Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: Backstage Pass to Broadway by Susan L. Schulman


A Fascinating Tour Behind the Scenes of the Great White Way
By Lauren Yarger
When I heard that Susan L. Schulman had written "Backstage Pass to Broadway: True Tales from a Theatre Press Agent" (Heliotrope, September, 2013), a memoir of her decades behind the scenes on Broadway, I immediately requested a copy and put it at the top of my reading pile. Who better than this insider to give us a tour of the goings on and celebrity tidbits that make Broadway one of the most exciting places to be?

I started smiling at the very opening of the book, designed to look like the credits in a Playbill:
HELIOTROPE BOOKS
Presents
BACKSTAGE PASS TO BROADWAY
By Susan L. Schulman
STARRING
(in alphabetical order)
Don Adams - Jodi Benson - Len Cariou - Kathleen Chalfant 
Sir John Clements - Alexander H. Cohen - Kathryn Crosby
Wayne Cilento - Dorothy Collins - Bill Cosby
Merle Debuskey - Hector Elizondo - Bonnie Franklin
Penny Fuller - Julie Garfield - Gloria Gifford
Carlin Glynn - Larry Hagman - James Hammerstein - Julie Harris
Robert Joffrey - Kevin Kline - The Loud Family - Shelby Lyman
Natalie Lloyd - Peter Masterson - Andrea McArdle
Donna McKechnie - Roberta Maxwell - Jessica Molaskey
Eleanor Parker - John Pizzarelli - Otto Preminger - Ann Reinking
Marian Seldes - Alexis Smith - Jeffrey Tambor - Trish Van Devere
Arnold Wesker - Margaret Whiting - Edward Villella
Scott Wise - Karen Ziemba - and many others
What follows is a fascinating trip through Shubert Alley and anywhere else theater was being made since Schulman was there for it all. A native New Yorker who grew up loving the theater and waiting at stage doors to thank stars for the impact they had on her life, she began as a press agent with the Bill Doll Agency A typical day's work might have included pitching story ideas to Ed Sullivan or fielding interview requests from Barbara Walters while winning the confidence of an insecure Lauren Bacall trying to reinvent herself as a Broadway musical star in Applause in 1969 after her Hollywood career ebbed.

One day Schulman is  lending her reading glasses to George C. Scott. The next, she's dancing with Bob Fosse. She had me, though, with her description of watching Yul Brynner perform "Shall We Dance" from The King and I  at the Tony Awards. The description is written with a passionate love for theatermaking at its best. Did I mention that this book is simply fascinating?

There is plenty of dirty laundry hanging in the Broadway dressing room and Schulman doesn't hide it. In true journalistic fashion, she tells the story from her perspective (this is a memoir, of course) but let's us come to our own conclusions about people who were less than pleasant to deal with (there are no "catty" cheap shots here) . I have a new perspective on Leslie Ann Warren, who comes off as less than Cinderella-like, shall we say, in her dealings with cast and crew on the set of the long-ago forgotten show Dream. (Particularly funny are Schulman's attempts to shield the show from columnist Michael Riedel's scathing write-ups about the chaos and low morale on the set).

And then there are her dealings with the legendary producer David Merrick. I won't give away spoilers, but will just say, it wasn't pretty.

"I am honored to join the long list of distinguished theatre professionals to be fired by David Merrick." In "Backstage Pass," she speculates that she is the only person to win a legal judgment against Merrick and actually collect the money.

In addition to the tales from backstage, Schulman choreographs helpful information about the art of press management and offers wisdom for how actors can better relate to each other and to the people involved in trying to make their show a success.

Schulman will sign copies of the book Monday, Sept. 16 at The Drama Book Shop, 250 West 40th St. following a 5 pm question-and-answer session with theater journalist Peter Filichia. To purchase the book online, visit http://www.amazon.com/Backstage-Pass-Broadway-Tales-Theatre/dp/0983294097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378214688&sr=8-1&keywords=susan+l.+schulman. In New York City, it also is available at Theatre Circle, 268 West 44th St.

For more information visit www.BroadwayPassToBroadway.com.

(A copy was provided by the publisher).

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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