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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  Book Reviews

 
MR. BROADWAY

CURTAIN CALL
By MATT WINDMAN

  Avenue Q puppets of Bernie Jacobs and Gerald Schoenfeld/ Ph: Joan Marcus

How very fortunate that Gerald Schoenfeld, the late chairman of Broadway’s all-powerful Shubert Organization (which owns and programs 17 Broadway theaters) finished Mr. Broadway, his enjoyable, conversational memoir, just a month before suddenly passing away in 2008 at age 84. It was subsequently edited by Pat Schoenfeld, his wife of 58 years, who figures very prominently in the book, and pumped up by adoring introductions written by Hugh Jackman, who was surprisingly close to Schoenfeld, and Alec Baldwin.

I remember back in 2004 when the Royale Theatre was renamed the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The Plymouth Theatre, located next door on 45th Street, was simultaneously rechristened the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, in honor of Schoenfeld’s business partner. The move was greeted with much skepticism in the industry. After all, what made these two lawyers more deserving of such an honor than perhaps Tennessee Williams, Hal Prince or Oscar Hammerstein II? Just like an attorney, Schoenfeld uses this book to make his case.  

The memoir, subtitled “The Inside Story of the Shuberts, the Shows, and the Stars,” begins with Schoenfeld depicting himself as a young, eager law school graduate with no previous experience or interest in professional theater who just happens to land a job at a small firm that represents the Shuberts. He elaborates on how the three Shubert brothers – Sam, Lee and J.J. – became producing czars, and describes their notoriously difficult personalities. This might be considered the most valuable part of the book, seeing as the original Shuberts have been all but forgotten in spite of their historic contributions to building Broadway.

Schoenfeld does not paint a pretty picture of his life working for the unpredictable Lee and autocratic J.J. Shubert. But in between fighting antitrust claims from the government and serious estate problems, Schoenfeld managed to learn how the Shuberts produced theater. After the failed administration of the inebriated Lawrence Shubert Jr., he and Jacobs finally took control of the business in 1972.

Once in command, Schoenfeld describes how he injected new life into the Shubert Organization with hit shows like A Chorus Line, Amadeus, Dreamgirls, Sunday in the Park with George and the 1980s British invasion of Cats, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera led by Cameron Mackintosh. Schoenfeld also tries to take credit for the clean-up of the theater industry, which he began campaigning for in the 1970s, but did not occur until the construction of the Marriot Marquis Hotel in the 1980s followed by the presence of Disney on 42nd Street in the 1990s. If you recall, the construction of the Marriot caused the demolition of three non-Shubert Broadway theaters. Schoenfeld also tries to defend the actions of the producers and theater owners during the 2003 orchestra musicians strike, warning apocalyptically that the dividing issue of pit orchestra minimums will rise again with a vengeance.

He devotes individual chapters to his complicated dealings with icons such as Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, Al Pacino and many others. It was heartbreaking to hear about how Jacobs became a kind of surrogate father to Bennett and was then rejected by Bennett when the director-choreographer became fatally sick. He also talks up his cameo role in the Woody Allen film Broadway Danny Rose.

In addition to providing the history of the Shubert brothers and endless celebrity gossip and tidbits, what Schoenfeld mainly accomplishes with Mr. Broadway is to put a positive spin on his career and explain how he rose to the top of his profession through sheer luck and the art of tolerating temperamental personalities. 

 


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