Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Review - Nothing Like A Dame

Nothing Like A Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater

By: Eddie Shapiro
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: February 2014
ISBN: 978-0199941209
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: April 19, 2014

From Carol Channing to Chita Rivera, Sutton Foster to Patti Lupone, there are so many of the “GREATS” of musical theater in this book, fantastic stars who bear their souls, that you won't want to miss a page. If you want an insider’s view of life on stage, buy this book!

Nothing Like A Dame includes interviews with 21 luminaries of Broadway, all chosen by the author who had a strict criterion he wanted to follow. “...all had to have devoted the majority of their careers to the theater: no one who started in theater but moved on ... no stars from other media who visit Broadway...” (pg. xi). The selection of stars is fantastic and as soon as I received this book, I dived right in, heading straight for number one on my personal favorite list, Angela Lansbury. Rather than write a book that reads like a biography with a few juicy quotes sprinkled in for good measure, the author chose to use a straightforward interview format. There is a brief, one-page synopsis of each star’s career prior to the interview, but then it’s “game on!” and the fun starts. The author, Eddie Shapiro, is a die-hard Broadway fan, who has seen over 1200 Broadway performances and happily admits, “I saw everything, and I loved it all. Even the stuff I hated, I loved.” (pg. xi) His passion and understanding of the theater shows in his knowledgeable, probing questions and as each interview progresses, more intimate confessions and fascinating facts are brought to the surface.

Each interview has the air of two friends sitting down on a couch for a casual chat, a moment to reflect on a career, and all the ups and downs that entails. While Shapiro undoubtedly had a series of questions he wanted to ask each artist, the talks sometimes go wonderfully off tangent, as he follows his artists’ stories to unexpected places. For example, Angela Lansbury tells us about Sweeney Todd and how Stephen Sondheim played “The Worst Pies in London” and “...I thought it was so damned funny. It just killed me ... He kept slapping the piano for the dough. He kept getting the lyrics all mixed up. I was immediately terribly interested…” (pg. 86) while Kristin Chenoweth admits how shy she is, “...shy around celebrities. When I met Madonna my manager said, “She really wants to meet you,” but I barely said a thing. I’m a weirdo.” (pg. 284) There are so many great lines in this book, that I could go on quoting them forever ... but I won't. You'll just have to read the book yourself to get lost in the lives of these amazing women.

You’ll laugh, cry and come away with a lot of respect for the hard yet incredible lives these Ladies of Broadway have lived. This book is a definite keeper and I for one, am going to put it on my special bookshelf where all my favorite books live.

Quill says: If you’re a fan of musical theater, you have got to get a copy of Nothing Like A Dame!

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