Happy World Theatre Day! I owe so much of who I am today to theatre. It’s been a consistent source of comfort in my life. I grew up going to shows, and loving them. After all, how could I not, with my first and middle name both being from musicals (Les Misérables and Beauty and the Beast)? I’ve learned so much from theatre; whether it’s from shows itself, or from the people I’ve met through it — things like how the world could be, how to dream big, how to find solace through stories. More than once, I’ve found myself listening to a cast recording and thinking it’d be perfect for a playlist for a certain character from a book, or a ship, or the entire book itself, which gave me the idea of doing a “Books you should read if you love this musical (or vice versa)” post! I’ve been thinking of this idea ever since we first started teatimelit, so I’m super excited to finally sit down with my cup of tea and write this post. Without further ado, let’s get started!
AMELIA UNABRIDGED by Ashley Schumacher / THE MAD ONES
I’ve been following The Mad Ones since it was The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, and I’m so incredibly glad it’s finally got a cast recording, with Krystina Alabado, Ben Fankhauser, Emma Hunton and Katie Thompson! I very vividly remember being on a FaceTime call with Cait (another The Mad Ones fan), and describing the plot of Amelia Unabridged and how it reminded me of The Mad Ones. Both The Mad Ones and Amelia Unabridged are both coming-of-age stories centered around a high school senior grieving over the death of their best friend, and ones that made me weep. You can check out my review for Amelia Unabridged here.
Synopsis for AMELIA UNABRIDGED
Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.
In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.
When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.
Synopsis for THE MAD ONES
18-year-old Samantha Brown sits in a hand-me-down car with the keys clutched in her hand. Caught between a yearning for the unknown and feeling bound by expectation, she telescopes back to a time before her world had fallen apart. As she relives her senior year, we meet Sam’s well-intentioned helicopter mother Bev and her high school sweetheart of a boyfriend Adam, but it’s her painfully alive best friend Kelly that haunts her. Kelly was everything Sam is not – impetuous and daring. She pushed Sam to break rules and do the unexpected. When Kelly is killed in a car wreck, Sam loses not only her best friend but also the part of herself that was learning to be brave. Now, Sam has to make a decision: Will she follow her mother’s dreams for her, or will she summon the courage to drive away from her friends and family into a future she can’t imagine?
THE EX-TALK by Rachel Lynn Solomon / SHE LOVES ME
Ever since reading The Ex-Talk in January, it’s become one of my favorite comfort reads, so I knew I had to pair it with something equally as comforting and cozy! She Loves Me — especially the 2016 Revival — is a musical that I often find myself listening to when I’m in need of some cheering up. Shay and Dominic’s dynamic definitely reminds me of Georg and Amalia’s — there’s something so captivating about coworkers who don’t get along, and end up falling for one another!
Synopsis for THE EX-TALK
Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. But lately it’s been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who’s fresh off a journalism master’s program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.
When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it’s this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it’s not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.
As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.
Synopsis for SHE LOVES ME
Set in a 1930s European perfumery, we meet shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who, more often than not, don’t see eye to eye. After both respond to a “lonely hearts advertisement” in the newspaper, they now live for the love letters that they exchange, but the identity of their admirers remains unknown. Join Amalia and Georg to discover the identity of their true loves… and all the twists and turns along the way!
IF WE WERE VILLAINS by M.L. Rio / BARE: A POP OPERA
I really struggled on which musical to pair with If We Were Villains, but ultimately went with bare: a pop opera. Even as I was writing this post, I wrote and rewrote this section a couple times (Spring Awakening was a very close contender). Both If We Were Villains and bare: a pop opera are ones that I highly recommend to Shakespeare lovers; bare is a Romeo & Juliet retelling that breaks my heart every time I listen (or watch) it, and If We Were Villains also evokes similar feelings.
Synopsis for IF WE WERE VILLAINS
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.
Synopsis for BARE: A POP OPERA
A pulsating, electric contemporary rock musical, bare follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they grapple with issues of sexuality, identity, and the future. Peter and Jason have fallen in love with each other, but Jason — a popular athlete — fears losing his status if he is discovered to be gay. Unpopular Nadia, Jason’s sister, is contemptuous of Ivy, a beautiful girl with a questionable reputation. As the group attempts to put up a production of Romeo and Juliet, tensions flare, self-doubt simmers, and God’s path seems more difficult to find than ever. bare rings with the sounds of youthful repression and revolt. With a unique sung-through pop score, heart-pounding lyrics, and a cast of bright young characters, bare is a provocative, fresh, and utterly honest look at the dangers of baring your soul, and the consequences of continuing to hide.
