Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built” as Want to Read:
The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  891 ratings  ·  164 reviews

For almost a century, Americans have been losing their hearts and losing their minds in an insatiable love affair with the American musical. It often begins in childhood in a darkened theater, grows into something more serious for high school actors, and reaches its passionate zenith when it comes time for love, marriage, and children, who will start the cycle all over aga

Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Sarah Crichton Books (first published February 2nd 2016)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  891 ratings  ·  164 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jessica Jeffers
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: entertainment
Jack Viertel’s strong writing and impressive depth of knowledge is probably worth 4.5-5 stars, but my enjoyment of the book was really only around the 3-star level so I’m splitting the difference here.

Part of my disappointment is that I expected this to be a behind-the-scenes look at the business side of Broadway: literally, how you bring a show to the stage from start to finish. In reality, this is a book-length deconstruction of how the songs within the show succeed or fail. The book is divvie
Michael Ritchie
Despite the use of the word "built" in the title, this book has nothing to do (unfortunately) with the staging, casting, performing, choreography, or physical production of musicals, but only with how they are constructed as a work. The author has an interesting template--big opening number, star turn, big 1st act closer, etc.--but the book mostly consists of him saying things like, "a big noise number, full of fun and excitement, comes here, and here are 5 examples of such a number." The exampl ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A really good and interesting book, just what I was looking for. Two of the chapters are almost completely off-topic but the rest is a gem.
I had no previous musical theatre education but while reading this book I had no problems at all.
It also was very entertaining and the writing style suited me a lot thanks to its lightness.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
To me, this book was very disappointing, and abstruse to a fault. THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL is not about "how Broadway shows are built" but about how an executive at the JuJamCyn theater group thinks they ought to work. Lots of detail, haphazardly presented. Want to know about Broadway history? Skip this soporific and try Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution by Todd Purdum instead. Want to know how Broadway songs fit the "book" and what makes a good so ...more
Finally finished!!
I find it really hard to review The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built because in the beginning I enjoyed it sooo much - I wanted to see the umpteen musicals Jack Viertel talks about!! - but with time I had to force myself to continue.
Chapter for chapter the same thing: Musical after musical which fits best to that "building stage" of the musical/chapter (Opening Number, I Want,..). All together it's a few lyrics and story descriptions just strun
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Well researched...absolutely. Informative...definitely (I felt like I was taking a college course but I was lacking essential background knowledge). Easily readable...well...yes but too much information. I was thrilled when I won this book on Goodreads. I love theater. My family is musical and they love to perform on stage. Currently two grandchildren are performing in a local theatre presentation of "Annie" in the roles of Annie and Molly (the youngest orphan). Proud grandma that I am I have s ...more
May 19, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
This was...ok. I really enjoyed it for the first few chapters, but then it became way too formulaic to me. I was hoping to find out more about the actual creation of the shows, where the ideas came from more so than the formula of songs (I want..., act I finale, etc) and examples of each of those and whether or not they were effective. I would be really interested to read a book in the work that goes into creating a musical, not just the types of songs that go into it, but where ideas come from ...more
Apr 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Well-nigh irresistible to an erstwhile theater kid, and anyone who's ever loved a musical will surely feel the same. Viertel's favorite musicals and mine don't always line up (I'm with him on Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof, but I've never seen Carousel, prefer The Sound of Music to South Pacific, and never managed to warm up to Sondheim), but his enthusiasm is contagious, his analysis thoughtful, and his love of musicals and firm belief in their importance is apparent on every page. A de ...more
Jennifer Ozawa
I love musicals, and I’m glad to have read something from a strictly American standpoint. Webber and the creators of Les Mis and Miss Saigon are talented, but I want to know about more than that. Viertel breaks down the structure of a good musical and explains why each component makes a show successful. Plus, he’s funny.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
Really enjoyable read that’s got me exploring some shows I’d never seen before. Not what I expected it to be, but I enjoyed it more because it was so different from my expectations!
Sally Sugarman
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a devotee of the American musical, this was a wonderful book to read. Viertel, who is a Broadway producer, has worked at the Mark Taper Forum and produced the City Center Encore series, is a perfect guide to the musical and its evolution over time. The book starts with the early days of the musical and goes up to and includes Hamilton. Viertel shows what makes a successful musical, song by song, giving examples from many musicals. As he talks about the changes, he also talks about what is con ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, music
Jack Viertel is a "tote." A tote, according to my group of friends, is someone who is so totally into a subject that you become swept up in their enthusiasm. Jack Viertel knows Broadway shows and writes eloquently and knowledgeably about the architecture that makes them tick. I loved his totie take on the subject and look forward to listening to the many cast albums he recommends in the final chapter. Best parts for me were the examples of problems that were fixed on the road, turning potential ...more
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not deluding myself into thinking that a non-theater person would find this as fascinating as I did, but this was first-rate. Viertel's walk through the architecture of musical theater delivered a lot of familiar info, but it was also loaded down with stuff that had never occurred to me. Plus, it's just fun because of all of the examples that he uses to illustrate his points. This is going to change the way I watch any musical.
Mar 13, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
This looks totally fun. Positive NY Times review.
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved this book. I have seen most of the musicals discussed, and have a list of new musicals where I need to track down and listen to the cast recording. The only problem? Every time he quoted songs lyrics for a song I knew, I had to stop and sing!
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must for lover of musicals having an extensive repertoire. His analysis made me appreciate in new ways, shows I have seen dozens of times.
Shawn Thrasher
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jack Viertel really knows his sh*t - he's produced or consulted on a wide variety of Broadway hits over his career. This book isn't a memoir or autobiography however, although there are bits of autobiography sprinkled throughout. Rather, this is a masterclass of the mechanics of the musical, written (and written well) by a true expert; Mr. Broadway becomes Professor Broadway (as narrated by David Pittu, it's exactly like being in a masterclass as well; if I ever would hear the real Jack Viertel ...more
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a magnetic read despite being pretty analytical throughout, which I suspect is a consequence of being structured the same way that musicals are themselves (with an opening number, a big finish, and even an entr'acte in the middle describing how the author got into producing in the first place). It also helps that the topic of discussion is one that's close to my heart, and that Viertel's way of thinking about it was one that's completely new to me. In any case, I thought his analys ...more
Shannon Fox
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting background on stage set up, casting, costuming, etc. That isn't what this book is about. It's about the writing of musicals and what makes them a success. It was informative, and the author cites great musicals and examples (songs and scenes) from them that explain how and why the show was a success. It covered so many musicals and really gave great back ground on the writers and musicians. I liked the book. I just wanted to know the nitty gritty of people working their way up to ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
gets five stars because I love the subject. Plus he shares my fan dom of Gypsy and a few other favorite shows. Only complaint is a few of the newer great shows are left out. Also seems like he has more "life in the theatre" shows in him. But I read it in two days because this is right up my alley, and it is a very breezy read.
Barry Joseph
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
He's right and will change how you view musicals - all the hidden structures are revealed.
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent read for anyone who's a fan of stage musicals. Viertel walks you through the function of different types of songs in Broadway shows, and you really see how a show gets structured. The book is peppered with a lot of bonus stories and facts that I really enjoyed. Definitely recommend!
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chatty and educational, this book really feels like a singalong.
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I indulged my Broadway fandom and scholarship and listened to the audio of this great work - narrated by Broadway’s David Pittu. A fabulous dramaturgical lesson ranging from Oklahoma to Company to Hamilton. Read/listen and enjoy.
Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My introduction to musical theater, which eventually led to opera, began with Mary Martin's Peter Pan and Disney movies of the 1950s. The fact that Jack Viertel mentions both early on in this book endeared me to it immediately. You can tell he's taught this as a course, because it's clearly laid out and easily understandable. He divides the classic American musical into its components, using five or six primary examples--then he shows how successful musicals have played with these components. Pu ...more
Robert Greenberger
A course turned into a book makes perfect sense, as Jack Viertel has had years of experiences from audience member to producer to teacher to consider the subject. Here, he ruminates at length structuring the most readable book as a musical, from Overture to Curtain Call. To maintain focus, he sticks to just a handful of musicals to illustrate each point although he sprinkles in many others from throughout the Golden Age of the musical, from 1943's Oklahoma to 1975's A Chorus Line. He keep things ...more
Andy Quan
If you’re a fan of musicals, this is a fun book, for have you ever really stopped to ponder what makes a musical work well? And why you like them? And why the ones you may not like as much don’t seem right, or have some random comic number near the start of the second act?

