They’re Gonna Put Me in the Movies!

In honor of Sir Paul McCartney’s 71st birthday, here is an excerpt from A Hard Day’s Night: Music on Film by Ray Morton describing how the Beatles classic movie debut came to be:

As the Beatles’ popularity grew, they began receiving offers to do films. This was not unusual: pop stars had been appearing in movies since the beginning of the sound era. From Al Jolson, Rudy Vallée and Bing Crosby in the 1920s and 1930s to Frank Sinatra in the 1940s and Pat Boone and Doris Day in the 1950s, film producers were eager to cast musical celebrities in pictures in the hope that their fans would buy as many movie tickets as they did records. Would the Fab Four be able to repeat their recording success on the silver screen? They, and the world, were about to find out.

One of the first film offers the Beatles received was to do a cameo in a movie called The Yellow Teddy Bears, a lurid drama about teen sex and pregnancy set in an all-girls school in the English suburbs. The boys were asked to play a band that backs up one of the film’s male characters, who dreams of being a pop star. Because director Robert Hartford-Davis wanted to write all of the music they were meant to play in the film himself, they declined (another Beat group called The Embers took their place). British filmmaker Michael Winner, who had recently helmed a musical called Play It Cool starring Billy Fury, also wanted to make a movie with the lads. However, by the time he approached Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager was already deep in negotiations with a major Hollywood film company.

In the wake of the group’s incredible success, every music company in the business wanted to make a record with them. However, the exclusive contract that the band had with Parlophone and its parent company EMI precluded that. Or so it seemed. Sometime in the late summer or early autumn of 1963, Noel Rodgers, a music publishing executive in the London office of United Artists Records, discovered what appeared to be a loophole in the Beatles’ seemingly ironclad agreement with Parlophone. While the contract stated explicitly that the group was bound to the EMI label for original singles and LPs, it made no mention at all of motion picture soundtrack albums. Assuming that, if the contract didn’t mention something, then it didn’t cover it, Rodgers reasoned that if the Beatles were to produce a soundtrack album, they were free to make a deal with a company other than Parlophone to release it.

Of course, to make a movie soundtrack album, the Beatles would first have to make a movie. Luckily, United Artists Records was in a unique position to exploit this loophole, because it was a subsidiary of United Artists, the legendary film company started in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin. If United Artists put out a Beatles movie, then UAR could release the soundtrack. Hoping to make this happen, Rodgers approached George “Bud” Ornstein, the executive that ran United Artists’ European division, to see if he was interested in making a film with the group. Since Beatlemania was at that point primarily a British phenomenon, it wasn’t clear if a movie starring the Fab Four would have much of an audience outside of the U.K. However, Ornstein figured that if the picture could be made for a low enough price, then it could still be profitable, and even if it wasn’t, the proceeds from the soundtrack album would almost certainly be significant enough to make the project worth doing. So, yes, he was interested.

The proposal was presented to David V. Picker, United Artists’ New York-based head of production. Although Picker had never heard of the Beatles, he approved Rodgers and Ornstein’s idea.  Ornstein met with Brian Epstein and presented United Artists’ offer. Epstein took the proposal to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr. The boys were receptive, so Epstein got back to Ornstein and accepted.

The film was also going to need a producer. Since Picker and Ornstein wanted Richard Lester to direct the film, they decided to approach someone that Lester had already proven he could work effectively with: The Mouse on the Moon’s producer, Walter Shenson. Shenson met with Brian Epstein to introduce himself, after which a get-together was arranged between Shenson, Epstein, and the Beatles, to take place in Shenson’s office. On the appointed day and time, Epstein arrived without the band. An apologetic Epstein explained that the boys had forgotten about the appointment and had instead made plans to go to Abbey Road Studios to watch Gerry and the Pacemakers record some songs that John and Paul had written for them. Shenson still wanted to meet with them, so he and Epstein hailed a taxi and headed for Abbey Road. Along the way, they decided to stop at the Mayfair flat where the band members stayed when they were in London (the lads would soon move permanently to the capitol city from Liverpool) to see if they could catch the boys before they left. The cab pulled up just as the Beatles were coming out of the flat. Not wanting to let the group get away Shenson offered to give them a ride to the studio.

