What Would Barbra Do?: How Musicals Can Change Your Life

What Would Barbra Do?: How Musicals Can Change Your Life

3.8 5
by Emma Brockes
     
 

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Emma Brockes didn't always love musicals. In fact, she hated them. One of her earliest (and most painful) memories is of her mother singing "The Hills Are Alive" while young Emma crossed the street to go to her babysitting gig. According to her mother, the music would keep muggers at bay. According to Emma, it warded off friends, a social life, and any chance of

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Overview

Emma Brockes didn't always love musicals. In fact, she hated them. One of her earliest (and most painful) memories is of her mother singing "The Hills Are Alive" while young Emma crossed the street to go to her babysitting gig. According to her mother, the music would keep muggers at bay. According to Emma, it warded off friends, a social life, and any chance of being normal. As she grew older, however, these same songs continued to resonate in her head, first like a broken record and then as a fond reminder of her mother's love.

Some people would slice off their arm with a plastic knife before they'd sit through Fiddler on the Roof or The Sound of Music. But musicals are everywhere, and it's about time someone asked why. From An American in Paris to Oklahoma!, Brockes explores the history, art, and politics of musicals, and how they have become an indelible part of our popular culture. Smartly written and incredibly witty, this is a book for people who understand that there are few situations in which the question "What would Barbra do?" doesn't have relevance, in a world much better lived to a soundtrack of show tunes. At the heart of What Would Barbra Do? is a touching story about a daughter, a mother, and how musicals kept them together. Part memoir, part musical history tour, it will keep you laughing and singing all at once.

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Editorial Reviews

Dave Itzkoff
If this book cannot persuade you to recognize all that is good about musicals, you are either a hopeless curmudgeon or a Tony Awards voter…Brockes delivers a spirited, articulate and utterly devourable defense of this underappreciated, if enduring, art form…Whether she's casually demolishing the earnestness of "Rent"…discussing the major flops of Rodgers and Hammerstein or arguing that the Eminem film "8 Mile" follows the guidelines of the traditional movie musical, she displays a seemingly boundless appreciation for pop history, and her writing is almost always personable without being self-absorbed, clever without being arch.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Londoner Brockes, a 29-year-old playwright who writes for the Guardian, expounds on her love of musicals. When she was younger, she pretended to like the music her friends listened to, but she had inherited a fascination for musicals, both stage and film, from her mother. Off to college in 1994, she and her friend Adi became a "movement of two," listening to such recordings as Hits from the Blitz: The Best of Vera Lynn, periodically holding "Yentl and Lentil" evenings and creating play lists in which "any musical made post-1971 was automatically thrown out as unworthy." Analyzing her Golden Age favorites, she writes with wit and verve about everything from musical-haters, the flops of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the "secret language" of Mary Poppins to Esther Williams ("a sort of Bette Davis of the high diving board") and Funny Face("a man woos a woman by undermining her theories of French existentialism with the rival philosophy 'think pink' "). A chapter on the five musicals "that stand the best chance of converting a hostile male audience to the charms of the genre" is delightful. Her passion is so contagious that this entertaining musical memoir, rambling and clever, might also be capable of creating converts. (May 1)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir about musicals that doesn't come up roses. Recalling a spat with a friend over the musical Cats, Brockes admits, "I don't know quite what point I'm trying to make here." Agreed. The disagreement, however vital to the arguers, comes to only a vague, general point and verges on banality. A lack of focus dogs the rest of the book, a fuzzy commentary about musicals inspired by a mother who sped the author on her way by singing songs from The Sound of Music. Brockes works on an extremely shaky foundation. She places the golden age of musicals as occurring between 1950 and 1965, despite a critical consensus that places the heyday as taking place during the '40s and '50s. She zigzags, often unclearly, from stage to film musicals without considering the vastly different ways they work and affect audiences. Problems with fact and rhetoric further undermine her discussion. She cites "Everything's Coming Up Roses!" as the "happy ending" number in Gypsy, when the number actually climaxes in the first act and the musical reaches an unhappy ending in the second act with "Rose's Turn." She argues that in Carousel, Billy Bigelow returns to earth only to slap his daughter's face, ignoring the penultimate scene in which Billy imparts faith to his daughter and expresses love to his wife. Her commentary on Show Boat overlooks the 1936 James Whale version, which many critics cite as one of the greatest of film musicals. She deems Flower Drum Song a flop, though on stage it was a critical and commercial success. She reports that Jane Darwell won an Oscar for Gone with the Wind when the actress actually won for The Grapes of Wrath. And she bills Alice Faye as the star of King Kong, though it wasactually Fay Wray. Curtain down.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061876684
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
483,761
File size:
0 MB

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