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Perhaps best remembered as the writer and composer of the ever-popular Guys and Dolls and the Pulitzer Prizewinning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Frank Loesser was one of the great songwriters of the twentieth century. Lyricist of over 700 songs—among them such cherished favorites as “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Once in Love with Amy,” and “I Believe in You”—his work has received both Tony and Academy Awards. Here Thomas L. Riis, in a deeply informed and lively discussion of Loesser’s life and musical career, presents a critical look at one of the most important—though often overshadowed—Broadway composers.
Immensely prolific and a personally magnetic man, Loesser was a major figure during the Broadway golden age that included Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Bernstein. Riis traces Loesser’s early career as a Hollywood songwriter and a noted contributor to the war effort. He discusses in depth each of Loesser’s musicals and provides a look at the legacy of a man admired as a mentor who inspired dozens of assistants, protégés, young songwriters, novice singer-actors, and aspiring producers. This book offers a concise look at Loesser’s life along with an engaging examination of the totality of his works.
After a biographical introduction to the composer/lyricist of Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Riis (Joseph Negler Professor of Music, Univ. of Colorado) examines Frank Loesser's music, devoting single chapters to the composer's great works and covering lesser-known musicals like Greenwillow, Pleasures and Palaces, and Senior Discretion Himself. For Guys and Dolls, Riis includes sections on Damon Runyon (whose stories inspired the musical), other precursors like George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara, the book, the songs, critical reaction, and revivals. The final chapter examines the legacy of Loesser and offers fertile comments on the sources of his aesthetic. With musical examples, excerpts from lyrics, and detailed examinations of individual songs, Riis's book is not primarily a biography, and it does not replace Susan Loesser's A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life; A Portrait by His Daughter. But this discerning and valuable study is recommended for all libraries, particularly in light of the dearth of published sources concerning Loesser.
—Bruce R. Schueneman