The Beatles jumped into the cab and during the trip to Abbey Road, the producer “…found myself in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie.” To begin with, there were six people jammed into a taxi designed for four and so a lot of comical rearranging was necessary to get everyone settled. During the trip, the Fab Four kept up a constant stream of their characteristically humorous patter and every time the cab stopped at a light, one of them would jump out and buy newspapers with Beatles headline on them. In the midst of all this chaos, Shenson was charmed by the boys’ personalities—he found them to be sweet and likable and to have the” same natural humor and wholesomeness as the great movie comedians.” Shenson felt that the Beatles were “something very special, on the level of a Keaton or a Fields.”

As soon as they arrived at the studio, the band members jumped out of the cab and disappeared inside. An apologetic Epstein told Shenson that if he wanted to meet with the Beatles, he was going to have to round them up himself.  “So I found an empty office,” Shenson recalled, “And said ‘All right, I’m a very important Hollywood producer, you guys. If you want to make a movie, follow me.’ They all said ‘Yes sir! Yes sir! Yes sir!’” Once Shenson had the group ensconced, John began the meeting by asking the producer what sort of movie he wanted to make with them. “I don’t know,” Shenson replied, but following that crazy cab ride, he knew “it should be a comedy.” The lads were receptive to this idea and asked who was going to direct. The name Richard Lester was unfamiliar to the Beatles, but when Shenson explained that Lester had worked with the Goons (of whom the Beatles were enormous fans) and had directed The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (which they had loved), that was good enough for them. “Okay,” John told Shenson after conferring with his band mates. “You can be the producer.”

Lester and Shenson thought that the subject of the movie should be the Beatles themselves. Why ask John, Paul, George, and Ringo to play fictitious characters when their own personalities were so much more vibrant and interesting than any that could be concocted?  (Besides, given the group members’ collective lack of acting experience, it seemed unlikely that they could successfully play anyone other than themselves anyway.) Likewise, it seemed a waste to involve the band in a fictitious narrative when their real-life escapades were as exciting as any made-up adventure could ever be. A straight documentary would have been too dry, so Lester and Shenson decided instead to make what the director called a “fictionalized documentary” that compressed all of the group member’s extraordinary Beatlemania-fueled experiences into a single “typical” day in their lives, exaggerated them for dramatic and comedic effect, and provided plenty of opportunities for the boys to play their music and sing their songs.

The Beatles returned to the U.K. from America on February 22, 1964 and on February 25 (George Harrison’s twenty-first birthday) joined with producer George Martin to begin recording the songs they had written for the movie: “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You,” and “Tell Me Why.”

All five songs, which were penned mostly during the bands’ trips to Paris and the United States, were jointly credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as were all of the duo’s Beatle-era compositions. In truth, while the two did collaborate on some tunes, they wrote the majority of their songs separately (although often with some assistance from the other). “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” was written by Lennon and McCartney together; “I Should Have Known Better” and “Tell Me Why” were written by Lennon alone; “If I Fell” was written primarily by John, with some help from Paul; “And I Love Her” was penned by McCartney, with some lyrical contributions from Lennon. Following band tradition, the lead vocal for each song was sung by its principal author. The exception was “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You,” which was given to George Harrison to perform.

Two songs not written for the movie—“I Call Your Name,” which Lennon and McCartney composed prior to the formation of the Beatles and had previously been recorded by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas and a cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” which, as sung in blistering fashion by Paul, had long been a staple of their stage act were also taped for use in the film. All of the songs were recorded at Abbey Road Studios on four-track EMI British Tape Recorders (which allowed for the overdubbing of multiple musical layers onto a single track to create a richer sound).

