20 New Theater Books for Summer Reading 2020

Below are 20 recently published or forthcoming books about theater, listed under four categories:

Scripts and Play Anthologies;

Biographies and Memoirs

Theater History, Criticism and Reference

Beach Reads (although I personally recommend you read these at home.)

Each title is linked to its page on Amazon where you can learn more, read a sample, and purchase.

Scripts and Play Anthologies

American Utopia
The text from David Byrne’s Broadway show accompanied by more than 150 of Maira Kalman‘s colorful paintings.

The 24 Hour Plays Viral Monologues: New Monologues Created During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Audition Speeches)
The texts of monologues that have been written, rehearsed and presented on Instagram weekly since the pandemic lockdown began. The short plays included in the anthology are by such writers as David Lindsay-Abaire, Clare Barron, Hansol Jung, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Christoper Oscar Peña, Jesse Eisenberg and Monique Moses. The book is pitched as material for auditions, but it is also likely to offer a glimpse at the way we are living now.

Slave Play
Jeremy Harris’s play about three interracial couples engage in sexual/S&M power plays on a Southern plantation as part of Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy. It’s safe to say this was the most talked-about play of the Broadway season.

The Methuen Drama Anthology of American Women Playwrights: 1970 – 2020
The plays included are:
Gun by Susan Yankowitz
Spell #7: geechee jibara quik magic trance manual for
technologically stressed third world people by Ntozake Shange
The Jacksonian by Beth Henley
The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel
In the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks
Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage

Plays Worth Remembering – Volume 1: A Veritable Feast of George Ade’s Greatest Hits

George Ade was famous in his day as a humorist, columnist and playwright, whose plays were produced on Broadway 21 times between 1901 and 1936. His nickname “Aesop of Indiana,” may help explain why, if you’re not from the Midwest, you might not have heard of him. Volume 1 focuses on George Ade’s full plays. (Volume II includes musicals and Hollywood screen plays.)

Biographies and Memoirs

Lot Six: A Memoir

Playwright David Adjmi (The Marie Antoinette , 3C) tells of his journey from a miserable childhood in Brooklyn as a gay kid in an insular religious community, to a new adult identity pieced together from the pages of fashion magazines, tomes of philosophy, sitcoms and foreign films, and practically everyone he meets

Dancing Man: A Broadway Choreographer’s Journey

An easy read that offers a light, slight overview of the six-decade career of accomplished and well-connected theater artist Bob Avian, who worked with Michael Bennett on landmark shows “Company,” “Follies,” “Dreamgirls” and “A Chorus Line,” and then went on to choreograph “Miss Saigon” and “Sunset Boulevard.”

Eubie Blake

A new biography of one of the key composers of 20th-century American popular song, subtitled “Rags, Rhythm and Race.” Together with Noble Sissle, he ccreated Shuffle Along in 1921, generally recognized as the first commercially successful all-black production on Broadway. (A re-envisioned version of the musical was brought back to Broadway in 2016)

This Is Not My Memoir

In collaboration with Todd London, theater director, actor and writer André Gregory tells his story “from wartime Paris to golden-age Hollywood, from avant-garde theaters to monasteries in India”

Ann Miller: Her Life and Career

Peter Shelly’s biography tells the story of the dancer and actor who began her career as a child child acting and accumulated three Hollywood studio contracts, two retirements for marriage, and appearances in film, stage, variety shows, sitcoms. She made a comeback in the stage musical Sugar Babies, earning a Tony nomination as Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

Theater History, Criticism and Reference

Ever After: Forty Years of Musical Theater and Beyond, 1977–2019
Originally published in 2003 as a comprehensive history of the previous twenty-five years in musical theater, on and off Broadway, this new edition of Ever After extends the narrative, taking readers from 2004 to the present.

Flop Musicals of the Twenty-First Century: How They Happened, When They Happened (And What We’ve Learned)

A sort of sequel to Ken Mandelbaum’s “Not Since Carrie,” but Stephen Purdy, a member of the musical theater faculty at Marymount Manhattan College, explores just ten shows: Spider-man Turn Off the Dark, Lestat, Urban Cowboy, The Pirate Queen, Rocky, King Kong, Escape from Margaritaville, Glory Days, Bullets Over Broadway and Dance of the Vampires.

Macbeth in Harlem: Black Theater in America from the Beginning to Raisin in the Sun

Clifford Mason details how African American performers fought for a century and a half to carve out a space for authentic black voices onstage, at a time when blockbuster plays like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Octoroon trafficked in cheap stereotype.

Pal Joey: The History of a Heel

A behind-the-scenes look at the genesis, influence and significance of this 1940 Rodgers and Hart show that upended musical comedy convention.

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future 

A fascinating book by James Shapiro that looks at eight controversial events over two centuries involving Shakespeare, which he calls “defining moments in American history.” Each chapter focuses on a specific year, a specific play by Shakespeare, and specific issues of the day, reflecting long-standing tensions involving race, class, gender, immigration and other fault-lines in American culture.

Tarell Alvin McCraney: Theater, Performance, and Collaboration

A collection of scholarly essays  that consider McCraney’s innovations as a playwright, adapter, director, performer, teacher, and collaborator, who is the author of Choir BoyHead of Passes, the  trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, as well as the play that inspired the Oscar Award–winning film Moonlight

Understanding Tracy Letts (Understanding Contemporary American Literature)

Thomas Fahy views the playwright of August: Osage County, Bug and Superior Donuts, etc. through the lens of disability studies, the conspiracy genre, food studies, the feminist politics of quilting, and masculinity studies.

Beach Reads

Deadly Drama (A Britton Bay Mystery Book 4)

In the latest in a series of mystery novels by Jody Holford, newspaper editor and amateur sleuth Molly Owens takes center stage when it’s curtains for a theater director

Shakespeare for Squirrels: A Novel

In this novel, Christopher Moore turns A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a murder mystery

The Summer Set: A Novel

In this slick new romantic novel by Aimee Agresti, Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, her film career long kaput, Charlie’s latest hijinx gets her sentenced by a judge to community service at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her old flame, Nick, is the artistic director, and where the ambitious young apprentices also have a summer full of sexual tension.

Best Sellers in Books

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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