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A CurtainUp Book Review
Making Musicals by Tom Jones
Tom Jones, in case the plain, no-nonsense name doesn't ring the bell is half of the team that gave
us that enduring little musical The Fantasticks, as well as 101 In the Shade and
I Do! I Do!.
Jones is the librettist/lyricist and his partner Harvey Schmidt the composer.
Making Musicals, which was just published by Limelight Editions, is a
beguiling mix of memoir and self-help. Actually, the book began as
a series of lectures given by the slightly professorial Jones at Hunter College in New York.
Jones' intention for the book, as it was for the lectures, is to provide " a general introduction to
the world of musical theater, with a little autobiography and general "schmoozing" thrown in for
good measure." He fulfills his goal admirably and entertainingly and in a sensibly arranged
Much of the anecdotal material has been recycled into the revue reviewed by us,
The Show Goes On, in which Jones acts as Master of
Ceremonies. Naturally, a show which can
be illustrated with songs, is more fun than reading a book in which you have the anecdotes
without the aural and visual accompaniment but for those who don't get to see the show it's the
next best thing. Those who do see the show will enjoy this book
as a useful remembrance. While the book would ideally also be available as a CD-Rom with the
text illustrated with hyper-linked songs
and illustrations from at least some of the shows described Jones has come as close as possible to
replicating his easy-listening charm and clarity of
vision on the printed page. With its attractive cover (designed by his musical colleague Harvey
Schmidt who's a gifted artist as well as a musician) it makes a nice addition to any bookshelf .
Extremely well organized and packed with interesting information, the first half of the book
broad and general terms with the growth and development of the American musical. The second
half focuses on the practical "how-to" of putting together a musical, using Jones' own career and
shows he's worked on as a springboard. The audience he addresses is the layman musical theater
buff interested in the behind-the-scenes workings of musical theater as well as those interested in
going a step further and actually trying to write for the musical theater. Since Jones is
a lyricist librettist the how-to focuses on that aspect--with the contributions of his composition
partner thrown in to round out the picture. I might add that
much of the writing advice works for other kinds of writing such as short story writing, poetry
greeting card verse.
Since only half the book falls within the category of how-to I'm glad to report that this advice
is stick-to-the-ribs solid. No hyperbole. No gratuitous name dropping. Since Jones moves
along at a brisk pace and from a distinctly personal perspective even those well-versed in
musical theater history, won't be bored by parts of this chronicle with the ring of familiarity. For
those with little or no historical background, the book can stand as full meal or as a jumping
off point for further reading (Several books are in fact recommended). It
covers the standard format and the experimental -- the large Broadway musical and the smaller
Off-Broadway (or regional) musical which clearly appeals most to Jones (and Schmidt's)
While Jones has plenty of anecdotes with which to season his text the emphasis is on the
professional rather than the personal. If you want to know how many marriages it took for Jones,
a Korean war veteran, to have a very young daughter, you wont' find it out here. If you want
gossipy tidbits about the personalities he and Harvey Schmidt have worked with, save your
Having tossed my bouquets, here are some negatives which keep Making Musicals from
as easily accessible and useful as it could be. Though the listing at Amazon states that the book
has 224 pages, the copy on my desk clocks in at 189. Those extra pages could have taken care
of all the missing enhancements that follow.
The contents page should include a list of the illustrations that are scattered throughout. And
while we're on the subject of these very welcome illustrations, some would have benefitted from
being blown up to full-page size and more careful reproduction.
Even a short book needs an index to have lasting value and get onto a librarian's ordering list. If
there's a second edition, perhaps this oversight can be fixed.
Other information which would have served as useful end matter would be a
list of publications available from ASCAP, BMI (with those organizations' addresses. . .a
musical terms and acronyms (which should include the rhyming schemes with which the author
assumes every reader is familiar. . .a list of cd's or cassettes of Jones and Smith songs available in
Since there's no bibliography included to retrieve the books recommended in the second half of
the book--we've pulled them out here with links for checking them out at Amazon.com where
Making Musicals is also available:
Musicals: An Informal Introduction to the World of Musical Theatre
by Tom Jones, 1998, Limelight Editions
Lyrics on Several Occasions by
Ira Gershwin 424 page paperback, Limelight Editions,1997
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein (William Hammerstein, Editor) Hardcover, 296 pp, Hal
Leonard Publishing 1985.
by Harvey Schmidt and Tom
Paperback Applause 1992 with a brief history called "Trying to Remember that outlines the
making of this
particular musical in detail.
© January 15, 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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