On February 25 the group did three takes of “And I Love Her” and three takes of “I Should Have Known Better.” Unhappy with the results, the band members returned to the studio on Wednesday, February 26, and did sixteen additional takes of “And I Love Her” and eighteen additional takes of “I Should Have Known Better.” At this point, they were satisfied with “I Should Have Known Better,” but came back on Thursday, February 27, and did two more takes of “And I Love Her” before finally declaring it finished. Later that same day, they recorded “Tell Me Why” in eight takes and “If I Fell” in fifteen.

On Saturday, February 29, the Beatles met with Richard Lester and [screenwriter] Alun Owen to do a read-through of the completed screenplay. The boys were happy with the script, which they (and those that knew them) felt did a good job of capturing their personalities, speech, and sensibilities. Owen and Lester were happy with the deft way the lads handled their dialogue: “They just nailed it!” Owen exclaimed.

The band returned to Abbey Road on Sunday, March 1 to record “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” in four takes. They then recorded “I Call Your Name” in seven takes and “Long Tall Sally” in one.

Once all the songs were finished and mixed, Richard Lester reviewed them to decide where he would put them in the film: although the script did indicate where musical numbers were to occur in the story, it did not specify which pieces were to be used in those spots. The director selected “I Should Have Known Better” for the scene in which the boys serenade a group of girls they meet on the train. “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her” and “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” were chosen for scenes of the band rehearsing. “Tell Me Why would be featured (along with reprises of some of the other songs) in the big concert scene that climaxes the movie. It is thought that “Long Tall Sally” was originally intended to be the concert’s closing number, since the Beatles had finished all of their U.S. shows with it. Ultimately, however, the decision was made to use the band’s signature tune, “She Loves You,” to close the concert and “Long Tall Sally” was dropped. “I Call Your Name” was also dropped and both rejects ended up on the band’s next EP, Long Tall Sally.

When the March 1 recording session wrapped at 10 p.m., John, Paul, George, and Ringo all went home to get some sleep. They were going to need it, because [A Hard Day’s Night] was scheduled to start shooting at eight o’clock the next morning.


A Hard Day’s Night: Music on Film Series is the story of the making of the greatest rock-and-roll movie of all time. Beginning with introductions to the film’s stars – chronicling their rise from a raggedy teenage skiffle band to the biggest pop act in the world – the book goes on to tell how the American film company United Artists wanted to make a quick, low-budget movie starring the Fab Four so its record division could put out a motion picture soundtrack album full of new Beatles songs, in order to allow the studio to cash in on the incredible wave of Beatlemania then sweeping the planet. Director Richard Lester, producer Walter Shenson, and screenwriter Alun Owen were hired to churn out just another cheap exploitation film, but instead used the opportunity to create a startlingly fresh and original movie that broke new ground both in subject matter (instead of simply following genre tradition and sticking the band in some corny made-up plot, they had the Beatles play themselves in a narrative based on their own incredible real-life experiences) and in form (Lester’s inspired, surrealist approach to the film’s musical numbers kicked off the entire music video revolution). Covered is the film’s frantic six-week shoot, the lively recording sessions that resulted in seven great new Beatles songs, and how both the film and the album met with great critical and popular success.

Happy Birthday to Prince!

Prince is 52 years old today. To celebrate his birthday, enjoy an excerpt from Purple Rain by John Kenneth Muir. The passage deals with Albert Magnoli’s first encounter with Prince before agreeing to direct the rock musical drama film Purple Rain.

Then Magnoli was taken to actually meet with Prince. In a hotel lobby, Magnoli first met Chick, Prince’s legendary, Nordic bodyguard, whom Magnoli described as a very “tall, Viking-looking person,” and then went off to a corner to observe the dynamics of the situation.

“To my right were the elevator doors,” Magnoli explains. “To my left, across the lobby, was the front door of the building, where Steve [Fargnoli] and Chick were positioned. Then the doors opened at the crack of midnight sharp and out walks Prince by himself.