KISSES AND CROISSANTS by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau / MARIE, DANCING STILL
The minute I read Kisses and Croissants I knew I had to pair it with Marie, Dancing Still. Marie, Dancing Still is one of my favorite musicals, and I’m so fortunate that I got to see it while it was in pre-broadway tryouts. Both Kisses and Croissants and Marie, Dancing Still pay homage to Degas and his ballerinas, and reminded me of my own ballet days.
Synopsis for KISSES AND CROISSANTS
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.
Synopsis for MARIE, DANCING STILL
Marie, Dancing Still is a musical with music by Stephen Flaherty and book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, based on the 1880 statue Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. The musical premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 2014. The original production was directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. The musical was retitled Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical in 2018, prior to the production opening at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle in March 2019. The musical is inspired by the story of Marie van Goethem, a young ballerina who posed for Edgar Degas. Marie became, inadvertently, the most famous dancer in the world. Torn by her family’s poverty, her debt to the artist, and the lure of wealthy men, she struggles to keep her place in the corps de ballet. She is a girl on the verge of womanhood, caught between the conflicting demands of life and art.
Links for Marie, Dancing Still: YouTube
MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid / IF/THEN
I’m a huge sucker for “What If” stories, and both Maybe in Another Life and If/Then are precisely that. The minute I read Maybe in Another Life, I was instantly reminded of If/Then, and the two “universes” that are in it. Both If Then and Maybe in Another Life have a wonderful cast of characters that you just can’t help but be charmed by, and a story that’ll leave you contemplating all the ways your life could be different.
Synopsis for MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE
At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.
Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?
In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.
Synopsis for IF/THEN
With unforgettable songs and a deeply moving story by the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning creators of Next to Normal, If/Then is a fascinating, ambitious and original new musical. If/Then simultaneously follows one woman’s two possible life paths, painting a deeply moving portrait of the lives that we lead, as well as the lives that we might have led.
Elizabeth, a city planner, moves back to New York to restart her life in the city of infinite possibilities. When her carefully designed plans collide with the whims of fate, Elizabeth’s life splits into two parallel paths. If/Then follows both stories simultaneously, as this modern woman faces the intersection of choice and chance.
If/Then is a contemporary Broadway musical about living in New York today and all of the possibilities of tomorrow. With a powerhouse role for a leading lady and rich and complex supporting roles, this show celebrates dynamite talent and the power of great storytelling.
ONE LAST STOP by Casey McQuiston / IN TRANSIT
At first glance, One Last Stop and In Transit are an easy pairing — I mean, both stories are centered around the subway, but what really made me pair In Transit with One Last Stop was this quote by songwriter and lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez: “The show is a love letter to New York and the people who make up New York.” Both In Transit and One Last Stop are love letters to New York, the people who make New York, and the families that we’ve found along the way. You can read my One Last Stop review here.
Synopsis for ONE LAST STOP
For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.
Synopsis for IN TRANSIT
Swipe your metro card and bring Broadway’s first and only a cappella musical to your stage. In Transit is a dynamic show that tells an all-too-relatable story about finding your way (and yourself) in New York City. From Academy Award-winner Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen, Frozen JR.), James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth (Frozen JR.), with vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon (Pitch Perfect, “The Sing Off”), In Transit will have everyone humming and beatboxing along. Jane is an actress juggling auditions and a soul-crushing desk job. Trent and Steven are engaged, but Trent’s mother doesn’t even know they’re together. Ali is picking herself back up after being dumped by her longtime boyfriend. Nate is out of work and doing what he can to get by. Althea is a subway booth attendant who has no time for nonsense. They might not have much in common, but against the backdrop of the bustling Big Apple, their paths cross and affect each other.
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone / ONCE
This is How You Lose the Time War is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, and obviously I had to pick something equally beautifully written for its counterpart. I ended up pairing it with Once, which is based off of the 2007 film, mostly because I couldn’t stop thinking about it in relation to Falling Slowly — or more specifically, the lyrics “and words fall through me/and always fool me” and “you have suffered enough/and warred with yourself /it’s time that you’ve won”.
