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 Broadway.com 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 Broadway.com, 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 Broadway.com 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.

"Not Since Carrie"

If you like musicals, and are intrigued by the failures, then this is the book for you. Ken Mandelbaum is detailed and concise in recounting the failures of Broadway musicals through the years. I’ve read it several times over the years; it’s engaging, never boring and quite funny to hear some of the anecdotes and some of the horrifying decisions made by creative teams.

By the way, where has Ken Mandelbaum gone? He stopped writing his column almost two years ago and no one seems to have heard anything from him since. I hope he’s well and off updating this book so we can get the last twenty years of disasters documented.