New York University arts professor, editor and part-time Southold resident Laurence Maslon fell in love with musical theater when he was just 8 years old, after he saw “1776” on Broadway.
“I thought it was the greatest experience of my life,” Mr. Maslon recalled of the hit show by Sherman Edwards. “When I was in the fifth grade, I directed and starred in an 11-minute version of it.”
Mr. Maslon’s longtime appreciation for the art form is the impetus behind his new publication, “American Musicals: The Complete Books and Lyrics of 16 Broadway Classics, 1927-1969,” a two-part box set released in September by the Library of America.
The collector’s set, which includes the books and lyrics of beloved musicals like “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” “My Fair Lady” and, yes, “1776,” took eight years to complete, Mr. Maslon said.
“The first thing it entailed — and that took a long time — was figuring out what was going in the book,” he said. “I think it’s the most extensive project Library of America has ever done.”
The next step was securing the rights to each musical, which was at times difficult.
“Some of the rights holders died in those years [I was working on the set],” he explained. “I had to go their estates.”
It was also important to Mr. Maslon, who published “Broadway: The American Musical” in 2004 and “Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture” last year, that each title meet a set of carefully defined criteria.
“They had to have a performance history of some kind of generally agreed upon excellence and they had to read well,” he said. “And they had to read together well — so that if you read them in order they cumulatively have some sort of hard-to-define quality. They all kind of have to pass the torch to each other.”
Peg Murray, a retired actress who also lives in Southold, called Mr. Maslon’s latest project “terrific.”
“I’m all for it,” said Ms. Murray, who had leading roles in the 1950s and ‘60s Broadway productions of “Gypsy,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cabaret,” all of which are included in the boxed set. “He certainly knows his business.”
Mr. Maslon, who hosts the weekly radio program “Broadway to Main Street” on Peconic Public Broadcasting (88.3 FM), will play a song from each title included in “American Musicals” during his next show, which airs Sunday, Nov. 9, from 3 to 4 p.m. To listen online, visit broadwaytomainstreet.com.