A couple of books about the entertainment industry promise to warm the hearts and minds of both gay and straight readers during the Winter doldrums.
by Loren King
Anything Goes: A History of the American Musical Theater
[Illustrated. 346 pages. Oxford University Press]
By Ethan Mordden
I’ve long been a fan of Ethan Mordden’s entertaining and insightful books on Hollywood and Broadway. His latest, Anything Goes: A History of the American Musical Theater traces the American musical rom the 1920s to the ‘70s.
There are terrific passages about the giants of the 1920s and 30s —Gilbert and Sullivan, Victor Herbert — followed by the decades that have come to be known as the Golden Era, with insights into the now-legendary musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Comden and Green.
With a readable scholarship, Morden explains why shows like Oklahoma! and South Pacific are timeless. He’s just as fascinating, like the teacher you wish you’d had, when he’s writing about the modern “pop operas” and shows he doesn’t particularly like, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (though he has such respect for what works in theater that his critiques are never dishy or dismissive.)
Sondheim, not surprisingly, gets a lot of ink, as do Broadway stars and the changing role of the star. The author devotes (deservedly so) a chapter to Ethel Merman who singlehandedly turned stardom inside out with her tour-de-force in Gypsy.
There is a lot of ground to cover in this book, but Mordden’s survey is both comprehensive and celebratory. An exhaustive discography closes the book, offering invaluable and listening and viewing opportunities to younger audiences who missed the era when the Great White Way was the epicenter of art and culture.
This is a must for devotees of musical theater.
Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director
[Illustrated. 352 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
By Jack O’Brien
Jack O’Brien may best be known for his Tony-winning direction of the musical Hairspray and Tom Stoppard’s Russian-set Coast of Utopia trilogy.
This memoir serves as a glorious window into a long and distinguished theater career, which began unassumingly in the late 1950s when O’Brien was a lyricist and actor studying at the University of Michigan.
It was there that a young touring company, called APA (Association of Producing Artists), took up residence. APA’s founder, artistic director and leading actor Ellis Raab, with his then-wife, Rosemary Harris, took the regional theater scene by storm and Raab became mentor and father figure to O’Brien and others, while shaking up Broadway with Ibsen and Ionesco; building the careers of actors such as Donald Moffat and Frances Sternhagen; reviving the career of Helen Hayes; and hiring Eva Le Gallienne to direct Uta Hagen in The Cherry Orchard.
O’Brien’s easy to digest memoir is open about his homosexuality but doesn’t deliver much dirt (for that, go back to the great Arthur Laurents’ memoir Original Story By).
Still, O’Brien’s lively work and conversational style captures the excitement of the theater scene at a specific place and time.
His respect for Rabb, with whom he had an eventual and unfortunate falling out, is clear throughout; in many ways, this book is a testament to him. [x]
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John Mitzel in his Calamus bookshop, 2012 (photo: Emil Cohen)
John Mitzel (1948-2013), long-time owner of the storied Boston gay bookstore Calamus, died in his sleep in the early morning of October 4 due to complications from throat cancer.
A memorial is planned this Friday evening at 7 p.m. at Calamus, 92 South Street by South Station in Boston.
The following is a profile of John Mitzel that ran in the September/October 2012 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
John Mitzel Ain’t Going Anywhere
The Boston gay bookstore owner takes his place with some of the legendary personalities of our time
By Mark Krone
For gay bookstores, these are the last days of disco. Legendary outlets such as Lambda Rising in Washington DC, A Different Light in San Francisco, and the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York have all closed. But in downtown Boston, on South Street, Calamus Book Store stubbornly remains open. “As long as I am here, this will be here,” says owner John Mitzel.
When it comes to post-Stonewall gay activism in Boston, John Mitzel was there. He was there at the first organizing meeting of Gay Pride in 1971. He was there at the beginning of gay publications such as Fag Rag and Gay Community News. And there, too, when gay people turned to the courts in 1978, establishing the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). He was also an early author of books primarily for the gay market. His new collection of short stories, Last Gleamings, on friends he lost to AIDS, will come out this fall. Considering his impact on gay Boston, Mitzel should be better known.
Acrobat, Author ... Addict
Joe Putignano kicked heroin, launched a career as a Cirque du Soleil star and wrote about it all in a new memoir, Acrobaddict, released this week. He will have a book signing on October 16 at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Note: This story originally ran in the May/June 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
By Tony Giampetruzzi
“I was training to become a contortionist and detoxing from heroin at the same time — I don’t recommend that to anyone. Ever. At all.”
That pretty much sums the dogged, no-nonsense and humorous spirit of 36-year old gymnast/performer/model and now author, Joe Putignano.
Heroin? Contortionist? Model? It’s a dichotomy that’s only likely to play itself out in the most outrageous Lifetime movie specials. So, to hear Putignano’s story — a promising pre-teen gymnast from Raynham, Massachusetts, who went on to endure nearly 15 years of extreme drug use and endless bouts of rehab, only to finally take the stage for a late-career comeback in his 30s as a Cirque du Soleil performer — is quite inspiring if not fantastical.
