What Would Barbra Do?

What Would Barbra Do?

How Musicals Changed My Life

Book - 2007
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Emma Brockes didn't always love musicals. In fact, she hated them. One of her earliest (and most painful) memories is of her mother singing "The Hills Are Alive" while young Emma crossed the street to go to her babysitting gig. According to her mother, the music would keep muggers at bay. According to Emma, it warded off friends, a social life, and any chance of being normal. As she grew older, however, these same songs continued to resonate in her head, first like a broken record and then as a fond reminder of her mother's love.

Some people would slice off their arm with a plastic knife before they'd sit through Fiddler on the Roof or The Sound of Music. But musicals are everywhere, and it's about time someone asked why. From An American in Paris to Oklahoma!, Brockes explores the history, art, and politics of musicals, and how they have become an indelible part of our popular culture. Smartly written and incredibly witty, this is a book for people who understand that there are few situations in which the question "What would Barbra do?" doesn't have relevance, in a world much better lived to a soundtrack of show tunes. At the heart of What Would Barbra Do? is a touching story about a daughter, a mother, and how musicals kept them together. Part memoir, part musical history tour, it will keep you laughing and singing all at once.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollins, c2007.
ISBN: 9780061254611
Branch Call Number: 782. 14 BRO
Characteristics: xvii, 270 p.


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FindingJane Dec 24, 2015

Ms. Brockes short memoir and homage to the musical, a quintessentially American art form, manages to be insouciant, irreverent, critical and deeply loving, no mean feat. The musical has had its ups and downs throughout the years. Ms. Brockes didn’t always care for musicals. However, she became a fan of them and this book shows how it wound its way through her life, how it made her friends and drove out troublesome lovers.

But anything that one person calls a passion can be labeled an abomination by another. There are people who hate musicals or least certain musicals (“Sunset Boulevard” anyone?) and they can’t necessarily explain why they dislike the form any more than others can tell why they adore the sappy sentimentality of “The Sound of Music”. Ms. Brockes breaks it down admirably. Without being preachy, pedantic or gushing—she’s not interested in winning converts, only in making explanations—she goes through the history of the musical, how it impacted the lives of those it touched and what exactly makes one musical great while another is a thudding failure. The role of the musical in its early days is radically different from the one it plays in the 21st century…it’s no longer just about kids putting on a show in a barn.

This is a charming little book, a swift and easy read, without being fluffy or silly. Whether you like or dislike musicals, if you’ve ever found yourself humming the title songs to “Oklahoma” or “Cabaret”, this book might just tell you why they matter.

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