When it comes to artwork, everyone is a critic. Art speaks one language – yours – and if you don’t like it, you just don’t like it. Period. Truth be told, most artists don’t really care what you think; art is both a subjective and personal statement.
However, this rule does not apply to illustrators, cartoonists or art for hire. The client and the art director need to approve of the final artwork. The artwork is a collaboration. A delicate balance of making everyone happy.
I have been an art director for 45 years, and have worked with many artists. When it comes to portraits, I am very picky. I am very kind. No exaggerated features such as noses, chins or eyeballs are acceptable. The color palette is discussed beforehand, thus avoiding the dreaded inevitable conversation, “I love the illustration, BUT …”
My editor asked for my opinion of the artwork for the children’s picture book A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z. To backtrack a bit, we had an earlier conversation about a cover illustration of Cher. I had seen the Cher Show. I loved it. I had strong feelings about not wanting to see another exaggerated cartoon of Cher. I wanted to raise her up and honor her for her talent and extraordinary longevity as a performer.
All of the leading ladies of Broadway are dear to my heart. To see any of these women on stage is a magical experience. And that is the exact way A Is for Audra is presented to the reader, young or old. The images glow on the page, tickle the imagination and show all of the details of an ultimate party dress. (Apologies to Donna Murphy and Elaine Stritch). The witty, rhythmic text takes on a toe-tapping beat, and before you know it, you are feeling like a Broadway baby, pounding 42nd Street and dreaming of being in a Broadway show. I dare anyone not to get up and dance, snap a selfie, or at least deliver your best Carol Channing. (Maybe that's just me). But you will be inspired.
Written by John Robert Altman, the book is delightfully illustrated by Peter Emmerich. The art is a dreamy interpretation of the actress, the role, the costume and the stage. The images are engaging and quite fun. I smiled at every page. The essence of the character is enhanced in subtle ways. Of course Liza Minelli has huge eyes, but they are loving and adorable eyes. Eyes that you can fall into and wonder what the world looks like peering from behind them. One can't help but compare these characters to princesses living happily ever after, but also to experience the fierce, strong talent and power of the actors behind the roles. It is not necessarily the likeness that matters, as much as the sheer energy of the facial expression, the iconic, recognizable costumes that create that Broadway magic. Picture Patti Lupone (as Evita) without the dress and balcony. All components are part of a bigger picture, supported by other cast members.
A new generation of theatergoers need to be introduced to these leading ladies. A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z is a great beginning.
Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ages 3-7, $18.99.