Few write as engagingly and knowledgeably about the American musical theater as Ethan Mordden, so it makes sense that he would turn his talents to the British musical theater. Mordden is skilled both at pronouncing major themes (for example, broadly speaking, the American musical is about ambition and the British musical is about social order) and showering the reader with detail, whether it be how much Andrew Lloyd Webber loathed the New York production of Jesus Christ Superstar or how Paul Scofield, not yet acclaimed for playing King Lear or winning an Oscar for his performance as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, stole the show in Expresso Bongo, a 1958 musical in which he played the manager to a pop idol named Bongo Herbert. Mordden is especially good on Noël Coward and at digging into why Coward’s musicals were never quite as good as his plays.
The book concludes with a wonderful discography that shows Mordden at his obsessive best. Who knew, for instance, that there is a cast album of the Canadian production of Sunset Boulevard featuring Diahann Carroll? Well, now you know!