In honor of World Theatre Day (March 27th), which is unsurprisingly one of my favorite days of the year, I thought I would post some books that I recommend to anyone who is interested in theatre!
To quote the great Audra Mcdonald (who is also the actor with the most Tony Award, she’s a total badass), “I found the theatre and I found my home.” I started performing when I was 15 and it completely changed the course of my life. In the span of 3 months, I discovered what was missing from my life: Theatre. It completely revitalized me; it gave me passion and drive, and I experienced joy as I’d never experienced it before.
I (unsurprisingly) read a lot of books about theatre. If any aspect of theatre is mentioned in a book (acting, directing, stage managing, voice performance, dance, etc.) I will definitely be checking it out. With the number of books about theatre that I read, this list could be very long. Additionally this list does not include plays, that’s another list for another time. This list focuses on recommendations for musical theatre and dance, both fiction and non-fiction.
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
*insert the shocked face emoji here* if you’ve spoken to me literally one time then you know that M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains is my favorite book. Since its release in 2017, I’ve read it many times. I read it 4 times in 2020 and have a feeling I’ll read it more this year. I just absolutely love it. It combines all of my favorite things: Theatre, Shakespeare and murder mysteries. It’s a brilliantly written story with so much nuance and specificity – I always discover something new when I read it. Next month I’ll be making an in-depth post about some of my favorite things in the story, but until then all I can say is READ THIS BOOK and then come talk to me so that we can cry about [redacted] together.
Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.
As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.
The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley
As a stage manager, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre spoke to me on many levels. It brought a piece of technical theatre into my quarantine and for that, I am extremely grateful. It was honestly just a fun read. There was over the top high school theatre drama that made me laugh, smile, and sometimes roll my eyes but in the best way. If you’re looking for a fun theatre read, this is definitely a book you should pick up! You can also read my full review of the book here.
Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.
What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.
Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.
Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Yes, I know that this is the longest book known to man, but it is the source material for one of the biggest musicals in the world and if you’re a fan of the musical you must read the book at some point. You get a deeper insight into the characters and their motivations which makes you see the musical in a different light. I’m currently rereading it – okay I’m slightly on pause because I’m not in the mood to read 50+ pages about the battle of Waterloo – and every time I read it, it gives me a deeper appreciation for the musical.
Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged Inspector Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.
That Way Madness Lies edited by Dahlia Adler
It would not be a theatre-related post from me if I did not recommend multiple books that are about Shakespeare. That Way Madness Lies takes some of Shakespeare’s most notable and beloved works and gives them a modern twist from some of the most popular YA authors. This collection is especially great if you’re interested in Shakespeare but maybe find it difficult to connect with his works. You can read my full review here.
Fifteen acclaimed YA writers put their modern spin on William Shakespeare’s celebrated classics!
West Side Story. 10 Things I Hate About You. Kiss Me, Kate. Contemporary audiences have always craved reimaginings of Shakespeare’s most beloved works. Now, some of today’s best writers for teens take on the Bard in these 15 whip-smart and original retellings!
Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining The Merchant of Venice), Kayla Ancrum (The Taming of the Shrew), Lily Anderson (All’s Well That Ends Well), Patrice Caldwell (Hamlet), Melissa Bashardoust (A Winter’s Tale), Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy (Much Ado About Nothing), Brittany Cavallaro (Sonnet 147), Joy McCullough (King Lear), Anna-Marie McLemore (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Samantha Mabry (Macbeth), Tochi Onyebuchi (Coriolanus), Mark Oshiro (Twelfth Night), Lindsay Smith (Julius Caesar), Kiersten White (Romeo and Juliet), and Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (The Tempest).
