organizations' autobiography is a captivating must-read. logo
Gerald Schoenfeld's autobiography Mr. Broadway: The Inside Story of the Shuberts, the Shows, and the Stars
, which he completed just one month before his death, is a captivating must-read for anyone interested in Broadway from an insider's perspective. The reason: Mr. Broadway is not just the story of one man, but rather a chronicle of the last 70 years of the Shubert Theatres, and by extension, Broadway itself, as told by the man most at the center of it all. Art isn't easy, to quote Stephen Sondheim, but as Schoenfeld vividly illustrates, merging the worlds of art and business proved to be damn near impossible.

As Chairman of the Shubert Organization from 1972 to 2008, Schoenfeld fundamentally changed the way business is run on Broadway. As Frank Rich of The New York Times put it, Schoenfeld's lasting legacy was, "turning a dilapidated sideshow of 20th Century show business into a modern corporation."

The first half of the book -- which follows a charming foreword by Hugh Jackman and an introduction by Alec Baldwin -- is primarily a lawyer's story. Schoenfeld began his career as a law clerk at the firm representing the Shuberts. From there, he rose within the ranks to eventually become Chairman of the Board, following the untimely death of John Shubert and the disastrous tenure of Shubert's cousin, Lawrence.

Schoenfeld gives his readers a detailed play-by-play of the skirmishes, brawls, and total wars that plagued the exceedingly-litigious world of Shubertland (peppering his prose with legal jargon like prima facie and sui generis.) Like feudal lords, men like Irving Goldman, Howard Teichmann, and Bernard Jacobs battled it out for supremacy over the dying Shubert kingdom, with Schoenfeld and partner Jacobs emerging as the ultimate victors.

What follows is a long period of reform and prosperity for the Shubert Organization, though not without its own unique headaches. Indeed, the second half of the book sees Schoenfeld transform from lawyer to producer as he recounts his critical role in bringing some of the most memorable shows in Broadway history -- including A Chorus Line, Cats, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera -- to Shubert Theaters. Necessarily, this meant spending less time with prickly lawyers and more time with moody artists.

Schoenfeld's score-settling is prolific. He dedicates several chapters to the abuses and "madness" of J.J. Shubert, the last surviving of the three original Shubert brothers. He paints former New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz as a downright crook. He also reminisces on his personal relationships with some of America's greatest stage directors including Michael Bennett ("genius"), Bob Fosse ("difficult"), and Jerome Robbins ("impossible").

In the end, Schoenfeld left an indelible mark on Broadway, as evidenced not just physically by the recently-dubbed Schoenfeld Theatre on 45th Street, but his effort to drive crime and the sex industry out of Times Square, resulting in unprecedented droves of tourists, skyrocketing rents, and a new business model for commercial theater that will be felt for decades to come.

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