This book is written in a straight-shooting tone of voice, by someone who has long experience in the industry, is a lifelong lover of musicals and has both practical experience but also has put a lot of thought into the subject
Don Gorman
Sep 07, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
(1 1/2). If you are researching Broadway musicals, or looking to create a new one based on old shows, this is a 5 star book for you. I have been going to and enjoying Broadway shows for about 60 years and I found this very boring. You better be real familiar with Guys and Dolls and Carousel (with a minor in Oklahoma and My Fair Lady) to follow much of what is talked about here. There are a few interesting tidbits on the whys and werefores of composing shows and retaining audience interest along ...more
Lee Ann
May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I would have liked this book as a theatre fan, too. (Full disclosure: I work for the Des Moines Community Playhouse.) Jack Viertel does a beautiful job of laying out the structure of nearly every musical, from a little before Show Boat through Hamilton. He gives great examples. I've since thought about some of my favorite musicals and how they fit the model. Viertel also shares a few glimpses behind-the-scenes to what it takes to bring a show to the stage, and how the business has change ...more
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not the usual Broadway history through gossip. The subtitle tells it all. "How Broadway Shows are Built."
Viertel covers 90 years of Broadway history analyzing how certain kinds of song worked or didn't work in particular positions in shows.
I think every musical fan would really enjoy this book. And if you're a musical writer, you might get a few hints.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof
  • Follies
  • Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics, 1981-2011, With Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes, and Miscellany
  • Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway
  • Oslo
  • Schlepping Through the Alps: My Search for Austria's Jewish Past with Its Last Wandering Shepherd
  • Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z: A Library of America Special Publication
  • Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops
  • Broadway: The American Musical
  • Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater
  • Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music
  • Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution
  • Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time
  • Stephen Sondheim: A life
  • Fosse
  • Patti LuPone: A Memoir
  • Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor, the Famous Performing Arts Camp
See similar books…
“...the history of the Broadway musical is the history of short Jewish men yelling at each other.” 0 likes
More quotes…