Friday, September 18, 2009

Where have you gone, Ken Mandelbaum?

While I first really learning about theatre, I came across a couple of columnists that I began to read regularly because their columns were informative, well-written and endlessly entertaining. They were Peter Filichia and Ken Mandelbaum. I started reading them in early 2001 when I discovered that there were several Broadway sites. Once I read a column by each writer, I went back and devoured their archived writing. I learned more in those hours than I did in any classroom (ask my musical theatre professor, he enjoyed having me there as his fact checker).

Peter Filichia continues his "Diary" on Theatermania Monday, Wednesday and Friday (and I highly recommend checking it out). However, Ken Mandelbaum's column on stopped abruptly in early 2006 and very little has been heard from him. Granted, it's not surprising as he left the website as it was shifting away from promoting news and criticism and becoming more about selling tickets. Ken would offer the latest Broadway gossip, casting rumors as well as review major musicals and cast CDs, DVDs, etc. When he wasn't doing any of the above, he was recalling shows of years past, with laser precision in his detail about everything no matter how obscure. Shortly after Ken's departure, the website came up with its insipid "Word of Mouth" reviewing system.

Aside from his column, he also penned two books: A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett and probably his most substantial contribution to date: Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Musical Flops. The latter covers major flops from 1950 through 1990/91 and manages to be very informative and funny while informing us why these shows failed. Lord knows we've have enough in the last 18 years to warrant an update on his behalf.

When I was discovering Patricia Routledge on the original cast album of Darling of the Day and a live recording I'd heard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I sent him an email asking him about her career. He sent a detailed reply; practically an entire column's worth of information in the body a simple email. That was a year and a half ago, and he's yet to surface in any format or venue since. His disappearance from, being as abrupt and unannounced (I still recall going back periodically to check to see if he had come back) left a certain void in online theatrical journalism, such that he's even warranted his own place in the All That Chat FAQ. His older columns were archived and available, but they appear to be harder and harder to find as keeps reinventing itself.

Hopefully, he's busy taking care of that update of Not Since Carrie and will be resurfacing soon. So Ken, if you read this, please come back - you're still greatly missed.


John said...

Ken was the best musical theatre critic I ever read - knowledgeable, insightful and someone who really loved the art form. I miss his writing and hope he will resurface again soon.

eddie said...

I absolutely adore Ken's writing. I think I pick up my copy of Not Since Carrie at least once a month and just read random passages. It's one of my all time favorite books.

I really miss his columns. I too hope he returns soon.

GavinR said...

I too am seeking Mr. Mandelbaum and hoping he's updating or creating a second volume of his survey of flop musicals. There are so many fascinating ones that he neglected to include. Of course there are so many he couldn't possibly cover them all in one volume. Also, a British flop musical book would be great! Twang!, Moby Dick, and others abound..