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Theater books of 2017 to read in 2018

Below is a list of theater books, most of which were published in 2017. Click on the titles to find more information and to purchase these books, grouped under four categories: 1. Scripts, including all the plays that are scheduled to be produced on Broadway in Spring, 2018. 2. Coffee Table Books. 3. Theater History, Biography, Criticism. 4. For Fans and For Fun

Please also check out 15 great books about the theater, a list compiled with the assist of readers of New York Theater
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Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window book published as Platt departs Broadway musical

In his dressing room at “Dear Evan Hansen,” Ben Platt has kept an anonymous letter from a fan: “You stopped me from letting go.” That letter kept him going when “I don’t want to cry, and sing, and scream” in the title role of Evan Hansen in the Tony-winning Broadway musical.

Platt is leaving the musical today, two days before the official publication of “Dear Evan Hansen through the window” (Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 224 pages) the latest coffee table book that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Broadway musical and also contains the entire libretto of the show, annotated.

The new book is similar to last year’s Hamilton The Revolution and The Great Comet of 1812: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway Like the others, the Evan Hansen book is geared for fans such as that anonymous letter-writer, the most fanatical of whom call themselves “Fansens,”   It is an elaborate souvenir book with lots of photographs, individual profiles of each member of the cast and creative team and a tinge of self-congratulations. (It is also printed on paper dyed blue or black, which is dramatic and keeping with the the musical’s color scheme, but makes the words less easy to read.)   But the book also offers intriguing details of the years-long process of putting together a musical from scratch, without even, say, American history or a famous novel to guide its creators.

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Hillary Clinton Says Broadway Helped Her Recover

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In the months after her defeat by Donald Trump in the race for President, Hillary Clinton was so devastated, she writes in her new memoir, “What Happened,” that she had trouble finding relief. Good friends suggested Xanax and recommended their therapists.  Instead, she writes:

“I went to Broadway shows. There’s nothing like a play to make you forget your troubles for a few hours. In my experience, even a mediocre play can transport you. And show tunes are the best soundtrack for tough times. You think you’re sad? Let’s hear what Fantine from Les Misérables has to say about that! By far my favorite New York City performance was way off Broadway: Charlotte’s dance recital.” Charlotte is her two-year-old granddaughter.

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Harold Prince’s Memoir: “Sense of Occasion”

 

Harold Prince’s new memoir, “Sense of Occasion” (Applause Books, $29.99) — a conversational chronicle and candid analysis of his many hits, seminal musicals and occasional flops — includes a last chapter on his new show, “Prince of Broadway,” which opened last night; the book and the musical  were clearly timed to coincide with one another.

They have much in common. Both promise a retrospective of a 70-year career in the theater that is one of the most successful in American history. Both aim for breadth over depth — Prince offers his take on 46 of his shows in the book! — although obviously a 300-page book can go into more detail than a two and a half hour stage show. But if his new Broadway revue tries to recreate the original look and sound of popular musical numbers from shows that Prince produced or directed, his new memoir replicates his past work more directly. The first two-thirds of “Sense of Occasion” – 200 of its 300 pages – is a reprint of his 1974 memoir, “Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-Six Years in the Theatre” with updates entitled “Reflections” after each of the first 26 chapters.
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15 Great Books About The Theater

The 50 best plays and 10 greatest musicals of the last century are all available as books to read, but what are the best books about the theater?

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Giveaway Contest: The Great Comet

Comet 3D Cover Image

Win a free copy of the book “The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway“(Sterling Publishing, 2016), which traces the improbable evolution of the musical, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” that began with an unknown cast in tiny, experimental Ars Nova, an 87-seat Off-Off Broadway house, and wound up at Broadway’s 1,200-seat Imperial Theater, starring Josh Groban.

I describe the book in some detail here. It includes a CD with five of the songs

To enter the contest, please answer the following question:

What is the best book about the theater, and why?

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The Great Comet: The Journey of A New Musical To Broadway. Book

Comet 3D Cover Image

As Lin-Manuel Miranda did with “Hamilton,” so Dave Malloy came up with the idea for his innovative hit Broadway musical, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” while reading a book under the tropical sun. But Malloy wasn’t on vacation; he was working as a piano player on a cruise ship, which gave him enough spare time to plow through Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Both musicals, then, began with a book. Each is now also the subject of a similar elaborate coffee table book, oversized and authorized. (Hamilton’s was “Hamilton the Revolution.”)

The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway“(Sterling Publishing, 2016) traces the improbable evolution of a musical that began with an unknown cast in tiny, experimental Ars Nova, an 87-seat Off-Off Broadway house, and wound up at Broadway’s 1,200-seat Imperial Theater, starring Josh Groban (He leaves July, 2017)

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Theater books of 2016 to read in 2017

Below is a list of theater books published in 2016 (or reissued in paperback this year, or just books I couldn’t resist listing.) I reviewed some of these books or interviewed the authors.  But a few are on my own 2017 reading list.

