"GENIUSES OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE: The Composers and Lyricists," by Herbert Keyser, Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 277 pages, $29.95

There are few things theater lovers love more than knowing more random trivia than fellow theater geeks.

If you've got one such theater geek on your Christmas list, "Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre: The Composers and Lyricists," by Herbert Keyser, may be just the ticket to help have an edge over his friends.

During a chat by phone while packing for a cruise from Buenos Aires to Cape Town, South Africa, where he'll lecture on musical theater, Keyser joked that "sometimes I have to work as much as 45 minutes up to three times a week. It's rough."

"The question I always get asked more than any other is, 'Who do you like best,' " he said of the composers. "And it's impossible to choose."

Keyser developed a love of theater as a teenager.

"When I was 16 or 17, I decided that Broadway needed me to be the greatest star of all time," he said. "After five years of minimal progress, something terrible happened … I got accepted to medical school." Then he added with a laugh, "my family was so thrilled."

A practicing OB-GYN, Keyser never lost his love of theater or his love of writing. Over the years, he's written books on the health care system, travel, cooking and now, theater.

"These people (composers) are just that, people," he said. "They've been involved in alcoholism, drug addiction, horrible marriages and love affairs. Some of them were not very stable people."

Keyser adds that with writing duo Kander and Ebb ("Cabaret" "Chicago"), for instance, "these two were so nice and were such nice guys, they would bore people in my presentations."

But then there's composer Jule Styne ("Funny Girl"). "What a great composer, but he was completely addicted to gambling," Keyser said. "He was constantly in jeopardy of being murdered, in constant debt.

"He once asked his attorney what would be the best way to handle it, and his attorney said, 'Suicide?' "

With a foreword written by Ted Chapin, the president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, Keyser's book, which runs $29.99, is filled with great photos, lists of major works and includes everyone from Lerner and Loewe, to Kurt Weill; George Gershwin to Andrew Lloyd Webber. It also includes many stories to help bring these heroes of the stage to life.

e-mail: [email protected]