“Because he didn’t know who I was, he didn’t see me. He saw Chick and Steve at the end of the hall and walked to them, which allowed me to do a right-to-left pan with Prince, unencumbered by him knowing I was looking at him. As a result, I ended up filling [in] the whole story based on him walking across the lobby. Because what I saw was extreme vulnerability, in spite all of the bluster and the costume and the music. This was a vulnerable young man. I saw all the heart and soul. I saw all the emotional stuff. I saw the tragedy of his upbringing. I just saw stuff and felt stuff that filled in the three-act story.”

Together, Prince, Magnoli, Cavallo, Farnoli, and Chick went to a working dinner. “I was looking at Prince and I could tell he didn’t like being looked at,” Magnoli says. “He’s very shy. Everybody ordered food, and as soon as the waitress left, Prince looked at me sand said, ‘Okay, how did you like my script?’

“I realized a few things there. One, he said, ‘my script,’ which meant he had personally invested himself in whatever it was that William Blinn had written. And two, he hadn’t been told anything that I felt about it.”

“The words that came out of my mouth were the following: ‘Well, I think it sucked.’”

Magnoli pauses for dramatic effect. “At that moment, Steve dropped his head, Chick leaned closer to me, and Prince looked startled. Then I could see him thinking and what he was thinking was: ‘I wasn’t told this before this meeting was to take place. Why wasn’t I told? Then he looked toward Steve, because obviously Steve had told him nothing. That look to Steve took about three seconds, but it was telling to me, because I saw now how the operation worked. He had been kept in the dark about this.”

“So then Prince looked back to me and said, ‘Why does it suck?’ And I said, ‘You know what, it’s not important why, but here’s what we can do about it. Let me tell you the story.’ So now, with even more passion, because I have more information now that I’m looking at this kid, I told this story.

“There was five seconds of silence. Then he looked at Steve and said, ‘Why don’t you take Chick and go home.’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ ‘I’m just going to take Al for a ride.’”

Not knowing exactly what was going to happen, Magnoli remembers feeling a little uncertain. Had he offended Prince? Had he made him angry?

“We got in his car; he got behind the wheel, I got into the passenger’s seat, and he took off fast,” Magnoli notes. “The next thing I knew, we were driving in pitch-black darkness, [with] not a light in sight. I had no idea where we were. It looked like we were driving in a black tube. A day later I realized we were in horizon-to-horizon farmland, but there were no lights. So I was thinking, he didn’t like the story…and now I’m dead. I can die right now. And no one will know…”

This nighttime ride was not the beginning of a murder plot, however, but the start of a very fruitful working relationship for Magnoli and Prince. Even though the story Magnoli had recounted involved the lead character (Prince himself, hereafter called “The Kid”) being at odds with his parents, his bandmates, and even his girlfriend, Prince never once flinched from a warts-and-all, three-dimensional presentation.

Purple Rain

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

Rocky Horror Excerpt – Happy Birthday, Joan Jett!

Joan Jett, who played Columbia in the 2000 Broadway production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, turns 54 today.

The following is an excerpt of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Music on Film by Dave Thompson (Limelight Editions) as posted on the author’s website.

It’s a scene that plays out every night across America, and across a large chunk of the rest of the world too.  A tiny and probably downtrodden movie theater parked away in a back street somewhere, clinging on to life with a handful of screens where others might boast dozens; and luring in the locals not with the glitz and blitz of the modern movie-going experience (hard seats, handkerchief screens, overpriced popcorn and so on and so forth) but with a chance to remember when going to the movies was fun.

The days when the décor was flash and the usherettes smiled, and the ice-cream lady had a tray around her neck.

The days when you went to the movies because you wanted to, not because you’d been bludgeoned into submission by wall-to-wall advertising.

The days when you took a chance on an unknown, and it changed your life, rather than sitting through the blockbusters because nothing changed at all.

And the days when you didn’t just shrug and say you’d wait for something to come out on DVD, because there were no DVDs in those days, or home video rentals either.  You saw a movie when the movie house screened it, then you waited for them to screen it again.  And if sufficient people demanded it, it might come around again next year.  Or next month.  Or next week.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show comes around every week.

