Booking a Winner!
The season offers a variety of great gifts for the readers on your shopping list!
Few things compare to the guilty pleasure of a tell-all biography. In Richard Burton: Prince of Players, author Michael Munn, who appeared as an extra in several of Richard Burton's films, claims great insight into the late actor's life. This scandal-laden tome contains details about Burton's dirt-poor childhood in Wales, his two-time marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, and, yes, Burton's first and allegedly only homosexual experience. While this is not likely to be declared the seminal biography of 2008, it offers enough juicy gossip to keep even the most respectable reader turning the page.
Susan Goodman's top-notch and intellectually stimulating new art book Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, based on the current exhibit at the Jewish Museum, is a showcase not only for the costume and scene sketches of Marc Chagall, but also those of his contemporaries, including Nathan Altman, Robert Falk, and Aleksandr Tyshler. Alongside gorgeous full-color prints of these artists' work, Goodman and her collaborators brilliantly contextualize two of the leading Russian Jewish Theaters, Habima (Hebrew) and GOSET (Yiddish) into the larger pantheon of the early 20th-century Russian stage. Indeed, far from uniform in its presentation and content, these theaters serve as a microcosm for the conflicts of secular vs. religious, Constructivism vs. Aestheticism, and Stanislavski vs. Meyerhold -- artistic clashes sadly rendered moot by a Stalinist regime and Socialist realism.
Brian Sibley and Michael Lassell's Mary Poppins: Anything Can Happen If You Let Itis three books in one, all attached by a large cloth-covered foldout. It includes a book of production photos, a design folio of early set and costume sketches, and a complete history of Mary Poppins from P.L. Travers's imagination, through the sometimes contentious process of the Hollywood film, to its current Broadway incarnation. (Accounts of scuffles between Walt Disney and Travers are particularly amusing.) Designer Bob Crowley's Edward Gorey-like sketches are wildly fanciful and deserving of the unique folio Sibley and Lassell have given them.
In the preface to the 2007 American Edition of The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard's epic trilogy about 19th-Century Russian intelligentsia, the author writes, "I wish I'd written it this way first time round, but I didn't know enough then." Whether or not you've read the original text, Stoppard's engaging and thoughtful play is not one to be missed. Stoppard has a true gift for revealing the human side of the great thinkers that are the subject of his plays without losing sight of their intellectual achievements. (FYI: Grove Press has the complete trilogy available in a single paperback, and also offers a collectible box set with each play printed separately in hardback.)
Billy Elliot: The Musical opened on Broadway last month, but the very successful London production of the Elton John-Lee Hall tuner has been captured by David Scheinmann in Billy Elliot: Through the Lens. Scheinmann presents his photos chronologically, from early rehearsals through the opening night curtain call, with no words accompanying to act as filters; and he has a distinct talent for candidly capturing dedicated artists hard at work. Like the film and musical, this book has the power to be deeply inspirational to young performers.
Walnut Street Theater's managing director Bernard Havard and artistic director Mark D. Sylvester have compiled Walnut Street Theatre (Images of America: Pennsylvania), a charming pictorial history of the Philadelphia showplace, which actually opened its doors in 1809 as an equestrian circus. By 1812, however, the Walnut was producing plays, and since then its boards have hosted some of America's greatest actors -- including Booths, Barrymores, and Fondas -- to entertain everyone from the average Philadelphian to great presidents and foreign dignitaries. Indeed, the Walnut's opening night as a playhouse had both President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the audience!