November 12, 1979 12:00 PM

by Martin Gottfried

It is a cliché, as Gottfried admits, to point out that the musical is America’s most significant contribution to world theater. It is also true; and in celebration of the art form, Gottfried, now a Saturday Review critic, has put together a big, bountiful beauty of a book that should send any reader with normal responses dashing to the box office. His range is immense—chapters cover music, book, design, black musicals, directors, a roll call of giants like Kern, Rodgers, Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, and much more. The text is crisp and the photographs, many in color, are wonderfully evocative. A lot of those lyrics you strain to hear in the audience are here, too, including one special prize: a reproduction of Stephen Sondheim’s scribbles as he worked on Send in the Clowns. “The Broadway musical is not passive theater,” Gottfried writes. “Its audiences are transported as they are being made love to.” This stunning book makes love to the Broadway musical. It’s expensive, but cheaper than two orchestra tickets these days, and when did you last put down a book humming? (Abrams, $40)

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