Keep reading this excerpt on Dave Thompson’s website

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is simultaneously one of the iconographic touchstones of 1970s cinema, and a timeless romp that appeals equally to every fresh generation. Created with a sharp eye for cult and context alike, Rocky Horror leaped effortlessly from stage to celluloid, losing none of its immediacy and spontaneity in the process – and maybe gathering more. Dave Thompson goes deep inside the phenomenon to trace the story and the strangeness that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Music on Film: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Dave Thompson is the author of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Music on Film. Below is an excerpt from his book as posted on

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW was the brainchild of an actor who was essentially forced out of the London production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR when he suggested that King Herod (for whom he was understudy) be played as Elvis Presley. The producers, whose hands were on both the tiller and the purse strings, preferred him to tap dance. Neither party would budge, and Richard O’Brien quit the religious rock biz on the spot.

He filled his suddenly vacant time by writing a rock ’n’ roll musical that would allow Elvis full rein, penning songs around a plotline lifted straight from the 1950s B movies that he loved so much. Born in Cheltenham, England, in 1942, O’Brien was a teen throughout that era, growing up with the infant yowlings of the newborn rock’n’roll and the Cold War paranoia of period Hollywood schlock.

But he was also separated from those influences, not only by the customary dislocation that exists between audience and artist but also by distance. In 1952, when O’Brien was ten, his family relocated to a farm in Taraunga, New Zealand—the other side of the world in terms of geography; the other side of the universe in the realm of culture.

“New Zealand reminds me very much of the American mid-west,” an older O’Brien told journalist Patricia Morrisroe. “There were two movie houses where I grew up. One showed all the latest releases and the other showed all the B-movies. I went to the movies a lot. What else can you do in a small-town parochial society? You see films, you play sports. If you were a bit of a punk like me you hung out in street corners and tried to pick up girls, not very success- fully. The girls wanted to flirt but didn’t want to be picked up. This was the fifties, remember.”

Keep reading on bookgasm

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is simultaneously one of the iconographic touchstones of 1970s cinema, and a timeless romp that appeals equally to every fresh generation. Created with a sharp eye for cult and context alike, Rocky Horror leaped effortlessly from stage to celluloid, losing none of its immediacy and spontaneity in the process – and maybe gathering more. Dave Thompson goes deep inside the phenomenon to trace the story and the strangeness that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Purple Rain Excerpt

The following is an excerpt posted by Bookgasm from Purple Rain: Music on Film by John Kenneth Muir.

“I saw a movie called Reckless (1984), in a screening room, which was done by Jamie Foley,” Robert Cavallo explains. That cult film was a rebellious rock ’n’ roll anthem featuring Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah as star-crossed lovers in an American steel town, and it featured a pulsing, hard-rock soundtrack from the likes of INXS, Bob Seger, and Romeo Void.

“I was alone in the screening room, other than a young man sitting in the back,” Cavallo says. “As I walked out, the young man said to me, ‘Well, what did you think?’ And I said, ‘It was pretty good … but I especially enjoyed the editing.’ I wasn’t kidding. It was good. I thought it was really well edited,” Cavallo emphasizes. “And he said, ‘Oh, I did that. Jamie’s my friend; he made the movie, and I was the editor. We went to USC film school.’”

That young man was Albert Magnoli, a native of Connecticut and a recent graduate of USC School of Cinematic Arts (until 2006 named the School of Cinema-Television). He had discovered his interest in film during undergraduate school, and almost unexpectedly.

“I grew up in New England, in Connecticut, and in undergraduate school, I took a course—I was a literature major—that pretty much changed my life,” Mr. Magnoli remembered. “It was a course that dealt with the films of Ingmar Bergman and how they related to literature; Bergman in relation to stories and novels. The professor was extremely good at finding comparisons between Ingmar Bergman’s philosophies and the philosophies of Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, etc.

“We tracked Ingmar Bergman from the 1950s all the way to, at that time, the 1970s, and that was an extremely rich time for Ingmar Bergman,” Magnoli reminisces. “He started off doing romantic comedies and then concentrated on films that dealt with his background and religious philosophy. We watched The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966), Shame (1968), and Cries and Whispers (1972) and they just had an enormous impact on me.

