Monday, December 14, 2009

THEATRE BOOK REVIEW: How Does the Show Go On?

Book Review: How Does the Show Go On?: An Introduction to Theater. By Thomas Schumacher with Jeff Kurtii. Copyright 2007. 127 pages. Hardcover. Published by Disney Editions - New York.

With Christmas and Hanukkah just around the corner, I thought I'd share my thoughts on a great theatre-related book that I was given as a gift, How Does the Show Go On? by Thomas Schumacher and Jeff Kurtii. Subtitled "An Introduction to the Theater," it implies, and correctly so, that this book is geared toward folks new to the art of live theatre. And as Mr. Schumacher of Disney Theatricals fame is a co-author, the further implications are that it will be kid-friendly and Disney show-centric. Both of those are also true, but only to an extent.

The authors have carefully written a book that takes us from the theater space itself (with a generous daub of history thrown in) through the entire process of play writing, producing, casting, designing, rehearsing and performing a live theatre piece. But it never, ever talks down to its audience. I consider myself to have a healthy knowledge of the subject, and I never felt it was too easy, and in fact, was reminded of somethings and learned some new. And there is plenty of side material in the book to keep folks like us who know a thing or two entertained. For example, there is an interesting story about an actor who played Simba in The Lion King, left the show to do AIDA, and through the course of fate and several ill-timed accidents, he was pulled from AIDA, dressed for The Lion King and went on after two months of being away without a hitch! Another cool thing is the inclusion of the final casting sheet for Tarzan. You can read the actual casting notes for all of the principals including Jenn Gambatese and Josh Strickland, before they were hired! The book is chock full of such little gems.

Another thing that sets this book apart from others like it is its interactive quality. It is full of little hands on artifacts - a theatre ticket, pages from a script, pages from a designer's book, before and after pictures and costume swatches. And my personal favorite is the way the authors intertwine theatre etiquette lessons - good for teaching the young and for reminding the old!

And the fact that Disney published the book and its author is from Disney Theatricals is a huge benefit. First of all, Disney is a master at publishing interesting looking and well- paced material. And they do have a wealth of material from several shows that enjoyed enviable attention and longer runs. As a result, they have some amazing photography (history buffs will LOVE the photos of the New Amsterdam Theatre) of all aspects of production. What is particularly nice is that while they are all of their productions, it is clear that everything in this book is meant to be an example, not the be all end all. It more than implies that there is a vast world of theatre out there.

I think this gift book would be great for any level of theatre-lover in your life (or yourself). What a great way to get kids interested, to stimulate discussions, to prepare for a "first show," to reminisce about shows past.

It lists for a very reasonable $19.95. But as of this posting, has it for $7.98! That is practically a stocking stuffer price for a great gift that everyone can enjoy for years to come!

Grade: A+

Photos: The cover and a picture of some of the included materials are all copyrighted by Disney Editions.

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