By Laura Frankos
Swallow's End Publishing
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Broadway Revival by Laura Frankos is a love letter to the classic Broadway musicals of 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Opening in the year 2078, David W. Greenbaum is an actor who has just buried his husband, Ramon. Despondent and knowing that his brother, Nate is involved with time travel, David decides that if he can't save Ramon, the least he can do is travel back in time to save long-dead Broadway composers to give them more time to write works that remain unwritten in the timeline in which he lived. Using his superficial resemblance to Nate, David manages to take a trip back to 1934, where he eventually settles into his greatest role: J.D. Taylor.
Upon arriving in 1930s New York, armed with knowledge of this history of Broadway (and the twentieth century more generally) as well as a supply for drugs, Taylor begins finding ways into Broadway society. Playing piano at a local club and working on the side as an accompanist for rehearsals until he eventually begins to write and produce his own musicals. Rather than steal classic musicals that haven't been written yet, Taylor writes his own original shows while quietly backing shows by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, and other shows that he knew would be hits to build himself a sizeable bankroll, and become further known in the community.
In addition to being a love letter to the era of Broadway Taylor lives through, Broadway Revival is also a novel of wish fulfillment, perhaps as much for Frankos as it is for Taylor. Although things don't always turn out the way he plans or hopes, his presence does alter the fates of many of the composers and lyricists he comes into contact with, almost always for the better. There are indications that some of musicals that are written are not entirely the same as in our own timeline, but that hardly seems to matter. The fact that there are more musicals in what is important.
Not everything can go smoothly. Taylor's adventure began with him impersonating his brother and traveling back in time illegally, setting up a new branch of the timeline. Taylor's actions in the mid-twentieth century are occasionally interrupted by a view of what is happening to Nate in response to David's original travel. Nate, as well as other operatives, try to find him when they travel back to the mid-twentieth century while there is also a movement among the scientists to study the new branch to see what impact it might have on the universe in general. Although this appears to be the primary threat to Taylor's plans, he also comes across a local man, Joe Gould, who was widely considered to be crazy, but who appears to have some insight into Taylor's real nature.
What Broadway Revival lacks in tension, it makes up for in heart. Taylor's motives come from a good place and he is trying to help individuals, not just himself. Frankos' love for the period and the material comes across not only in Taylor's plans and actions, but in the care with which she describes events in the novel, both those that happened historically and those that only happened due to Taylor's intervention. Broadway Revival offers a world that is far from perfect, but which offers fans of classic musical theatre a look at the world that might have been.
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