What is the most successful movie musical of all time? The answer surprised me. It’s Mama Mia! The woman who produced it, Julie Craymer, owns 18.5% of it. Over time, this has made her the 3rd richest woman in England. #1 is Queen Elizabeth II. #2 is J.K. Rowling. I never would have known this if I hadn’t read Razzle Dazzle.
This award-winning book by Michael Riedel was published in 2015 and has become a best seller. Riedel interviewed hundreds of people and wrote a comprehensive history of Broadway, New York City’s #1 tourist attraction, from the 70s to the present. It’s factually perfect. If he could not verify something, Riedel left it out.
It’s a wonder that theater in New York has survived to become a multi-billion dollar 21st century tourist attraction, but it has despite the 20th century decline of Times Square and other issues. For a long time the theater district in New York City was an area of drugs, prostitution, and general crime. It was downright dangerous. It came back thanks to some wise mayors, Disney, and some spectacularly successful shows. The Lion King has made $6.2 billion over time to become “the most successful theatrical production of all time”.
This book focuses on 2 major aspects of Broadway history. It fully covers the theater owners–the Shuberts, the Nederlanders and others–who controlled the theaters and their fates over time. He devotes entire chapters to groundbreaking shows that were wildly successful like A Chorus Line, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, etc. Phantom of the Opera has been running continuously in New York since 1988. That’s 28-years-ago! Riedel also explains why shows like Little Shop of Horrors were so influential.
There probably won’t be any new theaters added to the current 41. “In 2015,” Riedel concludes, “the Shuberts were exploring the possibility of building a 1,500 seat theater…along Eighth Avenue.” It probably won’t get built because the estimated cost is $150 million. We all know that the actual cost will be much higher than that.
If you have even a mild interest in Broadway theater history, you will surely enjoy this book. It’s now in paperback and a compulsive page turner if you like the subject or remember seeing, say, Les Misérables and feeling like the experience changed your life.