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Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway


Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway

Once a year, I make a pilgrimage to New York City to shop, dine and binge on the latest Broadway shows. To be truthful, I could shop and dine in most any city, but there’s just no venue anywhere that can compete with the unique dynamic of Broadway. I love those beautiful old theaters where musicals like “Cabaret” and “South Pacific” lit up the stage or plays like “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” rocked the emotions. We theatergoers are among the most loyal supporters of the arts and firm believers that Broadway will continue for generations to come. Yet there were times in its history when Broadway as we know it almost ceased to exist.

In RAZZLE DAZZLE, Michael Riedel has chronicled the ups and downs of Broadway from its inception nearly 120 years ago to the thriving business it is today. He masterfully weaves together the entertaining and enlightening stories of those personalities that built it and those who nearly broke it.

Beginning in the earliest part of the 20th century, we see the rise of the Shubert brothers’ empire, which would challenge the old guard Syndicate that initially controlled the theaters of New York. The saga of the three brothers’ partnership, their achievements and failures forms the basis for a fascinating picture of the financial complexities to this business. It takes a lot of luck and money to put together a show, contracting the right producers, directors, choreographers, writers, composers and stars. Risks and rewards are carefully calculated, egos stroked, favors called, and retribution not uncommon.

"RAZZLE DAZZLE is not just a walk through the financial labyrinth of Broadway’s history. It is also loaded with wonderful anecdotes and in-depth stories of many award-winning celebrities and fantastic shows that graced its stages over the years."

For decades, corruption existed on many levels, often pitting theater owners against producers and performers. Bootlegging tickets was a common practice, resulting in the unscrupulous operators lining their pockets with “ice,” a theater term for the upcharge they collected. While the Shubert empire began to expand its real estate and build more theaters, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought an end to their chief competition but created the first real threat to the continuation of the American theater.

As Riedel walks us through many of the triumphs and scandals of some of the most celebrated names in the business, the spotlight soon shines on the successors to the Shubert family who became the strength of the Shubert Organization for decades to come. George Schoenfeld and Bernard Jacobs began their journey with the Shubert Organization as lawyers and rose to become the most powerful men on Broadway. Under their direction, the Shubert Organization broke new ground in many areas of production, contracts, financing and union negotiations. They were both feared and respected as the shrewdest businessmen in the theater business. 

There were other threats to the survival of Broadway and the Shubert Organization that Schoenfeld and Jacobs had to grapple with over the years. There was always fierce competition from other companies that owned theaters on Broadway and around the country. And there were problems with New York City itself. In the 1960s, Times Square had become a squalid environ of druggies and prostitutes that discouraged theatergoers from attending shows. In addition, the city was having its own financial woes that, in turn, impacted the theater district. In the ’80s there was the “British Invasion” of the highly successful shows like “Cats,” “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom,” which threatened to steal away the center of the theatrical world to London. The battle for Broadway was not only a competition for control of the vast fortunes to be made; at times it was a battle just to keep Broadway from disappearing altogether.

RAZZLE DAZZLE is not just a walk through the financial labyrinth of Broadway’s history. It is also loaded with wonderful anecdotes and in-depth stories of many award-winning celebrities and fantastic shows that graced its stages over the years. Riedel features both the successful and the not-so-successful from actors to singers to temperamental producers, volatile choreographers and vengeful critics. The Broadway community also had its share of drunks, druggies, philanderers and crooks. It was, and is, a colorful business, and Riedel knows it well. Through extensive research, interviews and insights, he gives readers a center stage view into the people and events that drove the rise and fall --- and eventual rebirth --- of the American theater.

Reviewed by Ann Bruns on November 25, 2015

Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway
by Michael Riedel

  • Publication Date: October 11, 2016
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Performing Arts
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1451672179
  • ISBN-13: 9781451672176