Cy Feuer’s street-tough study of the theatrical jungle shows how hard a producer has to fight to get things made, and the creative bloodbaths experienced while forcing them to fruition. His style is sometimes too spare and anecdotal, and the picture of long-time partner Ernie Martin amounts to little more than a quick sketch. What gives the book its smoking, ringside vitality are inside views of Feuer’s studio struggles as Music Director of Republic Studios, then as a battling Broadway wonder.
His first hit, “Where’s Charley?” succeeded despite loss of composer Harold Arlen when Arlen’s Beverly Hills home was destroyed in a fire, and he kept “Guys and Dolls” on course after volatile Frank Loesser slapped the show’s leading lady. Particularly bizarre is an altercation with lyricist Carolyn Leigh, when she dragged in a policeman to stop Feuer from scrapping one of her songs. Feuer willingly concedes he was combative — he fired Sandy Wilson, author of “The Boyfriend,” and installed a Pinkerton detective at the stage door to bar his entry. Later on, he turned into a “tyrant,” after a series of smashes that caused him to become “besotted with my own gifts.” His career temporarily tumbled with the failure of “Sweet Thursday,” a Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration, and the ill-fated movie version of “A Chorus Line.”
But the overall tale is an inspiring success story, and reaches its height with a multi-Oscar winning 1972 adaptation of “Cabaret,” even though clashes with director Bob Fosse’s “lunatic paranoia” over choice of cameraman precipitated a permanent rift. More brutally authentic than most Broadway bios, this book has a cutting, realistic core and should serve as an eye-opener for anyone who looks at the stage with stars in their eyes.