“What ended up happening was, there was a film course being offered in the school. I wasn’t part of it, but someone in the course came to me and asked if I had any short stories that could be turned into a short film,” the director says. “At the time I was writing short stories, and said I had one, and gave it to him. The location of that story needed a factory, and I had worked in a factory during the summer months, so I said, ‘I have a factory, and it’s down in Newington. I’ll talk to the manager and see if he’ll let us film in there.’ And sure enough, he did. He let us film from midnight till six a.m.

“We had one night to do it,” Magnoli details. “So I brought my friend and his crew to this factory. We were all juniors in college at the time. And when we got there, he looked at me and said, ‘Where should the camera go?’”

“I said, ‘I thought this was your film class!’ And he said, ‘I’m just the choreographer, not the director. You know the factory—just tell me where to put the camera.’ I said, ‘Well, let me see what the camera looks like.’ It was a little Super 8 camera on a tripod. I looked through the viewfinder, and at that point I knew where the camera should go. And then I started setting up shots. Essentially, we filmed for the next five or six hours. We had our actors, we finished, and as I was riding back to college, I said to my friend, ‘This is very interesting.’”

Keep reading this excerpt on Bookgasm

Purple Rain: Music on Film

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

Chicago Stage Style

This week, we are highlighting some bloggers and podcasters who frequently review our books and interview our authors. Do check out these blogs and podcasts for all the great content they have to offer.

Chicago Stage Style celebrates the best of Chicago’s vibrant theatre and performing arts community through up to date news, insightful reviews by industry professionals, and useful photo links to all of the city’s most important performances and venues.  Chicago has long been renowned for its innovations in the arts and architecture.  While it has earned its nickname as the Second City, within the past several decades it has also become one of the most vital and important theatre cities in America.  From Tony Award winning regional theatres to adventurous and edgy storefronts, see why Chicago is Second to None! Visit their site to read their reviews!

Below are a few excerpts of some Chicago Stage Style reviews:

Voice and Speech Training in the new Millennium by Nancy Saklad
“Where to begin on such a marvel of a book?  I would like to state that the amount of information you’ll gain from the reading of this book will literally amaze you. I would have never dreamed there were so many aspects of the voice; Saklad captures every fine detail through her extensive interviews with the great legends.”

The Actor as Storyteller by Bruce Miller
“With so many fine books on acting technique already readily available on bookshelves and now online, you may question the need to rush out and buy this Limelight Editions 2012 release.  The reason, Miller tells us, is that so few aspiring young actors these days has a strong enough grasp on the craft of acting, and yet college and university theatre programs are packed.  Eager young thespians rushing into the professional arena seeking their shot at fame and fortune are in for plenty disappointment without some practical advice.  And that is where Miller’s thought provoking introductory comes in handy.”

The Gentlemen Press Agent by Robert Simonson
“Robert Simonson’s new biography on Debuskey, titled The Gentleman Press Agent, takes a thoughtful view of a little known or understood career, the likes of which may never be seen again.”

The Broadway Musical Quiz Book by Laura Frankos
“Frankos possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theatre from A to Z…”

Broadway Musicals by Peter Filichia
“If you’re anything like me, there are probably a number of books covering Broadway musicals already lining your personal library shelf.”

The Play That Changed My Life edited by Ben Hodges
“This very digestible 173 page soft cover book assembles 19 of today’s hottest playwrights to answer the book’s title, and the responses are as diverse and intriguing as the playwrights chosen.”

At This Theatre by Robert Viagas & Louis Botto
“I was quite amazed to open the latest edition of this indispensable theatre companion and discover how much has been added and updated.”

Blumenfled’s Dictionary of Acting and Show Business by Robert Blumenfeld
“These are both very useful reference books I know I will consult frequently, and other industry professionals are likely to do the same.”

