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George was “restless” in Tinseltown, unable to exert a level of control over productions featuring his music, an advantage he had enjoyed with “Porgy.”

“There’s no necessity to regard the 1920s musical as a dead genre surpassed and buried by the Rodgers and Hammerstein era,” Mr. Starr writes. The author believes some of Gershwin’s Broadway works could be revived successfully today, though one Smithsonian lecturer doubted “Oh, Kay” could be staged again unless Prohibition made a comeback. (So the film “Gone With the Wind” was destined for failure in the absence of another Civil War?)

The author”s scholarly analysis occasionally ventures a bit into the weeds, but it is offset by the context as he captures the sheer joy of an icon whose works enthralled succeeding generations. How else to explain a 1998 Kennedy Center Gershwin centennial celebration at which the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to a man who had been dead for 62 years?

Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer whose broadcast career included 25 years with CBS Radio. His column appears regularly at