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Always Magic In The Air

Broadway Revival

By Laura Frankos 

14 Dec, 2023

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Laura Frankos’ 2021 Broadway Revival is a stand-alone time travel novel.

Widowed David Greenbaum has lost his husband to drugs. He deals with his crushing grief by scheming to rewrite history itself. David could not save Ramon, but perhaps, just perhaps, David can save George Gershwin.

Step one: steal a time machine.

Fortuitously for David, time machines exist in the year 2078. Even more fortuitously, his brother Nate is a ripper,” as American time travelers are known1. Still more fortuitously, time travel has been around long enough to determine what happens if one changes the past, on purpose or by accident. The universe does not vanish in a puff of logic. Rather, a side branch of time is created.

Because ordinary time-traveler security precautions did not take a grief-stricken man uses a fake bomb and hostage crisis to steal a time machine” into account, David reaches 1934 without too much trouble. He arrives with ample funds, vast musical and theatrical talent, an encyclopedic if extremely specific knowledge of the era, and (of course) medications unknown to 1934.

Arriving in New York, David inserts himself into the Broadway scene. Personable, talented, and uncannily well-informed about the hits to come, David — now using the name J. D. Taylor — becomes a respected figure in the theatre world. This facilitates his primary goal, providing geniuses like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Vincent Youmans, Jerome Kern, and Lorenz Hart with the means to escape the doom that waits for each of them.

David transforms Broadway history. Despite the minor distractions imposed by World War Two and the Red Scare, David shapes a long golden age for his beloved Broadway. His plan is a complete success … almost.

The problem with using knowledge of the future to change the past is that success means one’s road map of what is to come is increasingly unreliable. David discovers that sometimes saving someone from one death simply puts them on the path to a different one. Also, while David finds second love in the past, his taste in men assures an equally troubled relationship.

Were the above not vexing enough, Nate is searching through time for David and Nate is just as relentless as David.


I should acknowledge that I am not the target market for this book. I find Broadway shows repetitious and musically boring for the most part. I am not so much interested in finding my way Into the Woods as I am in the theatre exit door that will lead me far away from Sondheim. Therefore, I lack the emotional attachment to the novel’s subject matter2 that I suspect has fueled the glowing reviews. 

One cannot stress firmly enough just how laser-focused David’s interests are. He is passionately knowledgeable about Broadway … but only Broadway. David visits Harlem for the gay bars, not the Harlem Renaissance (which seems to be noted indirectly, not by name, and only in the context of how it affects white creators like George Gershwin3). David is keen to integrate Broadway, but his long list of creators to save from premature death is all-white. Sucks to be Billie Holiday.

Nowhere is David’s deep but narrow obsession more evident than in the role played by a well-known target-rich environment that could benefit from concerted effort to rescue artists from certain doom. It does not play a role. World War Two is acknowledged, but in the context of something from which David hopes to protect New Yorkers he cares about. Sucks to be Arthur Bergen4.

It is not that David has never heard of the Holocaust (although neither Holocaust nor genocide appear in the text5, while Hitler is only mentioned by name in the context of the Olympics and as a bully). David is Jewish. If Jews can remember the Maccabean Revolt for over two thousand years, remembering Hitler for a century and a half seems like child’s play. What’s going on here?

The answer may be found in a comment David makes about the Red Scare:

To me, it’s high school history. 

David cares passionately about Broadway, he cares about people who remind him of Ramon. Everyone else is at best a supporting character in a story about which David cares little. The glaring omissions in his mission aren’t an error on the part of the author5. It’s characterization.

As Mrs. Lincoln discovered, a single incident in a performance can be very distracting. That detail aside, this novel kept my interest. Having recently read another novel in which someone rewrites history to suit narrow preferences, I am aware of the degree to which this sort of novel can go awry. As a side-effect of David’s extraordinarily narrow interests, he limits himself to goals realizable by a single person. Even there, he sometimes fails and because he can fail, there is dramatic tension.

As mentioned above, I am not the market for this. However, people who are in the target market (Broadway fans who don’t care about World War II) should consider this novel.

Broadway Revival is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), and here (Amazon UK) but if it is available from Apple Books, Barnes & Noble or Chapters-Indigo, that is a well-kept secret. As well, if the publisher, Swallow’s End Publishing, allows one to buy the novel directly, that too is a well-kept secret.

1: The slang ripper” seems to come from Rip Van Winkle, not the considerably more alarming possibility, Jack the Ripper. Who was probably not a time traveler.

2: Yes, I have in the past deliberately taken part in uncompensated musical theatre and I do currently work in live theatre. Routine contact with the practical realities of theatre, real and amateur, has had shaped my views of live theatre. To quote Billie Eilish:

Things I once enjoyed
Just keep me employed now”

3: Josphine Baker is mentioned twice, once in the context of a put-down.

4: Kurt Weill and Emmerich Kalman are mentioned as having escaped the Nazis, as they did in real life. However, David plays no role in either escape. 

5: I really do need to review that Connie Willis, don’t I?

6: That said, as soon as people realized it was possible to create branch universes, they do it deliberately for research purposes and let’s kill baby Hitler” wasn’t the first experiment. Let’s avert WWI” was. It’s very possible that this butterflied away Hitler’s rise and its consequences. It’s also possible that it butterflied away the Winds of Change, at least in their familiar form.