The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

Author: Jack Viertel

Pages: 312

While my love for movies and TV shows is very well publicized, one of my other passions is musical theater. I have been seeing theater since I was a small child, and few things can make me as happy as a great musical. Like a good book, they have the ability to transport you to a different world, while the best ones reflect the real one we live in.

Jack Viertel has concisely and intelligently broken down what exactly makes a musical work in The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built. This book not only deconstructs some amazing shows on the structural level, but also discusses what can and cannot resonate on a cultural level.

We often think of art as a one sided process: the artist creates. This book, however, is so strong because it approaches musicals from the audience’s point of view. Unlike a painting or a photograph, musicals are not necessarily strong because of technical aesthetics, but gain strength from the emotion it generates from the audience. Thus, the technical aspects of what makes a broadway show work are not necessarily defined by the artists’ set of rules, but by the stimuli they create in our brain, and if they really work, in our heart.

I do not want to give away too many details, but I’m currently working in my spare time of adapting a beloved comedy into a musical. I’m not necessarily writing it, but it’s a project that I really want to undertake in some capacity. One question I’ve been addressing is the fitness of this story for a musical, so reading this book really gave me some clarity. Viertel lays out the basic format for a show song-by-song, and while reading, I pictured my project in the context of these songs. Surprisingly, after reading this book, I’m more encouraged by my project! I think it would really work for the stage, and this book should be a valuable resource for anyone working on a musical theater project. (Reach out to me if you want to know specific details…don’t want people stealing my ideas!)

I would recommend this book to two different types of people: those who love musicals, and those who really have no interest in them. If you love musicals, this book is perfect for you. There are so many amazing references to the shows you love, and many even the biggest theater fan has probably never heard of.

If you don’t like musicals, however, I would highly suggest you read this because at the very least, it very clearly lays out the appeal, and why, when they work, they work so damn well. You will walk away not only for an appreciation for the great pieces, but for the art form in itself.


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