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Book Report – more than just a review

Book Report: “Pretending to Dance”

Pretending to Dance, by Diane Chamberlain

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“Good golly, Miss Molly.” That quote from my years growing up predates the years of our main character Molly. Another mismatch is that I am not the target audience for this novel. Neither of those aspects kept me from appreciating the work.

Good golly, Molly has issues; make that ISSUES. The antagonist of this story is Molly’s past, or as she clearly says, “My past is in my way, … a roadblock, holding me back, keeping me from moving forward. I have no idea how to make it go away.”

Her father is a psychologist, or psychotherapist. One of that ilk could become immersed in the characters of this novel. (Behaviorists could spend a career in the setting on Morrison Ridge.) He loves her and helps her, but in a hesitant ‘when-you-are-old-enough-to-deal-with-it’ manner that holds her back. Her mother justifies it later, when Molly wishes she had known the truths of her childhood: “You couldn’t have handled it, honey. … It wouldn’t have been fair for us to lay it on you. …”

Molly wants to help nearly everyone, which young Miss M. describes as “the burden of needing to keep not only my father happy …”. When her husband attributes that ‘helping’ character element to her, she thinks, “…I am not that generous person Aidan described.” She has one thought from which to draw that conclusion, an example of Molly’s think-and-react nature. Despite having become a lawyer, she is not a person who gathers evidence when dealing with her own life, not a builder of plus-and-minus tables, not a mental calculus aficionado. I am not like this gal in more ways than age alone.

Nearly everyone wants to help Molly, but for most of her life she has not helped herself, now she won’t let the person closest to her do it, and has shut out those who want to come back into her life. Nobody has her address, and Molly lacks the ability to address her past without the people who created it. “There have been months… maybe even years … when I haven’t thought once about Amalia. … I know she’s tried to get in touch with me through Dani over the years, the same way Nora has, …”.

Author Diane Chamberlain weaves an excellent tale, supported by her research, and stays within the historic timeframe(s) of the story. There are descriptive gems for readers like me that marvel at the writer’s capability of expression, including these jewels:

  • “I sat alone in the dark, my body trembling convulsively. I felt nauseous, as though if I tried to get up off the bed, I’d get sick. My body was sore and my heart ached.”
  • “Practicing law lifts pretense to an art form. I pretend every day that my clients are in the right, that I am not twisting the truth to win their cases.but I know the truth about myself and my work: I am a pretender of the first order. And I’m a little tired of it.”

I enjoyed “Pretending to Dance” and look forward to meeting this North Carolina author.

Book Report: “Hamilton The Revolution”

Hamilton The Revolution – by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

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Why am I effusive about Hamilton – The Musical, and certainly recommend a deep dive under the encyclopedic covers of “Hamilton The Revolution?” The answer has as many layers as the topic itself. As I peel them back, I’ll still maintain the whole is serendipitously greater than the sum of the parts.

Hamilton The Revolution is a book about a musical about a book about a man. Having read this book as a complement after seeing the stage action, my review conflates the two.

The hook for me: “words, words, words,” wrote Jeremy McCarter in chapter 28. Those words of which he spoke, nearly 22,000 in the production, grasped me by intermission of the stage show, securing the immediate and everlasting thought, “This is creative brilliance.” The book reinforces that, with more words about the exquisite weaving of words; there are brilliant pictures, too.

The insight: McCarter has captured much of the thoughtful, sometimes chaotic, and lengthy process by which Hamilton – The Musical unfolded. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, …” wrote Browning long ago. The book allows one to reach, if not fully grasp this process. One example is Lin-Manuel Miranda citing a short pause in the song “Wait For It” by saying, “I make you wait, even for the words ‘wait for it.'”

The history: The birth of this country is depicted in a show inspired more by people than events. This blend of history and characters has the glue of culture to cement it. While it should be acknowledged that Hamilton is not a perfectionist’s telling of historical accuracies, nor could one legitimately contended that no history is learned from the musical or this book that discusses it.

The timelessness: When asked to quote Hamilton upon meeting a fellow fan from afar, the phrase first to my lips was, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” (It’s not a question for Lin, so I won’t punctuate it as such.) My instinctive response was confirmed in this tome, where Lin-Manuel writes about that same line, saying, “Once I wrote this passage, I knew it would be key to the whole musical.”

The parallels: Some connect the musical to other Broadway milestones such as A Chorus Line or Jesus Christ Superstar. My immediate connection was a movie. Dr. Shivago is that momentous film combining history, war, stupendous scenes, grand music, epic storytelling, and magnificent character development. My house of storytelling has added a Hamilton pillar.

The sound: Musical Director Alex Lacamoire seems masterful, even as I forget to credit Lin himself with the compositions and arrangements. LacketyLac is far more than “the guy that put a banjo in Hamilton,” which he humorously claimed as the accomplishment for which he hoped to be remembered. “The Revolution” informs me that the music is achieved with a ten-person band, defying the rousing score that greets my ears, brought to life by the M.D. Lac.

The backstories: There is much intrigue in the tales of the original Broadway cast and creative team: Pippa Soo as Eliza, Daveed Diggs as both Marquis de Lafayette and Jefferson, Renee Elise Goldsbury as Angelica, and Miranda’s partners in producing the show. As you are drawn to the show, the book, the music, and the cultural connections, you’ll never tire of knowing more background.

The times: President and Michelle Obama are major fans, becoming such long before there was a show, a book, a cast, or a legacy. When has Broadway had a serious relationship with Washington?

The community: YouTube, Twitter, Broadway, and TV series all flourish with Hamilton references and imitations (or vice versa). The Tony Awards of 2016 revolved around it; the Grammy Awards featured and feted it. Educators have adopted it. Historians have debated it. Politics has reflected it (or again, vice versa). Charitable causes have embraced it. The website has dissected it. There might be a point of over-saturation in the public eye, but it’s not on the horizon.

The visuals: Though not an alphabetical list, “visuals” trails other summation topics because they may be the last aspect of comprehension given the difficulty of acquiring tickets to the show. As was said, the words and the story consumed me more than the setting. A second time in the audience allowed proper attention to the stunning, distinctive, and trend-setting manner in which it is set and acted.

One may treasure the book for complementing a night in the theater, or value it for the providing a deep grasp of the work before seeing the stage. Magnificent photographs depict scenes and set the opportunity for focus on particular events.

I’m not equipped to tell you that “Hamilton The Revolution” can stand on its own for a reader who has not seen the show, nor heard the music, or isn’t seriously engaged with Broadway musicals. Such a “not, … nor, … or” person should start with the Original Broadway Cast Recording and accompany lyrics that capture every essential bit of show dialog. If seeking greater understanding, the book will deliver that deliciously. For the intended audience, nothing could be finer than the rendering of Hamilton The Musical in Hamilton The Revolution.

Book Report: “I Wanna Be A Producer”

I Wanna Be a Producer – by John Breglio

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This book is far more entertaining than one might expect. It is certainly insightful on the topic of developing a Broadway show, and has a good level of detail without always diving into the nitty-gritty. John Breglio’s personal experience enlivens the subject matter with interesting and relevant tales.

What this book seeks to accomplish is to help one understand much about the theater that the fan never gets to see. It does that very well. Understanding “how the sausage gets made” is a compelling addition to the enjoyment and appreciation one absorbs from the audience point of view.

This is a remarkable business and the outsider has almost no sense of the time it takes to create a show, the costs involved, and the path to profitability. For those topics and many more, this book tells all. Continue reading Book Report: “I Wanna Be A Producer”