Whether you’re laying on the beach or curled up on your porch, nothing says summer quite like indulging in a new book. While there’s plenty of escapist novels to dive into, the staff at TMTP is sharing some of our favorite musical theater books of all-time in case you’re missing the bright lights of Broadway this season. Click on the book image to view/purchase on Amazon.
Bridie Carroll: I read this book years ago as I was and still am a huge Sondheim fan. This is a great read that takes the reader through each of his shows talking about the very real and complex subjects and characters that he is known for. If you are someone who loves dissecting lyrics, song and story, this is a great book for you. It’s like taking a peek inside the mind of your favorite genius.
Joanna May Cullinan: I have a special interest in how social and cultural history has shaped musical theater and vice versa. Tracking the way women’s roles onstage have shifted in tandem with women’s history is fascinating and not at all coincidental. Everything from a show’s message and themes down to a character’s voice type has been dictated by the times. Think of some of the best Act One finales: “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “And I Am Telling You” and “Defying Gravity.” Each musical written decades apart, but the image of a strong woman ending on a high note (literally and figuratively) is practically an archetype. This book digs deep into the highs and lows of this phenomenon.
Jodi Maile Kirk: I frequently tease that my greatest teachers are the three S’s – Shakespeare, Suess and Sondheim. The lyrics of Stephen Sondheim reflect the paradoxical nature of living life to the fullest. His lyrics capture the mystery and madness of love, loss, and art. His lyrics lay the emotional foundation for my beliefs and values as well as my hopes and dreams. Pouring over his words, soaking up images and hearing faraway melodies while remembering specific moments from some of my favorite shows or just reflecting on my own journey is a gift. Paging through songs and examining the brilliance of one of musical theater’s most vulnerable and acutely human story tellers and lyricists is soul expanding indeed.
Heather Meeker: I’m especially fond of this title. In 2017, it’s how I introduced the musical to my monthly book club – a group of wise women, most 15-20 years older than me. We’d read the Ron Chernov biography the month before, so they knew the source material and were intrigued by Lin Manuel-Miranda’s vision. Hip-hop and rap wasn’t their style, but they gave it a shot. They loved the essays about the musical’s development and followed the lyrics as we played songs from the cast recording. Discussing the concept of “rap battles” with them is a memory I will cherish until my dying day!
Debbie Schinker: I don’t generally read books about musical theater, but this one was a gift to my daughter and I ended up reading and loving it! I thought it was so down-to-earth that I gave it as a High School graduation gift to a seriously focused aspiring Broadway performer I knew.
Bill Rudman: As TMTP continues its long-overdue exploration of the film musical, this book couldn’t come at a better time. I have many books on the topic, but Basinger’s, which came out at the end of 2019, is in a class by itself. It’s voluminouus — and needs to be, providing information not only on important (both well-known and rarely seen) films, but details on specific scenes that open up the world of the artists’ intentions. It is lavishly illustrated with many never-before-seen photos; it is loaded with scholarship; but it is also eminently readable, guiding us through the history of the form and how and when it became more and more ambitious. If I have a quibble, I wish she had given more space (and recognition) to the songwriters, but that’s been done often enough. Her passionate account takes us into the very center of hundreds of films, our frustration being that we won’t live long enough to see them all.
Nancy Maier: This is an incredibly well-researched and insightful biography of Sondheim. We get a thorough look at his upbringing and personal life through the author’s many private conversations with him. She also interviewed his friends, family, collaborators, and even lovers. So we get a great understanding of what drives Sondheim as a man and as an artist. It is so readable I couldn’t put it down! Lots of backstage tidbits, and a look at his lyrics and working methods. He is a fascinating and brilliant man.