Below is a manageable list of theater books — recently published or soon to be– that look to be good summer reads. These are mostly memoirs and biographies of fascinating playwrights and performers, as well as a couple of histories, and a quartet of scripts of shows that were either heralded on Broadway or should have been.
The titles are linked to Amazon’s page, where you can learn more about the books and purchase (or pre-order) them.
Biographies and Memoirs
Charles Busch has made a theatrical specialty of portraying old-fashioned leading ladies in stage homages to/spoofs of vintage Hollywood movies. He also the Tony nominated playwright of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and of play Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. This book is not officially published until September 12th, but I’m hoping to get a copy to read during the summer.
Aline MacMahon: Hollywood, the Blacklist and the Birth of Method Acting
John Stangeland chronicles the largely forgotten life and career of Aline MacMahon, who performed in more than 30 plays on Broadway over fifty years. Her pioneering use of a new acting style brought to America from Russia by Konstantin Stanlisavsky―now widely known as the Method―began a revolution on the screen…until Hollywood blacklisted her.
Christopher Byrne’s biography of the prolific playwright, who died at age 81 in 2020, based on extensive interviews with McNally, and featuring interviews with many of those who worked with him, including Nathan Lane, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Audra McDonald, Swoosie Kurtz, John Glover, Joe Mantello, Arin Arbus, and Paul Libin.
Eleanor Powell made her Broadway debut at age 15; less than a decade later, MGM built some of its top-drawer musicals around her unique talents as a tap dancer, including Born to Dance (1936) with James Stewart and Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) with Fred Astaire. Biographers Paula Broussard and Lisa Royère are said to have known her, but also do deep research.
Chita Rivera should be better known nationally. But the part she originated on stage in “West Side Story” went to Rita Moreno; the part she originated in “Bye Bye Birdie” went to Janet Leigh; the part she originated in “Chicago” went to Catherine Zeta-Jones. With this memoir, written with Patrick Pacheco, we get better acquainted with the woman born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington D.C., who recounts her stage business career, working with a slew of talents: Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Hal Prince, Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr, Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine. “I wanted to be considered for a range of roles and for the most part I succeeded.”
He started as an Off-Off Broadway playwright and became a glamorous movie star. Robert Greenfield’s biography makes the case that he brought rock ‘n roll into theater, but spends as much time with his dramatic life, including collaborations with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan as well as tumultuous relationships with Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Jessica Lange.
Dance on the American Musical Theatre Stage A History
Ray Miller, a professor of dance studies and theater arts at Appalachian State University, tells us he has been working on this book since the 1980s, which sounds a little…thorough…for a typical summer read. But it turns out to be a relatively short book, 270 pages of text, in ten chapters, beginning in 1492-1776 and concluding in 1996-2020: Choreography and the Musical Break Open
Ethan Mordden, a prolific and stylish chronicler of both Broadway and gay life, has put together a short but wide-ranging history “from the genteel female impersonators of the 1910s to the raucous drag queens of La Cage Aux Folles, from the men of The Normal Heart to the women of Fun Home, and from Eva Le Gallienne and Tallulah Bankhead to Tennessee Williams and Nathan Lane…”
Tom Stoppard’s play that won this year’s Tony for best play
The musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori that won this year’s Tony for best musical
the play by Suzie Miller that won for Jodie Comer the Tony for best actress in a play
the play by that was scheduled to open on Broadway until finances fell through at the last moment