Asking the Musical Questions
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Published in: May-June 2014 issue.


Anything GoesAnything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre
by Ethan Mordden
Oxford Univ. Press. 346 pages, $29.95


Passionate Attention of an Interesting ManThe Passionate Attention of an Interesting Man: A Novella and Four Stories
by Ethan Mordden
Magnus Books. 223 pages, $19.99


“I’M TELLING YOU, the only times I really feel the presence of God are when I’m having sex, and during a great Broadway musical,” a hyper-sexed Father Dan reveals to the title character Jeffrey in Paul Rudnick’s 1993 comedy about gay life at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Even as he brazenly attempts to seduce the emotionally confused stranger in the confessional, the strategically blasphemous priest warns him that Satan is real: “Phantom. Starlight Express. Miss Saigon! Know ye the signs of the devil: overmiking, smoke machines, trouble with Equity.”

Although novelist and theater historian Ethan Mordden invariably writes in a more judicious and measured style of argument, he shares with Rudnick’s flamboyant Father Dan a reverence for the life-affirming properties of American musical theater.

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Raymond-Jean Frontain is professor of English at the University of Central Arkansas.