Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education Of An Unintentional Director
The elegantly written "Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director," a memoir from the masterful theater director Jack O’Brien, could -- and probably should -- be subtitled "Working Up To It."
Known to throngs of theater goers for directing and producing Broadway musicals, including "The Full Monty" and "Hairspray" among many other important shows from drama to opera, and for serving as the Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego from 1981 through to the end of 2007, Mr. O’Brien’s book stops on the eve of these accomplishments.
O’Brien’s intimate, reflective, and pleasantly gossipy account of his apprenticeship and coming of age as a director in the early years of America’s regional theater movement, and his awakening to his homosexuality and coming out as an openly gay man makes for riveting reading, especially because the author is apt with a pen.
For many readers, however, it’s going to feel like Gypsy Rose Lee handing them the musical "Gypsy" as her autobiography, thoroughly engaging but not baring the main parts.
O’Brien covers interestingly his years as a student at Michigan where he began a working relationship as lyricist to songwriter with (the abundantly hip hop sampled) Bob James of smooth jazz fame. That friendship stuck, as did many relationships that proved beneficial to the young artist’s growth. O’Brien comes across as a lovely person to know, kind-hearted, an extremely hard worker on theater projects, a confidante to be trusted, and having a quick wit he uses to the advantage of whatever community of artists he’s involved with at the time.
The primary working relationship explored in the book, beyond those close friendships with Helen Hayes, Eva Le Gallienne, Uta Hagen, John Houseman, and Rosemary Harris, is as a mentee to the irascible and brilliant director/actor Ellis Rabb (whose startlingly good revival of "You Can’t Take It With You" brings O’Brien to Broadway from regional theater). O’Brien learns an enormous amount of theater skills from Rabb and, maybe as importantly, how to duck.
The 338-page account from Jack O’Brien made for many hours of absorbing reading which makes this reviewer doubly hopeful that "Jack Be Nimble" will have a sequel taking us through his mature years as a theater great.