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A CurtainUp Feature
Holiday Gift Books for Theater Lovers
By Elyse Sommer
Probably this year's top book gift for theater lover is Stephen Sondheim's memoir Finishing The Hat--Collected Lyrics (1954-1981, With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes.
The main title is of course from Sunday in the Park with George and all that's promised by that lengthy subtitle is an engaging, witty master class in musical theater craftsmanship. If you're a Sondheim fan, you're likely to buy a copy for yourself as well and find yourself sing-reading all 480 pages. It's published by Knopf and currently available only in hardcover. You can get the $39.95 book in time for Christmas for just $21.94 at Amazon. If you have it gift wrapped it will probably be eligible for free super saver shipping.
Finishing the Hat
You might also want to consider the lively biography of one of Sondheim's most stellar interpreters, Patti Lupone. Patti LuPone: A Memoir. Written by Digby Diehl it's full of dishy stuff and reveals LuPone to be a Diva of considerable depth. The $29.99 Crown Hardcover is also discounted and available in time for Christmas at Amazon.
Patti LuPone: A Memoir
While LuPone is still very much alive and on many stages, there's also a lively biography by Robert Gottlieb to about the flamboyant French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) whose life off stage was as full of drama as the characters she portrayed. Published at $25 as part of the Yale University's Jewish Lives, this too is discounted at Amazon.
The Life of Sarah Bernhardt
The Life of Sarah Bernhardt- Kindle Edition
Patti LuPone Memoir- Kindle Edition (text-to-speech enabled edition)
If somebody you loves doesn't have one of these handy gadgets and you are game for a big ticket gift, just click on the Kindle image to the left of this text.
While there are quite a few other theater related books that your theater loving friends would enjoy, here's something a little different: Ellington Boulevard-- A Novel in A- Flat. Andrew Langer made quite a stir with his novel a while back. It came out in paperback this season and is also available in Kindle format (which is how I read it).
This latest tales of Manhattan novel is very much a fun read-- a Gothamite's La Ronde that interconnects the lives of a group of New Yorkers through a tenement apartment on West 106th Street turned upscale condominium. The street is also known as Ellington Boulevard since the famous musician lived there as did many show biz types.
The apartment that sets the intricate roundelay of ambition, love and real estate wheeling and dealing in motion has been occupied by Ike, a jazz musician and his pooch Herbie at a low rent. His lease-- a handshake agreement with a now dead real estate tycoon. The tycoon's heir isn't about to let a non-documented arrangement stand in the way of a $630,00 sale. So Ike and Herbie are facing homelessness.
In a less clever writer's hands this twisty tale with interconnectedness could easily be dismissed as ridiculously coincidental. But Langer develops his convoluted story with a sure hand and almost a dozen of both sad and funny character; they include the building's owner, the couple who bid on the apartment courtesy of her rich dad's generosity (he's a low-level academic, she's just landed an editorial job at a high profile magazine), the sales agent who's been more successful as a real estate broker than as an actor, his actor-boyfriend who ends up turning this whole saga into a musical titled, you guessed it-- Ellington Boulevard.
In chronicling these characters' comings and goings, couplings and uncouplings, Langer takes us on a tour of Gotham City and manages to point a playful finger at the professions that make New York the place to be for people in publishing, academia, real estate and, of course, the theater.
If Langer's plotting twists occasionally strains credibility and tends towards the predictable, he manages to make us care about even the less than heroic characters — from his Overture right through to what amounts to four acts (Part I - An Offer is Made. Part II - An Offer Is Accepted. Part III - A Deal Is Closed. Part IV -Closing Costs Are Assessed) interspersed with scenes with Anthony Trollope-like titles such as The Tenant, The Buyer, The Buyer's Husband, The Seller, The Broker, The Buyer's Husband's Lover. And while Langer has his musical loving characters listen to show tunes by Bernstein and Sondheim ("Finishing the Hat" gets quite a few mentions!), the book actually ends with lyrics from three numbers from the real estate musical written by two of the characters. It's unlikely that you'll find a cast album for the likes of "(I've Got) A Perfect Space For You" or the designated show stopper " Bing Bang Boom!" Below the link to the paperback and Kindle edition.
Ellington Boulevard- Paperback edition
Ellington Boulevard- Kindle edition