THE BROADWAY MUSICAL
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the musical 42nd Street, Billy Lawlor sings "Who writes the words and music/For all the girly shows?/No one cares, and no one knows." However, Laura Frankos knows, as she clearly demonstrates with her encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway musicals in The Broadway Musical Quiz Book.
While most quiz books phrase questions in a brief format, such as "Who created the role of Arabella Rittenhouse in Animal Crackers?" Frankos generally takes this a step further, added an explanatory paragraph to many of her questions to give background which, while not necessary in answering the question, is certainly informative and interesting. She does the same when it comes to providing answers, often explaining why the potentially obvious answer is incorrect. It is this attention to detail and extra information which raise The Broadway Musical Quiz Book from being simply a quiz book to being a history of Broadway musicals.
The majority of quiz books are designed to be read as a series of rapid questions and answers exploring the trivia of whatever topic they happen to cover. Although The Broadway Musical Quiz Book can be read in such a manner, in many ways the book offers much more. Rather than just being a quiz book, the details of the questions Frankos poses, as well as the details in the answers, make the book a rather thorough reference work on the topic of Broadway musical theatre, although the book's quiz format and lack of index tends to lessen the success of the book when used in that fashion.
The book contains more than eighty quizzes, most of which are topical in nature, focusing on a specific playwright or lyricist/composer team. Although some of the quizzes look at themes like "Colleges" or "Booze," there are only three quizzes which are specific to an individual musical: 1776, A Chorus Line, and Nine. However, these are not quizzes for the casual musical fan. Even having just seen A Chorus Line, the questions Frankos asks frequently rely on knowledge of the production history, not just the book, to answer the questions properly. Fortunately, Frankos is happy to share that knowledge with the book's readers.
While Frankos includes a great deal of material, the format of the book seems off. The trivia question format doesn't allow a reader to easily find information about a specific musical, or even quickly find out if Frankos has mentioned the show. Because the questions are so difficult, in many cases victory can be declared for simply recognizing which show a question is about, the quiz format really only works for those who have an encyclopedic knowledge of the topic nearly rivaling Frankos's own.
The book's drawbacks, however, are minimal and the amount of information Frankos includes is mind staggering. The book, in many ways, simply serves to whet one's appetite and raises the hopes that at some point Frankos will turn her attention to write an anecdotal history of Broadway musicals, the effort made to stage them, and the personalities, so many of which are larger-than-life, which exist behind the actors, producers, directors, lyricists, composers, and rest of the crew.
*The role of Arabella Rittenhouse was created by Alice Wood. In the film version, she was replaced by Lillian Roth. Many of the other actors who created roles when the show opened on October 23, 1928 at the 44th Street Theatre, reprised their roles in the film version, which was produced at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.
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