By Norman Matthews
Musical Theatre types love to gossip, right? They are camp and fun and rarely shun the limelight? I tussled with obvious generalisations in reviewing this autobiography from Broadway dancer, Norman Mathews . Are they fair? Accurate? Honestly, I fought them. I tried countless other opening paragraphs. All to no avail. Why? Because Mathews undeniably comes across as a camp, fun lover of chat who, despite protestations, seems to rarely avoid the spotlight. This is far from a criticism. It’s what makes the particular book such an entertaining read.
The Wrong Side associated with the Space, A Existence in Songs Theatre covers all aspects of Mathews’ life in illuminating, if slightly exhausting, detail. Your reviewer is a sucker for New York history so I particularly enjoyed reading of Sicilian grandparents who emigrated there in 1907. As you’d expect, we then get parents plus, ultimately, baby Norman. All at breakneck speed. No musical theatre or celebrity gossip yet, but there is enough quality in the writing in order to keep readers entertained. As the first chapter closes, all of us feel we know, and like, the nervous young boy that the concerned mother sends off to dancing lessons.
School, sexual awakening and conflict with the dominant Catholic Church all follow. We also learn about family holidays, disappointing trips to Broadway and discovering, if not quite approving associated with, rock & roll. Mathews shares eye-opening experiences of teenage psychiatric intervention too. Homosexuality was ‘treated’ with some hair-brained schemes in the particular 1950s. The bout associated with boxing with your father, anyone? No, really.
Mathews’ writing never loses its charm but , like an elderly relative with a drink or two inside them, it perhaps becomes too heavily reliant on family anecdotes. Things definitely change in tone at the book’s mid-point, however, due to a good unflinching account of a suicide attempt worth signposting in this era of trigger warnings. As you expect, this has a major impact on the narrative as well. After a turbulent time finding himself while a young gay man, Mathews eventually becomes an editorial assistant for Dance Magazine plus, finally, a professional dancer.
The promised existence in music theatre now arrives fully, and rather wonderfully, formed. Readers will recognise The particular King and I, Showboat , West Side Story and countless some other shows Mathews joins as a jobbing dancer. He tells of ballet companies too, being rejected at a Bob Fosse audition, as many dancers surely were, plus bumping into stars such as Joan Fontaine and Tallulah Bankhead. All the particular while, he brings alive a vivid supporting cast of additional dancers, singers, actors, directors, producers, boyfriends and roommates. This second half of the book certainly has more to offer musical theater fans – surely the author’s intended audience – than the particular more personal first.
In his final few lines, Mathews analyses himself, mercifully with more sophistication than the psychiatrist he met early in life. He asks in case his “carpet, this tapestry of a life, reveals a hodgepodge associated with insignificant events or a coherent, focused, satisfying work of art? ” I would argue that, very satisfyingly, it does a bit of both.
Written by: Norman Mathews
Published by: Eburn Press
The Wrong Side of The Room: A Life within Music Theatre is available in paperback and e-book now, through all good booksellers.