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Sunday, 15 April 2012 13:42

Book Review: MR. BROADWAY

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I only had the pleasure of meeting Gerald Schoenfeld, the Chairman of the Shubert Organization one time.  I was having lunch with the press agent Shirley Herz at Sam’s restaurant on 45th St (it’s no longer there).  Mr. Schoenfeld happened by and stopped to talk to Shirley, we were briefly introduced.  Sadly, Mr. Schoenfeld passed away in November, 2008 at the age of 84, two months after completing his new autobiography, "Mr. Broadway."  He left a legacy that is Broadway. Thanks to the dedication of his wife Pat, the book saw its way to publication.

In his book, Shoenfeld shares behind the scenes details, including some of the antics of certain members of the Shubert family, his personal relationships and interactions with such luminaries as Maggies Smith, Joanne Fontaine, Liza Minnelli and his business dealings with such theatrical impresarios as David Merrick, Cy Feuer and Alex Cohen.

“Mr. Broadway” is not only an autobiography about Gerald Schoenfeld, it is a history of the business of theater during the 20th century. The Shubert organization was behind many of the biggest hits during the latter part of the 20th century. That includes shows such as A Chorus Line, Equus, Amadeus, Pippin, Les Misérables, Evita, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Godspell, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Dream Girls, Dancin’, Sunday in the Park with George, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Heidi Chronicles, The Gin Game, Miss Saigon, and many more.

The Shubert Organization dates back to the year 1900 when Sam Shubert left Syracuse for New York to set up shop in the theatre business by leasing the Harold Square Theater on 35th St. and Broadway. Eventually his brothers Lee and J.J. joined him in a partnership and the brothers began to acquire more theaters.  The organization now owns 17 Broadway theatres, one off-Broadway theatre and a theatre each in Boston and Philadelphia.

Mr. Schoenfeld became acquainted with the Schubert’s through a weekly poker game. It was 1949 and he had just graduated from law school.  He was 24 and didn’t have any idea what he wanted to do with his life.  The large law firms did not hire Jews and the only other lawyer he knew was his brother’s friend, Bernie Jacobs.

If you’ve been to Broadway in the past few years and have traveled to 45th Street, you might have noticed two theaters side-by-side, the Schoenfeld and the Jacobs, these are named after these two legendary men.  Schoenfeld started by working for the Shubert’s attorneys and went on, together with Jacobs, to lead the Shubert Organization through some choppy waters making Broadway, and the Shubert Organization what it is today.

When I first moved to the city almost 30 years ago, Times Square was nothing but hustlers, prostitutes, drug dealers, and once legit theaters that now showed only porno and martial arts films.  Broadway theatre patrons were afraid to come to the theater district because of the crime.  It was Gerald Schoenfeld’s vision and dedication that ultimately led to the gentrification of the theater district. He worked with every mayor since Abe Beame to clean up the area.

This book gives a professional bird’s-eye view of the business of Broadway.  But what makes the book so endearing is Mr. Schoenfeld’s humility and flawless ethical center.  His struggles with depression and anxiety reveal the man behind the figure-head.  Broadway will forever be indebted to Mr. Schoenfeld and Mr. Jacobs for their work to restore theatres and Broadway to the majestic and economically viable state we find it in today.  

This book is a great read.

Last modified on Monday, 16 April 2012 11:25