Below is a list of theater books to read in 2023, most of which were published in 2022.‡ Click on the titles to find more information and to purchase these books, grouped under five categories 1. Plays, 2. Memoir and Biography. 3. History and Criticism. 4. Art and Design. This year for the first time, I have added a separate category for one subject: Stephen Sondheim.Books about him have proliferated since his ninetieth birthday in 2020 and especially since his death in November 2021.
Among some 50 titles listed below, I put an asterisk next to a handful of books published in 2022 that I read, reviewed and generally recommend, albeit sometimes with caveats, which are explained in my reviews. Those books on this list that are without an * are either scripts, almost all of which I’ve read and more or less all of which I recommend reading, or books that I’m eager to get to in 2023. (A few of the books have yet to be published; I put their publication date in parentheses.)
There’s no requirement that you read recently published books in 2023. Check out: The 50 Best Plays of The Past 100 Years (all available to read) and 15 Great Books About The Theater, a list I put together (with readers’ help) in 2017. If you have time to read just one theater book in the coming year, I recommend one published in 2020, James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future (My review.) And, if two, I also recommend “Shy” published this year (see under Memoir and Biography below.)
On Stage in 2023
The following are the scripts of plays and musicals (or a related book if the script is not published) either currently on a New York stage or scheduled for Broadway or Off-Broadway in Spring, 2023, listed alphabetically by title. (Those shows whose theaters I don’t specify in parentheses are on, or coming to, Broadway) Many newly produced plays have not yet been published.
A Bright New Boise by Samuel D. Hunter (coming to Signature Theater.)
Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
Crumbs from the Table of Joy by Lynn Nottage (Keen Company)
Downstate by Bruce Norris. (Playwrights Horizons)
Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard
Letters from Max by Sarah Ruhl (Signature)
Life of Pi, the novel by Yann Martel, adapted into a play by Lolita Chakrabarti
Love by Alexander Zeldin (Park Avenue Armory)
Misty by Arinzé Kene (The Shed)
Plays for the Plague Years by Suzan-Lori Parks (the Public)
Prima Facie by Susie Miller
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa Fasthorse
The Wanderers by Anna Ziegler (publication date in March, 2023) (Roundabout)
Newly Published in 2022
Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven By Stephen Adly Guirgis
The Narcissist by Christopher Shinn
Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress
The Vagrant Trilogy by Mona Mansour
The Height of Summer: New Plays from Williamstown Theatre Festival 2015-2021: Paradise Blue by Dominique Morisseau; Cost of Living by Martyna Majok; Actually by Anna Ziegler; Where Storms Are Born by Harrison David Rivers; Selling Kabul by Sylvia Khoury; Grand Horizons by Bess Wohl
2. Memoir and Biography
*Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind A Raisin in the Sun by Charles J. Shields (my review)
Arthur Miller American Witness by John Lahr
Jack in the Box, or How to Goddamn Direct by Jack O’Brien
*Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers co-written by Jesse Green (my review). This was my favorite read of 2022.
3. History and Criticism
Blanche: The Life and Times of Tennessee Williams’s Greatest Creation by Nancy Schoenberger (April, 2023)
The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler
One Public: New York’s Public Theater in the Era of Oskar Eustis by Kevin Landis
4. Art and Design
5. Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim figures prominently in several of the books I list in the other categories — in “Shy,” because he had a lifelong and complicated relationship with Mary Rodgers, and in “Transforming Space Over Time,” because Boris Boritt interviews him, although all his other interview subjects are theater directors with whom he’s worked. And two of the books listed in this category aren’t really about Sondheim — one a memoir, one a biography about people who worked with him. But if Sondheim’s extraordinary influence on musical theater has long been clear, his increasing presence in books is palpable and newsworthy — which is why I’m including on this list some books that I read (or skimmed) and cannot recommend, and others that have yet to be published (some may never be.).
Two books I can recommend without reservation are Sondheim’s collections of lyrics, observations and sights that he put together more than a decade ago, ,”Finishing the Hat” and “Look I Made a Hat,” which are packaged together as *Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (but you can certainly get them separately)
Two recent books that I am happy to recommend are *The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia by Rick Pender
and *Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created ‘Sunday in the Park with George by James Lapine, who interviews Sondheim extensively (my review)
I list others, some of which are aiming for publication in 2023 or 2024, alphabetically by title:
Careful the Spell You Cast: How Stephen Sondheim Extended the Range of the American Musical by Ben Francis, a critical evaluation of Sondheim work with a publication date of March 9, 2023.
Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim by D.T. Max, who uses the outtakes from a planned but never published profile of Sondheim in the New Yorker magazine that Sondheim nixed during his lifetime. (my review)
GEMIGNANI: Life and Lessons from Broadway and Beyond by Margaret Hall. Gemignani has served as musical director for more than forty Broadway productions since 1971, collaborating with Sondheim, but also Andrew Lloyd Webbe Kander and Ebb, Al Menken and more.
Lord Knows At Least I Was There: Working with Stephen Sondheim by Paul Ford, who was a rehearsal pianist on many occasions for Sondheim and an accompanist for Mandy Patinkin, who writes a foreward.
“Matching Minds With Sondheim: The Puzzles and Games of the Master Lyricist.” by Barry Joseph, who is aiming for a publication date of 2024,
“Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy,” Stephen M. Silverman, aiming for an October, 2023 publication.
Sondheim and Me Revealing a Musical Genius by Paul Salsini, who was the founding editor of the Sondheim Review.
Stephen Sondheim, by Dan Okrent, a biography that’s part of the Yale University Press Jewish Lives series (as is Lahr’s book about Arthur Miller above), publication date unclear.
And then there is David Benedict’s authorized Sondheim biography, which was announced in 2014; publication date unclear.
‡ The scripts were mostly published in previous years. Your purchase through some of the links above may generate a small commission, which helps support my work. Many of these books are available to borrow at the New York Public Library and other local libraries.