Let me preface this review by saying that I think Broadway is cool, but I’m not a Broadway fanatic. The musicals that I’ve seen include: Mean Girls, Hamilton, Wicked, Les Mis (London), Legally Blonde, and I think Beauty and the Beast. Very touristy choices, I know. However, I was so legitimately impressed by all of them. The creativity in the sound, staging, and lighting in particular are unlike anything in music or movies. So I’m a respectful barbarian when it comes to Broadway.
Viertel’s Secret Life of the American Musical is probably for people who know more about musicals than I do. While he does reference Hamilton and Wicked a fair amount, he also spends a lot of time on Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game, The King and I, South Pacific, Spring Awakening, and others that I’ve heard of but never seen (maybe because they weren’t movies first, haha).
However, I still enjoyed Viertel’s book and learned a thing or two about storytelling along the way. This book is based on a college course that Viertel created and it definitely has that survey course feel to it. He uses iconic musicals to demonstrated how shows start, complicate things for the characters, and end with a bang (someties). That’s the map of the book, although Viertel spends plenty of time telling stories and making wry jokes. I’m sure he’s a great professor.
Overall I’d recommend the book to people conversant in musicals and looking to learn a little more about their history and structure.