Although the emphasis in Broadway, The Golden Years: Jerome Robbins and the Great Choreographer-Directors, 1940 to the Present is on Jerome Robbins as possibly the most renowned of the Broadway choreographers-directors, Agnes de Mille was considered the first of the "modern" choreographers. Prior to the beginning of her illustrious career, those responsible for the dance numbers in Broadway musicals were called dance directors. Their task mainly was to direct the lines of pretty chorus girls whose numbers were usually extraneous to the show's plot.
Ballet dancer George Balanchine and a few other master dancers worked on musicals in the 1930's, but de Mille's choreography for Oklahoma revolutionized dance in Broadway shows by making it an integral part of the plot. Although she went on to further triumphs, her style was gradually considered to be outmoded, and the feisty Jerome Robbins succeeded her as the "king" of choreographers.
Known for his collaborations with Leonard Bernstein and other prominent composers, Robbins ascended to the director's chair for such smash hits as West Side Story, Gypsy, Funny Girl and Fiddler on the Roof. Inevitably, others emerged to contend for the crown: edgy Bob Fosse (Sweet Charity, Cabaret), elegant Gower Champion (Bye Bye Birdie, 42nd Street), Michael Bennett (whose most famous show was A Chorus Line) and, more recently, the tall Texan Tommy Tune (Nine, My One and Only).
Robert Emmet Long makes a convincing case for the prominent position of each of these artists in the further development of the Broadway musical. Although his prose is somewhat flat at times, his research into their lives and working styles is impressive, and a concluding epilogue surveys the up-and-coming contenders.