Kristen’s Book Club for August 2016

Written by Kristen Lopez

The summer is winding down and school is only a few weeks away. Here’s what’s worth reading as you shop for “back to school stuff.”

Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway by Michael Riedel

“Give my regards to Broadway” and to Michael Riedel for creating the funnest, authoritative book on the history of the Great White Way. Razzle Dazzle is a compact history of Broadway, from its formation through the early 2000s. His primary focus is on the Shubert family – Broadway’s biggest landlord and name behind the powerful Shubert Organization – and how a couple Jewish brothers turned Broadway into a corrupt, but highly profitable destination. By the 1960s, the corruption was too powerful to ignore, leading to a federal investigation of skimming practices that went to the very top (and led to big profits for some Broadway heavy-hitters like David Merrick). As the decade concluded, and new Shubert heads Bernard Jacobs and Gerald Schonefeld took over, Broadway itself wasn’t the problem, but New York, leading to several attempts to clean up 42nd Street and Times Square. As if there isn’t enough going on already, Riedel looks at the shows that ended up changing the face of theater itself, from A Chorus Line to Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. More heartfelt sections look at the people who took Broadway by storm like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Bennett; the latter leads to a heartfelt discussion of the devastation the AIDS virus wreaked on the stage. Theater fans will do nothing but eat this up, and though Riedel is a bit too pat when it comes to discussing the current heads of the Shubert Organization – practically saints in his eyes – and chastising Actors Equity for their strike practices, it wonderfully and skillfully charts a movement that’s turned into a booming industry. It’s hard to believe that New York had to sell tourists on theater, but that’s one of several new discoveries found in Riedel’s remarkably readable history. There’s plenty of razzle dazzle to live up to the title and you’ll be singing show tunes by the last page!

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas by Alison Weir

I’ve been reading Alison Weir books for years. I’m a Tudor history nerd and her nonfiction examinations of the lives of Tudor women have a novelistic quality that perfectly blends historical fact with recreations and suppositions that don’t read like hyperbole. Her latest biography looks at the life of Lady Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s niece. Douglas is probably a C-list figure in the Tudor world, her name the last on Tudor die-hard fans’ minds. But Douglas was a key figure in the heavyweight boxing match, figuratively speaking, between her Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Douglas rocked the boat again and again, falling in love with a man not to Henry VIII’s liking (which found her spending a little time in the Motel Hell of Tudor times, the Tower of London) before she married her son off to a woman not of Queen Elizabeth’s liking, her rival the Queen of Scots. Weir’s trademark fact and surmising keep the narrative propulsive; this isn’t a litany of names and dates like some history books. Douglas was a rebel-rouser who, despite never being a major figure, was still considered a possible successor to the crown and did her utmost to secure a place for her son’s in the ruling of England. This won’t appeal to the casual reader looking for a light read off the New York Times best-seller list, but it’ll appease fans of historical literature.

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