From the anthemic "God Bless America" to wistful "White Christmas," Irving Berlin's songs have accompanied Americans as they fall in love, go to war, and come home for the holidays for over a century. Widely recognized as one of the foundational figures of the Broadway musical, Berlin made contributions to the American theater which remain as relevant today as they were in 1910, when his first lyrics appeared on the Great White Way.
Award-winning music historian Jeffrey Magee's chronicle of Berlin's theatrical career is the first book to fully consider the songwriter's immeasurable influence on the American stage as it restores the rich cultural and theatrical context to some of Berlin's most enduring songs like "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Always, "and "Puttin' on the Ritz."Magee's ground-breaking study of Berlin's work in and for the theater shows how the songwriter's unfailing ability to tap into the heart of his audience helped define Broadway as we know it today. Berlin arrived in the United States at age 15, the son of poor Russian Jews who moved into the crowded immigrant lower-east side neighborhood of New York City. His career as an entertainer began when he took a job as a singing waiter to earn money for his struggling family. Magee traces how singing for pennies made an impression on the young Berlin, who kept hold of that sensibility throughout his career and transformed it into one of the defining attributes of Broadway shows. Whether writing topical revues such as the World War II show This is the Army, zany vehicles for the Marx Brothers like The Cocoanuts, or full-fledged integrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun, Berlin became a pioneer by combining the contemporary with the timeless with equal parts wit and poingancy.InIrving Berlin's American Musical Theater, Magee does not shy away the darker aspects of Berlin's career. The anti-Semitism Berlin faced left a deep mark on the composer, and despite the unfailing tenderness and optimism that distinguishes his songs, Berlin struggled with depression throughout his life. Magee also thoughtfully confronts the implications of Berlin's involvement with minstrelsy, one of the more disturbing episodes in the nation's history, and its consequences for the formative years of Broadway and the institution today. Uplifting, provocative, and full of fascinating details, Magee will delight theater aficionados as well as serious students of music, drama, and popular culture-and all interested in the story of a man whose life and work expressed so well the American dream.
show more show less