The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
If you’re a fan of modern musical theatre you most likely know the name Ali Stroker. Ali made Broadway history when she became the first actress in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. She then went on to play Ado Annie in the Tony Award winning revival of Oklahoma! where she won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, again making history. Ali is a huge inspiration in the theatre community and I’m a huge fan. When I first heard that she was writing a middle-grade novel about a girl in a wheelchair who auditions for her first musical, inspired by Ali’s own experiences, I jumped at the chance to read it and was lucky enough to read an ARC. This book brought me so much joy and reminded me that you really can do anything if you put your mind to it. The Chance to Fly will be released in April, 2021.
A heartfelt middle-grade novel about a theater-loving girl who uses a wheelchair for mobility and her quest to defy expectations—and gravity—from Tony award–winning actress Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there’s one thing she’s absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there’s not a cast album she hasn’t memorized and belted along to. She’s never actually been in a musical though, or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair for mobility on stage. Would someone like Nat ever get cast?
But when Nat’s family moves from California to New Jersey, Nat stumbles upon auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked, one of her favorite musicals ever! And she gets into the ensemble! The other cast members are super cool and inclusive (well, most of them)— especially Malik, the male lead and cutest boy Nat’s ever seen. But when things go awry a week before opening night, will Nat be able to cast her fears and insecurities aside and “Defy Gravity” in every sense of the song title?
Kisses and Croissants by Anna-Sophie Jouhanneau
Kisses and Croissants is focused on seventeen-year-old Mia, who is accepted to an elite ballet summer program in Paris. As someone who desperately wants to visit France (specifically Paris) and ballet, when I first heard about this book I was so excited. I read an ARC of it last year and have been obsessed with it ever since. There are lots of scenes where we get to read about Mia training for the performances which I absolutely loved and transported me to the ballet studio with her. If you’re looking for a theatre-themed quarantine escape, this is a great read! Kisses and Croissants will be released on April 6th, 2021.
Seventeen-year-old Mia, an American girl at an elite summer ballet program, has six weeks to achieve her dreams: to snag an audition with one of the world’s best ballet companies. But there’s more to Paris than ballet—especially when a charming French boy, Louis, wants to be her tour guide—and the pair discover the city has a few mysteries up its sleeve.
In the vein of romances like Love and Gelato, this is the perfect summer adventure for anyone looking to get swept away in the City of Love
Spring Awakening: In the Flesh by David Cote
I am a firm believer that Spring Awakening is one of the greatest musicals of the 21st century. The show revolutionized Broadway, and for me, gave me some of the best and most important friendships of my life. I assistant directed a production of Spring Awakening when I was in college, and I won’t lie, I think that the fact that I own this book was a large factor in that choice. This book provides so much insight as to how Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play was turned into a Broadway musical. This book includes promotional and backstage photos, the full libretto, costume and set sketches, interviews with the original cast and so much more. In my opinion, this is the best companion book to a Broadway musical there is.
The official companion to the Broadway musical A heart-pounding score. A heartrending story. A barrier-breaking fusion of morality, sexuality, and rock&roll. No wonder “Spring Awakening” has awakened audiences like no other musical in years.
Based on the infamous 1891 Frank Wedekind play and featuring an original score by Grammy-nominated recording star Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, “Spring Awakening” is a story of uncontrollable emotions and undeniable passions, of first loves and lasting regrets. Haunting and electrifying, the show celebrates the unforgettable journey into adulthood with a power and a poignancy that you will never forget.
“Spring Awakening: In the Flesh” is more than just a companion book — it’s a new opportunity to experience the show. Designed to resemble a vandalized book, this beautiful volume offers more than one hundred photographs, handwritten drafts of hit songs, original sketches of costumes and sets, an annotated, unabridged libretto, and unprecedented access to the hit show, making “Spring Awakening: In the Flesh” a must-have for fans of all ages.
Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers is Saving Ballet from Itself by Chloe Angyal
I love to dance. While my dance knowledge lives in musical theatre and jazz dance, I’ve always loved ballet. It’s so technical and elegant. It’s full of grace and power. Ballet is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful art forms there is. While beautiful, the world of ballet can also be incredibly toxic. Turning Pointe brings conversations of sexism, racism, and misogyny in the ballet world to the forefront of the conversation and discusses how the world of ballet will not continue if these behaviors do as well. This book was incredibly moving and if you’re interested in dance I highly recommend reading it. Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers is Saving Ballet from Itself will be released on May 4th, 2021.
A reckoning with one of our most beloved art forms, whose past and present are shaped by gender, racial, and class inequities — and a look inside the fight for its future.
Every day, in dance studios all across America, millions of little girls line up at the barre and take ballet class. Their time in the studio shapes their lives, instilling lessons about gender, power, the value of their bodies and minds, and their place in the world both in and outside of dance.
In Turning Pointe, journalist Chloe Angyal captures the intense love for ballet that so many dancers feel, while also grappling with its devastating shortcomings: the power imbalance of an art form performed mostly by women, but dominated by male choreographers and ballet masters, the impossible standards of beauty and thinness, and the racism that keeps so many people out of ballet. A new generation of dancers is confronting these issues head on. If ballet is going to survive the 21st century and forge a path into a more socially just future, this reckoning is essential.
Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way by Caseen Gaines
While I knew of the musical Shuffle Along or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, I did not know anything about the origins of the musical and how it was created. I got to read an ARC of Footnotes a little while ago, and once I started it I could not put it down! I was so enthralled with the story and the lives of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, the composers and lyricists. This part of Broadway history is rarely talked about, and I firmly believe that that should change, especially because of how influential Shuffle Along was at the time. This is a must read. Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way will be released on May 25th, 2021.
The triumphant story of the all-Black Broadway musical that changed the world forever
Opening night was going better than any of them could have expected, but the performers knew the rapturous applause was obscuring the truth: there was a good chance someone was going to get killed at any moment, and it was likely to be one of them. When the curtain rose on Shuffle Along in 1921, the first all-Black musical to succeed on Broadway, no one was sure if America was ready for a show featuring nuanced, thoughtful portrayals of Black characters–and the potential fallout was terrifying. But from the first jazzy, syncopated beats of composers Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s inspired musical numbers, New York audiences fell head over heels for Shuffle Along, which was unlike anything they had seen before.
Footnotes is the story of how Sissle and Blake, along with comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, overcame poverty, racism, and violence to harness the energy of the Harlem Renaissance and produce a runaway Broadway hit that launched the careers of many of the twentieth century’s most beloved Black performers. Born in the shadow of slavery and establishing their careers at a time of increasing demands for racial justice and representation for people of color, Sissle, Blake, Miller, and Lyles broke down innumerable barriers between Black and white communities at a crucial point in our history. Author and pop culture expert Caseen Gaines leads readers through the glitz and glamour of New York City during the Roaring Twenties to reveal the revolutionary impact one show had on generations of Americans, and how its legacy continues to resonate today.
Before Hamilton, before The Wiz, and even before Porgy and Bess, there was Shuffle Along, an unforgettable theatrical achievement that paved the way for innumerable Black actors, dancers, musicians, and composers and left an indelible mark on our popular culture and our lives.
“Shuffle Along was the first of its kind when the piece arrived on Broadway. This musical introduced Black excellence to the Great White Way. Broadway was forever changed and we, who stand on the shoulders of our brilliant ancestors, are charged with the very often elusive task of carrying that torch into our present. I am humbled to have been part of the short-lived 2016 historical telling of how far we’ve come, starring as Aubrey Lyles in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed–and happy that Footnotes further secures his place in history.”–Billy Porter, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning actor
Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim
In this house, we are Stephen Sondheim stans first and humans second. He is a lyrical genius. His works are so complexed and nuanced, every time I listen to one of his works I find something new that completely blows my mind. I could listen to his works all day (in fact, I do so very often). Finishing the Hat is a wonderful insight into Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant mind and lets the reader see how he’s created some of the most celebrated works in musical theatre.
Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat—titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from Sunday in the Park with George—Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, he is giving readers a rare personal look into his life as well as his remarkable productions.
Along with the lyrics for all of his musicals from 1954 to 1981—including West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd—Sondheim treats us to never-before-published songs from each show, songs that were cut or discarded before seeing the light of day. He discusses his relationship with his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborations with extraordinary talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Angela Lansbury, Harold Prince and a panoply of others. The anecdotes—filled with history, pointed observations and intimate details—transport us back to a time when theater was a major pillar of American culture. Best of all, Sondheim appraises his work and dissects his lyrics, as well as those of others, offering unparalleled insights into songwriting that will be studied by fans and aspiring songwriters for years to come.
Accompanying Sondheim’s sparkling writing are behind-the-scenes photographs from each production, along with handwritten music and lyrics from the songwriter’s personal collection.
Penetrating and surprising, poignant, funny and sometimes provocative, Finishing the Hat is not only an informative look at the art and craft of lyric writing, it is a history of the theater that belongs on the same literary shelf as Moss Hart’s Act One and Arthur Miller’s Timebends. It is also a book that will leave you humming the final bars of Merrily We Roll Along, while eagerly anticipating the next volume, which begins with the opening lines of Sunday in the Park with George.
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hemmerstein’s Broadway Revolution: by Todd S. Purdum
Musical theatre is what it is today because of Richad Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. They completely changed the rules of musical theatre, and the modern musicals that we know and love would not exist if R&H hadn’t shaken things up the way that they did. Their works are some of the most notable not just in musical theatre, but in popular culture as a whole. Something Wonderful explores how Rodgers and Hammerstein created their hit musicals, in addition to giving insight into what their working relationship was like. While I have not finished this yet, I know that if you’re a fan of musical theatre, you must read this.
They stand at the apex of the great age of songwriting, the creators of the classic Broadway musicals Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music, whose songs have never lost their popularity or emotional power. Even before they joined forces, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had written dozens of Broadway shows, but together they pioneered a new art form: the serious musical play. Their songs and dance numbers served to advance the drama and reveal character, a sharp break from the past and the template on which all future musicals would be built.
Though different in personality and often emotionally distant from each other, Rodgers and Hammerstein presented an unbroken front to the world and forged much more than a songwriting team; their partnership was also one of the most profitable and powerful entertainment businesses of their era. They were cultural powerhouses whose work came to define postwar America on stage, screen, television, and radio. But they also had their failures and flops, and more than once they feared they had lost their touch.
Todd S. Purdum’s portrait of these two men, their creative process, and their groundbreaking innovations will captivate lovers of musical theater, lovers of the classic American songbook, and young lovers wherever they are. He shows that what Rodgers and Hammerstein wrought was truly something wonderful.
Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell
I’ve just started Working on a Song but I can guarantee that I’m going to absolutely love it. Hadestown is a gorgeous musical based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The first time I heard the music I was blown away by the masterful lyrics and gorgeous melodies that brought this ancient myth to life in a new way. This book goes into all of the ways that Hadestown has evolved from its creation in 2006 to it’s Tony Award win for Best Musical in 2019. I know without a doubt that Working on a Song is going to make me love Hadestown even more than I already do.
On Broadway, this modern telling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has been a runaway success. Heralded as “The best new musical of the season,” by the Wall Street Journal, and “Sumptuous. Gorgeous. As good as it gets,” by The New York Times, this show is the breakout hit of 2019, and is positioned to be a longtime Broadway favorite with its poignant social commentary, to the tune of spellbinding music and lyrics.
In this book, Anais Mitchell takes readers inside her more than decade’s-long process of building the musical from the ground up–detailing her inspiration, breaking down the lyrics, and offering thoughtful annotations of Hadestown. Fans of the musical will love this deeply thoughtful, revealing, and open look at how the songs from “the underground” evolved and became what they are today.
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