Click on the titles to find more information and to purchase these books, grouped under four categories: 1. Scripts, 2. Coffee Table Books. 3. History, Biography, Criticism. 4. For Fans.

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Harry Potter Play sells two million copies in two days

Potterbookstack

The script of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two,” currently playing in London, sold more than 2 million print copies in North America in its first two days of publication. The play is described succinctly as  “The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.”

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Barbara Cook Memoir “Then and Now”: From Golden Age Ingenue to Alcoholic to “Living Landmark”

Cover_Barbara CookBarbara Cook, who is now 88 years old – the exact number of keys on a piano – has three distinct stories to tell in her new memoir, “Then and Now” (HarperCollins.)

The first is about a poor, unschooled and seriously naive Southern belle from Atlanta with a sad and weird childhood who escaped to New York at 20 and soon became the reigning soprano ingénue on Broadway, originating roles in several celebrated musicals, including The Music Man.

The second describes her descent into alcoholism, depression and over-eating, which, she writes, made her unemployable for years.

The third rejoices in her overcoming her alcoholism (she’s been sober 40 years) and coming back as a sophisticated cabaret, concert and recording artist, a premier interpreter of the Great American Songbook plus Stephen Sondheim. For nearly four decades now, Cook has been playing intimate clubs and performing in prestigious concert halls to great critical and popular acclaim. She has recorded 45 albums, she tells us, nine of them original cast recordings.

There is a fourth story about Barbara Cook between the lines – how an 88-year-old woman is not only still performing; she’s just written her first book. Yes, she worked with a collaborator, Tom Santopietro, but she’s told interviewers that he just helped organize it; she wrote every word.  If she likes to consider herself “a work in progress,”  the accolades make her sound like an institution. The New York Landmarks Conservancy even designated her a “living landmark.” (“A living landmark? I just want to keep working.”) Still, a landmark deserves respect, even if it may not be what it used to be.

The reverence with which the theater community treats this Tony-winning veteran of 19 Broadway shows will surely allow her to get away with some of the  irreverence in her book. She was disappointed, she writes, by both Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” and Ethel Merman in “Gypsy,” who were both, Cook implies, sleep-walking through their performances. Of Elaine Stritch, she writes: “It was all Elaine all the time. Me me me me.” Cook even enumerates what Cook considers the inappropriate times when Stritch, who had diabetes, gave herself an insulin shot in public. Cook is especially direct and hilarious in recounting her involvement with the notorious flop Carrie. The original producer told the director she wanted the show to resemble Grease. The director misunderstood, thinking the producer meant Greece, and presented it as a Greek tragedy, complete with costumes “with all kinds of classical era drapery.”

Her assessments usually come off as less catty than frank — in part because they are surrounded with encomiums to the talents of the people she’s criticizing, and in part because Cook herself is her most frequent target. Her bluntness extends to a surprising surfeit of four-letter words from this self-declared “dirty-mouthed old lady.”

“Then and Now” would have benefited from some more diligent editing. Any number of facts, comments and trite phrases are repeated again and again. The book also would have proven more generally useful had the author included brief overviews of the musicals she discusses, rather than apparently assuming that all her readers already knew all about them.

On the other hand, professional or would-be professional performers might find some gems scattered about, such as her description of how she mastered the technically demanding aria “Glitter and Be Gay” in the original production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”: She used self-hypnosis to calm her nerves, and unconsciously (she realized later) relied on her memory of listening as a teenager to a recording of Fay Bainter as Lady Macbeth opposite Orson Welles: “It was real yet highly emotive.”

“Concentrate on what you’re trying to say with this song; the words have to matter,” she says to the students of her master classes at schools like Juilliard. In a couple of pages in which she recounts the advice she gives, she observes “Oftentimes students come in and they just want you to know right away that they can SING in capital letters.They come on like singing machines. Then, slowly, slowly, slowly, I get them to be human beings again. It almost always works. It’s quite exciting and very moving.”

“Then and Now” is probably best appreciated as an accompaniment to the score of Barbara Cook’s life — her singing. Indeed, the plan was to build a one-woman show Off-Broadway around the memoir, directed by Tommy Tune, with Cook singing her signature songs and reading excerpts adapted by James Lapine.  That show was canceled — the official and polite version is that it is being postponed. But there was a tacit acknowledgement that it’s unlikely ever to happen, when Cook agreed to a less taxing arrangement —  three cabaret appearances at Feinstein’s/54 Below (on June 21, July 21 and July 23.)  Barbara Cook hasn’t been able to walk unassisted for about a year now (something not mentioned in her memoir.) She has health issues that have slowed her down. But, as she says and the world knows, she can still sing.


Click on the cover to find out more about the book, or to purchase it.

The anecdotes that Cook recounts in the 2016 video below are almost verbatim in her memoir.