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.