The Applause Libretto Library Series
“I salute Applause Books for turning out these clean, readable librettos, with their entertaining forewords, facts and photos.”

The Playbill Broadway Yearbook
“The Yearbook allows me and other fortunate theatre fans out there to enjoy the entire season of not only the wonderful Playbill cover art and “billboard” credits page of each show to open on Broadway between June 2009 and May 2010, but many insiders treats not available elsewhere. ..”

I Got The Show Right Here by Cy Feuer
“Written at the ripe age of 92 (three years before his death), “I Got the Show Right Here” is filled with the bittersweet wisdom, regret and honesty of a remarkably long life….”

Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre by Herbert Keyser
“Their stories will hopefully encourage readers to dig out some old albums, CD’s, videos and iTunes, or go out and see their work performed on a stage….”

A Twist of Lemmon by Chris Lemmon
“”A Twist of Lemmon” expresses that all with a full heart and a healthy sense of humor.  Jack Lemmon deserved no less.”

Music on Film: West Side Story by Barry Monush
“Each of the paperback volumes by Limelight Editions is devoted to one major motion picture and fits easily in the palm of your hand.”

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
“It’s safe to say that the guys behind “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)” definitely know their stuff, and have a pretty creative way in showing it.”

Jerry Orbach: Prince of the City by John Anthony Gilvey
“Gilvey’s easily readable 224 page paperback gives us a rare close-up of the real man behind all those characters…It is a rich and vivid portrait of a man who spent five decades in the spotlight and yet left us much too soon.”

I Know Where I’m Going by Charlotte Chandler
““I Know Where I’m Going” is a beautiful book that reaches far beyond a simple biography, it’s a story about one of the most talented and deserving actresses of our time, Katharine Hepburn.”

Theatre World by Ben Hodges and Scott Denny
“Fortunately, Theatre World offers large and healthy sections devoted to the more interesting and notable Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and selected Professional Regional companies, all of which contribute to the continued sustenance of the American theatre as a whole…”

Horton Foote: America’s Storyteller by Wilborn Hampton
“Wilborn Hampton has crafted a remarkable portrait of the man whose work as filmmaker and dramatist over a sixty year period included grand successes but also financial strain…”

Stagecraft by Robert Blumenfeld
“We should thank the brilliant mind of Robert Blumenfeld for his incredible acting techniques bible, “Stagecraft”…

The Last Five Years Libretto
“Applause never fails at presenting an artistic design.  They even throw in a preface written by the playwright himself, giving you a pretty appealing look into the writer’s mind.  Brown’s work is a compassionate piece of musical theatre that any would enjoy.”

Memphis Libretto
“These are true blood musical characters; the dialogue breathes each being with life as they struggle to keep a love connection with music.  Something not all musicals possess.”

West Side Story and the American Imagination by Misha Berson
“Something’s Coming, Something Good – West Side Story and the American Imagination” is the most in-depth look into the original musical on the planet.”

Lucille Ball FAQ by James Sheridan & Barry Monush
“…should be mandatory reading for all Lucy fans.  And because the authors have not written a straight narrative but a series of thematically related chapters, it is also a great introductory course for those who know her only peripherally….”

Rock the Audition by Sheri Sanders
“Sanders’ intelligence is only matched by her wit and charm; I say wit because of her high level of humor and enthusiasm, which is something hard to find in many good reads.”

13 Libretto
“”13″ is almost the antithesis of the contemporary Broadway musical.  And guess what?  It is good.  Very good, indeed…”

The Best American Short Plays edited by Barbara Parisi
“Once again I’m just impressed something of this caliber exists so that theatre patrons everywhere can experience the work of new playwrights.”

Broadway Musicals: Show by Show by Stanley Green
“I cannot find a single unfavorable thing to say about Green’s work…Trust me, “Broadway Musicals: Show by Show” will do everything but disappoint.”

The Playbill Broadway Yearbook
“…an invaluable reference that you can come back to often.”

