Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bigger Than Life

I've just finished reading Brian Kellow's wonderful new biography of Ethel Merman, the legendary star of Brodway. This is the third book that I've read on Merman (including her own autobiography with George Eells) and it is the best because it depicts a fuller, more three-dimensional Merman and not just the tough, acerbic broad who belted show tunes, fired managers and occasionally insulted costars.
Say what you will, she had a remarkable work ethic. She also held herself to the same high standards she imposed on everyone else and she could spot a sycophant a mile away.
Here's what Kellow says: " . . . the wised-up, straight-shooting, and sentimental musical heroine she [Merman] represented had passed out of fashion by the time of her death, supplanted by the creations of Sondheim and his musical age of anxiety, and by the bland, cardboard figures of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who exist only as pawns in a mammoth visual spectacle. The great age of personalities had long since faded . . . "
So, the Broadway of great personalities moved on - to be replaced by what? An age of spectacle, anxiety, vulgarity and deformity?

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