The Cambridge Companion to the Musical
Edited by William A Everett and Paul R Laird
Cambridge University Pree
Dateline: 10th May, 2004
The Cambridge Companion to the Musical is part of a series entitled
Cambridge Companions to..., which includes books on instruments,
composers and topics such as Blues and Rock. It describes itself as
"an accessible introduction to one of the liveliest and most popular
forms of musical performance".
It is certainly very comprehensive: it begins with the pre-twentieth
century influences which together lead up to the genre and ends
with the megamusicals of the end of the twentieth century and the first
years of the 21st. It is divided into three sections - Adaptations
and transformations: before 1940, Maturations and formulations:
1940 to 1970, and Evolutions and integrations: after 1970
- and each section is divided into four or five chapters. Each chapter
is written by an academic whose specialism it is; all except one are
Because of this division and sub-division and the use of different
authors for each chapter, there is, inevitably, a bit of repetition,
but since the points being repeated are generally important events or
developments in the field, this can be quite useful as it keeps the
milestones clear in the reader's mind.
This is not, however, a book to sit and enjoy as a bit of light reading.
It is very much a book for the academic: each chapter is densely packed
and the writers make no concessions to a more general readership. There
is no attempt at being entertaining: each writer has a topic to cover
and is determined to provide as much detail as possible in the space
allowed. It does demand a lot of concentration on the part of the reader.
Like much academic work, it is descriptive: A happened, then
B happened, which resulted in C. It also spends a lot
of time classifying - is X an operetta, a musical comedy or a
musical? - and attempting to draw boundaries between the myriad genres
it identifies. And, typically, it has eleven pages of endnotes, an eleven-page
bibliography and a twenty-page index.
The very long and comprehensive index is essential if the book is to
be used as a work of reference: there are, for example, thirteen references
to Sondheim, scattered from page 61 to page 274.
The narrative format of the book does militate against ease of use
as a reference, but at the same time it isn't an easy continuous read.
To this extent is falls between two stools, being neither popular study
nor quick reference. On the other hand, it is a very complete and insightful
look at the subject, and mercifully does not suffer from the automatic
dismissal of any non-American musical that so many US-based critics
can buy The
Cambridge Companion to the Musical from our Bookshop for £11.89
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