Other reviews:

Music on Film: Grease by Stephen Tropiano

Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies by Ted Chapin

Four Reasons Why Purple Rain (1984) Endures

Guest Blogger: John Kenneth Muir, author of Purple Rain: Music on Film

Just past the quarter-century mark, director Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain (1984) continues to fascinate and intrigue global audiences.  An MTV-era update of the classic back-stage musical format, Purple Rain introduced a wide audience to Prince and his world in the Minneapolis music scene.

Although the Reagan decade is long since over — as is the Prince fashion craze of ruffled collars — Purple Rain continues to gain enthusiastic new fans the world around. Here are four reasons why:

1. Purple Rain is as close to getting “to know” the real Prince as we’re likely to get.

The artist who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and declared the Internet “dead” in 2010 is an enigmatic, mysterious fellow.  What makes him tick?  From what inner turmoil does his creative genius derive?

Although featuring a heavily fictionalized account of his life, Purple Rain remains the closest we are likely to get to an authentic Prince screen biography.  The film reveals the turmoil in his home life among his parents, and the relationships roiling Prince’s band mates in the Revolution.

At the start of Purple Rain, Prince emerges from smog and fog in silhouette and finally becomes visible…at least for the duration of the movie. This is as clearly as we have ever viewed the man, and his later films, including Under the Cherry Moon (1985) and Graffiti Bridge (1990) assiduously steered away from offering any further biographical detail.

2. The film is multi-faceted in its depiction of an icon. 

We’ve all seen big-screen musical biographies, and most often, they gloss over warts to forge a heroic, larger-than-life portrait of a talent we’ve come to love.  Consider Cool as Ice (1990), or even 8 Mile (2002), both of which failed to capture the real life experience or apparent rage driving performers such as Vanilla Ice or Eminem.

Or consider the superficial, bubble gum Rick Springfield vehicle, Hard to Hold (1984).  By contrast, Purple Rain reveals Prince in all his flawed and human dimensions.  He’s a genius, but he’s difficult.  He’s talented, but he’s demanding.  He’s an iconoclast and a perfectionist, and he’s anchored by nagging self-doubt.

In one of the film’s most famous scene, Prince sits back-stage — sulking in his tent as it were — making funny voices with a hand-puppet.  He comes off as angst-ridden, self-centered, and isolated.  Purple Rain is willing to reveal Prince in all his human shades, even the unflattering ones, and that’s why some critics (including Roger Ebert) listed it as one of the top ten films of 1984.

3. Purple Rain is the perfect fusion of music and meaning.

While prepping Purple Rain, director Magnoli had the opportunity to choose a wide array of tunes from Prince’s (largely) unpublished music catalog.  Selecting from over a hundred such pieces, Magnoli was able to tailor the music directly to the film’s biographical content.

“Let’s Go Crazy,” the opening anthem, played as an introduction to Prince’s world.

“Take me with U” concerns the open road, and the burgeoning of a romance between Prince and Apollonia.

The song’s opposite, “Darling Nikki” is about betrayal and rage in a romantic relationship…a humiliating song for Apollonia to endure.

The climactic tune “Purple Rain” concerns forgiveness and love, and has been called a celebration of women, or what critic David Denby termed “both an apology for bad behavior and a promise of sexual ecstasy.”

Finally, “Baby I’m a Star” is valediction, heroic triumph after challenges external and internal are beaten back.

Even the song written expressly for the film, “When Doves Cry,” reflects beautifully the film’s thematic content.  It’s re-states the film’s central conflict: that Prince may be “just like his father,” a failure in love and in music.

4. Morris Day and Jerome.

How many back-stage or biographical musicals expend the time and energy to create competitors for their heroes, especially competitors that serve so adroitly as comic relief?

Morris Day and Jerome Benton lighten up Purple Rain tremendously, and give the film a jaunty, humorous bent.

Morris Day and Jerome proved so intensely popular as foils for Prince that Purple Rain producer Robert Cavallo wanted to make a sequel to Purple Rain…about the duo making further mischief in Las Vegas.

Purple Rain: Music on Film

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

Visit John Kenneth Muir’s blog, Reflections on Film/TV