Irv­ing Berlin’s Amer­i­can Musi­cal Theater

Jef­frey Magee
  • Review
By – June 28, 2012

So many Amer­i­cans can rec­og­nize and even sing along with God Bless Amer­i­ca,” White Christ­mas,” There’s No Busi­ness Like Show Busi­ness” and many more of Irv­ing Berlin’s icon­ic songs. Such has been Berlin’s lega­cy and impact on Amer­i­ca and the Amer­i­can musi­cal the­ater.

Jef­frey Magee’s schol­ar­ly and metic­u­lous­ly detailed book traces Berlin’s rise from a Low­er East Side singing wait­er to a pop­u­lar lyri­cist and song­writer and lat­er on to a Broad­way and world suc­cess. Magee presents Berlin’s life sto­ry and times, work ethics, busi­ness deal­ings, and show biz acu­men, while exten­sive­ly delv­ing into his music and plays.

The back­ground of min­strel­sy, vaude­ville, revues, and opera are explored as ele­ments Berlin employed in his works. His use of con­tem­po­rary char­ac­ters and events, light­heart­ed rhymes, his demo­c­ra­t­ic out­look, Jew­ish upbring­ing, and fierce patri­o­tism were reflect­ed in his, The mob is always right” cre­do. There was always a will­ing­ness to please and under­stand the audi­ence. In fact, Magee quotes Joshua Logan as say­ing that he nev­er knew any­one who more enjoyed writ­ing for the the­ater or bet­ter under­stood how to write for it.” Alan Jay Lern­er is cit­ed as say­ing, What Berlin did for the mod­ern musi­cal the­ater was to make it pos­si­ble.”

Berlin was the first to write both music and lyrics and per­form his own mate­r­i­al on stage. He worked with the­atri­cal giants such as Kauf­man, Ziegfeld, Kern, Hart, Rodgers, and Ham­mer­stein, and the book affords glimpses and insights into their lives and cre­ative accom­plish­ments.

A trea­sury of vin­tage pho­tographs and pages of sheet music are includ­ed. Berlin’s famous songs and plays are crit­i­cal­ly ana­lyzed, dis­sect­ed, and expound­ed upon. His pop­u­lar songs are ana­lyzed in tech­ni­cal detail. Fans of Annie Get Your Gun are award­ed with a myr­i­ad of his­to­ry and inside info on the famous musi­cal.

Irv­ing Berlin’s Amer­i­can Musi­cal The­ater will serve seri­ous aca­d­e­mics, song­writ­ers, musi­cians, and the­ater his­to­ri­ans well. Lovers of musi­cal the­ater will enjoy learn­ing more about Berlin’s wealth of works. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, cred­its, discog­ra­phy, index, notes, pho­tographs, tables.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions