Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in a single book is a monumental task. Covering forty years’ worth of Broadway shows in less than 500 pages is a nearly impossible task. And yet that’s exactly what Barry Singer’s Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond attempts to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really hit the mark. For those hoping for a glimpse behind the scenes of their favorite musicals, Ever After isn’t the book for you. It’s less of a historical account and more of a collection of reviews. In that context, it’s not too bad. However, the first half of the book is particularly hard to power through and the book’s general lack of depth hinders much of the enjoyment. (3 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received a review copy of Ever After from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.
Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977-2020
Written by Barry Singer
Before Ever After appeared in 2003, no book had addressed the recent past in musical theater history—an era Singer describes as “ever after musical theater’s many golden ages.” Derived significantly from Singer’s writings about musical theater for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker, Ever After captured that era in its entirety, from the opening of The Act on Broadway in October 1977 to the opening of Avenue Q Off-Broadway in March 2003. This new edition brings Ever After up to date, from Wicked, through The Book of Mormon, to Hamilton and beyond. Once again, this the first book to cover this new, pre-pandemic age of the Broadway musical.
In truth, Ever After isn’t one book at all, but two. The first half comprises the original Ever After, first published in 2003, which covered all of the musicals from 1977-2002. And it’s pretty rough to get through. It’s written in the kind of detached, third-person voice that feels cold and uninviting. It doesn’t help that Singer spends much of the book’s first half endlessly complaining about the state of Broadway. And sure, Broadway was in a rough place during the 1980s and 1990s. But without any particularly intriguing behind-the-scenes looks at these shows, there’s little to offset the stream of mixed-to-negative reviews. Singer rarely dives past the surface level of any of the shows he covers. And when he does, it hardly proves revelatory to the hardcore Broadway fans this book seems marketed towards. What few interviews there are either don’t offer much in the way of insight or are from producers, rather than any of the creatives involved with the shows.
The second half is a newly-written update to the original, now covering the shows from 2003-2020. And honestly, it feels like you’re reading an entirely different—and generally more enjoyable—book. Here, Singer switches to a first-person point of view. And that personal touch helps ease some of the book’s problems. Since the second half feels like less of a historical account, it’s not as disappointing when it doesn’t delve into any of the shows with the depth you might like them to be. There are more interviews in this half, and while most of them remain less-than-revelatory, it is nice to properly hear from some of the creators. The bigger success is in the way that Singer broadens the scope of some of his reviews. In addition to his thoughts, he often mentions how his family and friends responded to whatever show he’s talking about. And it’s genuinely refreshing to hear some other opinions—especially those that run counter to Singer’s.
The biggest positive about the second half of the book is its sense of hope. The first half of Ever After feels quite hopeless. It’s a dark time for Broadway, filled with British megamusical imports and flop after flop after flop. But the second half of the book feels imbued with hope between being written during the early(ish) stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and covering the general upward trend of musicals from Wicked to Hadestown. It’s hard to walk away from these latter chapters of Ever After without feeling some kind of hope for the future of Broadway. Sure, it’s been through some dark times. But with all of the new voices on the horizon, perhaps its best days are yet to come.
At the end of the day, I’m not entirely sure who Ever After is for. It seems marketed toward hardcore Broadway fans, those who want to consume every little tidbit of all of their favorite shows. But those fans are almost certain to walk away from this book disappointed. What little light it shines on the making of these musicals is information that can be easily found elsewhere. And they’re outweighed by Singer’s personal reviews of each show. However, it seems equally unlikely that a more casual Broadway fan would be all that interested in reading an overview of such a large amount of time. And so, I remain unsure who Ever After’s target audience is. As it is, Ever After is a nice collection of reviews. It offers a quick, breezy overview of the majority of musicals from the last 40-years, and even examines some of the trends that sprouted from them. I just wish it went into a lot more depth than it does.
3 out of 5 wands.