Any discussion of this sort must start with Marian Paroo, the librarian of River City, Iowa, from The Music Man. Marian is very well-read, familiar with Chaucer, Rabelais, Balzac, Shakespeare, Noah Webster and, as her mother would say, “all them other hifalutin’ Greeks.” And no wonder: as the town’s ladies tell Harold Hill, old miser Madison left the library to River City, but “left all the books to her.” Marian takes her job of “improving River City’s cultural level” seriously, but all the same, she dreams of a “White Knight” who will settle contentedly in Iowa, and contemplate “what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great” with her. I don’t know if Professor Hill knows much Shakespeare, but at least he’s read Hawthorne (“I hope, I pray, for Hester to win just one more ‘A’”).
Fiona in Shrek: The Musical, our next bibliophile, is a princess shut up in a tower guarded by a dragon. We see her progress from childhood to adulthood, reading storybooks to her dolls, her only companions. She expects that one day she will have a happy ending like the princesses in the fairy tales (“I believe the storybooks I read by candlelight.”). She is disconcerted when Shrek the ogre, not a prince, rescues her, but, as they travel together, their mutual attraction grows. Fiona comes to realize that she “waited all my life, lived it by the book. Now I know that’s not my story … When I’m with you, I am happy. This is my story.” And Shrek notes that “you’ve never read a book like this, but fairy tales should really be updated.”
Belle in Beauty and the Beast is also a voracious reader, fond of fairy tales with handsome princes in disguise. Belle and her father live in a small French town in which neither fits in. The villagers regard the pretty girl as “strange … dazed and distracted … peculiar … odd … nothing like the rest of us.” They note she always has “her nose stuck in a book,” and Belle does indeed read to escape “this poor provincial town.” She’s borrowed one book so often from the local bookseller, he gives it to her. (If she’s always borrowing books, how does the fellow stay in business?) She longs for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” the kind of excitement and romance found in her stories, but when she ends up a prisoner of the Beast, the future looks grim. It’s no surprise that a major step in their relationship comes when the Beast gives Belle his enormous library. When she exclaims over one of her favorites, King Arthur, he confesses he cannot read. He listens happily while she reads, and the Enchanted Objects in the castle conclude “there may be something there that wasn’t there before.” In contrast, Belle’s other suitor, the handsome but nasty Gaston, wonders how she can read a book that “hasn’t got any pictures in it,” and thinks women shouldn’t read, since it will give them ideas. Still, Gaston must have soaked up a little literature when not out hunting. He quotes Shakespeare while stirring up the mob to storm the Beast’s castle: “Screw your courage to the sticking place!”
Like Fiona and Belle, Fosca in Passion reads to escape her lonely existence (“I read to live, to get away from life!”). But Fosca understands that she is vicariously enjoying other people’s lives, and tries not to want what she can never have. She doesn’t expect a happy ending. Fosca is so desperate for reading material, she even reads her cousin’s military manuals, prompting the generous and erudite Giorgio to share his books with her, including his favorite, Rousseau’s novel Julie. Fosca comments that the title character—a woman full of sexual passion, caught in a love triangle—is “a mystery.” Giorgio is another reader; his fellow soldiers mock him for it behind his back, but Fosca appreciates his differences from the usual military man (“They hear drums, you hear music, as do I.”). His character, combined with his handsome looks, draw her increasingly toward him. For his part, Giorgio clearly admires Fosca’s intellect and her femininity, which, while she is unattractive and full of self-pity, stands out in the barracks. But it will take more than a shared love of Rousseau to divert Giorgio from his lover, Clara.
Perhaps the largest library in musical history belongs to Count von Krolock in Dance of the Vampires, whose collection is described as “a bibliophilic paradise.” In the number, “Books, Books,” he cites dozens of authors including Heraclitus, Cicero, Spinoza, Locke, Jefferson and Augustine. So many books, in fact, that it would take eternity to read them all … which isn’t a problem if you’re undead.
Honorable mentions for All-Time Readers include the family of philosophers in Triumph of Love, including Hesione, who turned to manuscripts for solace after shattering experiences with false lovers in her youth (“Serenity”), and Isabelle in Amour, who daily reads about “Other People’s Stories” in the movie magazines to relieve her loneliness.
For more please visit Talkin’ Broadway.
The Broadway Musical Quiz Book includes nearly 80 quizzes on every aspect of the Broadway musical, including sections devoted to the careers of major Broadway stars, songwriters, directors, and producers, ranging from Ethel Merman to Stephen Sondheim. It also features thematic quizzes – such as musicals set in France, adaptations from literature, food and drink, British shows, references to sports, biographical shows, and jukebox musicals – and quizzes covering each decade from 1900 to the present. With over 700 shows mentioned, and over 1200 questions, The Broadway Musical Quiz Book is detailed and thorough: the answer section doesn’t merely list the answers, it provides further information on the quizzes’ subjects (and often on wrong answers, too!). The Broadway Musical Quiz Book is more than just a compendium of trivia; it’s a anecdotal history of musical theatre, with something for everyone who loves The Great White Way!