Putignano recently took a hiatus from the stage and, although six years clean, was forced to face his demons again: in March, he was in Atlanta recuperating from surgery to correct a superior labral tear in his shoulder which, among various other localized injuries, was caused by more than five years and nearly 1,000 performances in Cirque’s Totem. The surgery was successful, but, for someone with Putignano’s relapse rap sheet, rehab would need to be narc-free, a must for someone who has used as much as him.FULL ENTRY
A new book entitled ‘Erotic Lives of the Superheroes’ by Italian author Marco Mancassola has “outed” Batman and Robin going so far as to portray the dynamic duo as “a bickering couple” whose sex life has “gone flat.”
As if that weren’t shocking enough for many fans of the DC comic superhero, Mancassola’s Batman also picks up a variety of young men for one night stands. “Batman has always had a very dark side. And it shouldn’t be a shock that my version of this character indulges in weird forms of fetishism and extreme sex,” said Mancassola.
“Narcissism is his inner abyss. He let his only real love story miserably fail because he is in love with the mystery of youth – that inaccessible, fleeting kind of spirit that he sees in the eyes of his young male and female pick-ups.”
This is not the first time that Batman’s sexuality has been brought into question. Grant Morrison, who authored several Batman stories for DC comics, previously stated that “(Batman’s) intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay”. And George Clooney, who played Batman, in the 1997 film Batman & Robin said he intended for his character to appear gay.
Mancassola realizes that there are some fans who “can’t forgive me for what I’ve done to their beloved characters. This is true especially when it comes to Batman, who comes across as the least nice character of the book – egocentric, ridiculously vain, in some way ‘perverse’. But, actually, I depicted him that way because I love him. He is human. He embodies the tragedy into which contemporary society has transformed the fact of getting older.”
The novel also delves into the erotic obsessions of Superman, Mister Fantastic and Mystique.
Gay dads and surrogate mothers subjected to ‘Paternity Test’ in new novel by out Boston author Michael Lowenthal
Michael Lowenthal will read from and sign copies of The Paternity Test at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline on September 24 at 7 p.m. and at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on October 16 at 7 p.m. He will also appear at the Boston Book Festival on October 27.
Note: The following is adapted from a story that ran in the September/October 2012 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
By Loren King
For Michael Lowenthal, whose latest novel The Paternity Test (Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press) came out this September, gay parenthood is a jumping off point into a rich and complex story that explores what creating a family means for one gay couple.
Same-sex marriage and the “gayby boom” has penetrated the culture — gays pushing strollers are ubiquitous in certain Boston neighborhoods and TV shows like Modern Family and The New Normal have brought gay parents into living rooms across America. But Lowenthal, whose other books include Charity Girl (2007), Avoidance (2002) and The Same Embrace (1998), is too good a writer to simply tell a conventional unconventional story. Lowenthal weaves what he calls a “completely imagined plot” about boyfriends Pat and Stu who hire a surrogate to bear their child with a Cape Cod setting and secondary characters far more familiar to him.FULL ENTRY
‘For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide’ author Keith Boykin visits Hispanic Black Gay Coalition
Author and media commentator Keith Boykin preparing to speak at the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition gathering at Club Café in Boston
Have you heard of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover?
Author and media commentator Keith Boykin visited a standing-room-only gathering of the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition (HBGC) of Boston over the weekend to talk about the underreported concerns of gay and queer Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough, as the title of his new collection of essays, which he edited, puts it.
Boykin pointed out that many people are familiar with Tyler Clementi, who was the gay man who committed suicide in New Jersey after his roommate recorded him with his boyfriend, but that few know of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.
by Loren King
“Summer’s beginning to give up her fight,” say the lyrics of a song by the lesbian folk duo Indigo Girls.
It’s getting darker earlier, but there’s still a few good beach days ahead.
Here’s a handful of new, gay-authored or queer-themed books to settle down with in the sun and sand before autumn gets the upper hand.
Are You My Mother?
[Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
by Alison Bechdel
For those who think the memoir reached its tipping point long ago, Are You My Mother? Alison Bechdel’s follow up to her 2006 bestselling memoir Fun Home, is so lively, brilliant and incisive that it breathes unimagined life into the genre. The author of the wildly popular Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip has illustrated and written this dense, ultimately generous account of her prickly but close relationship with her complicated mother, the former actress who was a memorable character in Fun Home. Bechdel covers some of the same autobiographical details in her “Mom book” that she did in her “Dad book,” particularly her gay, closeted father’s suicide and her own coming out. But Bechdel this time delves even deeper into her own psyche. Are You My Mother? takes the reader into Bechdel’s universe. She writes honestly but with keen wit about therapy, the publication of Fun Home and her mother’s cool response to it, her lovers, her ambivalence and ambition, and all while shifting effortlessly from past to present and back again. The writing is funny, heartfelt and smart—Bechdel references everything from Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich to psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, with a little Sondheim thrown in for good measure- and the artwork is beautifully detailed. This is a first-rate book that you won’t be able to put down.FULL ENTRY