Book Spotlight: The Secret Life of the American Musical (How Broadway Shows Are Built)

Finished reading: The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built by Jack Viertel 📚

Are you a “Broadwaholic”? (It’s okay, we’re all friends here …) While I grew up in the NW and didn’t have much money to spend on big traveling Broadway productions all that often, when I finally did get to see them — they pretty much rocked my world. As a matter of fact, when I was fresh out of college, I volunteered at the venerable Portland Center Stage (pouring wine at galas) mainly so I could sneak into whatever plays were currently on the docket. Later on, I had the privilege of catching traveling productions like Rent, Miss Saigon and Hamilton (to name a few) — and my brain has never been the same.

Jack Viertel captures some of that same magic in The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built. Jack has produced many epic Broadway productions over several decades, and he’s seen it all …. He knows what propels shows to mega-stardom and successful runs all over the world — and he also knows what makes even the most expensive shows a total “snooze-fest”. The focus of this book is on the songs, specifically the “types” of songs that are present in most great musicals. From Guys & Dolls to Little Shop of Horrors, from to Gypsy to South Pacific, from My Fair Lady to Hamilton — Viertel runs the gamut and peels back the layers to show you what these (seemingly) different shows have in common under the hood. This is not to say that they all follow some “staid template”, but rather — to highlight how they’ve innovated on the song styles that have historically “worked” and song styles that, well … “haven’t” … While I came at this book from a writer’s perspective — this book is still a delicious backstage pass to Broadway history that any “Broadwaholic” would find fascinating.