Synopsis for THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.
Synopsis for ONCE
Guy is an Irish singer and songwriter who spends his days fixing vacuums in the Dublin shop he runs with his father, and his nights playing his music in local pubs. He is on the verge of giving up music altogether when a Czech immigrant, “Girl,” walks into the bar, hears him play and refuses to let him abandon his guitar. As it turns out, she has a broken vacuum cleaner, Guty repairs it, and she pays him in music on a piano she plays in a record shop. Over the course of a week, Girl convinces Guy to believe in the power of his music and his love for the woman who inspired his songs. They scrape together money to record a demo album with a motley crew of bar friends, and their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful—but very complicated—love story.
WHERE DREAMS DESCEND by Janella Angeles / MOULIN ROUGE
When I think of Where Dreams Descend, two musicals come to mind — Moulin Rouge, and The Phantom of the Opera. In fact, with the knowledge that the sequel, When Night Breaks, has been compared to Hadestown, it’s really quite difficult to pick just one pairing for Where Dreams Descend. In the end, I had to go with Moulin Rouge — after all, the camaraderie, the glitz and glamor, and simply the vibes just fit perfectly.
Synopsis for WHERE DREAMS DESCEND
In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Synopsis for MOULIN ROUGE
Enter a world of splendor and romance, of eye-popping excess, of glitz, grandeur and glory! A world where Bohemians and aristocrats rub elbows and revel in electrifying enchantment. Pop the champagne and prepare for the spectacular spectacular…
Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary film comes to life onstage, remixed in a new musical mash-up extravaganza. A theatrical celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and — above all — love, Moulin Rouge! is more than a musical; it is a state of mind.
WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo / WAITRESS
Anyone who knows me knows that Waitress is one of my favorite musicals, and has a special place in my heart. I’ve seen it seven times, and have cried over it every single time. Whether I’m listening to the original Broadway cast recording, the Sara Bareilles album, or the demo album, Waitress always leaves me with my heart full, and incredibly hungry — just like With the Fire on High.
Synopsis for WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.
Synopsis for WAITRESS
Meet Jenna, a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of a way out of her small town and rocky marriage. Pouring her heart into her pies, she crafts desserts that mirror her topsy-turvy life such as “The Key (Lime) to Happiness Pie” and “Betrayed By My Eggs Pie.” When a baking contest in a nearby county — and a satisfying encounter with someone new — show Jenna a chance at a fresh start, she must find the courage to seize it. Change is on the menu, as long as Jenna can write her own perfectly personal recipe for happiness.
YOU’VE REACHED SAM by Dustin Thao / ALICE BY HEART
With a story centered around grief, and what it means to be the one left behind, there’s no way I could pair Alice by Heart with anything other than You’ve Reached Sam. I remember sitting at Newman Mills Theater and sobbing my eyes out, and doing the same after (and while reading) You’ve Reached Sam. If you’re looking for a tearjerker, this one’s it, folks!
Synopsis for YOU’VE REACHED SAM
Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.
Synopsis for ALICE BY HEART
London, 1940. Amidst the rubble of the Blitz of World War II, fifteen-year-old Alice Spencer and her best friend, Alfred, are forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. Sick with tuberculosis, Alfred is quarantined, with doctors saying he won’t make it through the night. In her desperation to keep him holding on, Alice turns to their favorite pastime: recalling the book that bonded them, and telling the story that she knows by heart–the story of Alice in Wonderland.
What follows is a stunning, fantastical journey that blends Alice’s two worlds: her war-ravaged homeland being held together by nurses and soldiers and Winston Churchill, and her beloved Wonderland, a welcome distraction from the bombs and the death, but a place where one rule always applies: the pages must keep turning. But then the lines between these two worlds begin to blur. Is that a militant Red Cross Nurse demanding that Alice get BACK. TO. HER. BED!, or is it the infamous Queen of Hearts saying…something about her head? Soon, Alice must decide whether to stay in Wonderland forever, or embrace the pain of reality if that’s what it means to grow up.
I hope I introduced you to some new books, or new musicals! If you liked this post, or even if you didn’t, please consider donating to organizations that serve the API community, and check out this stopasianhate.org, and these two carrd.cos.