45 Books From 2019 for Theatrelovers
Looking for a good book recommendation? Here are some you might have missed last year.
This past year has been a fruitful one for theatre—and not just on the stage. Dozens of titles have been released diving deep into the makings of Broadway shows, examining the lives of big names in theatre, and giving the novel treatment to stage stories.
As 2019 and the decade comes to a close, let us celebrate the best of written work related to the theatre.
We’ve separated this roundup into six categories: Biographies & Memoirs, Broadway Deep Dives, Children’s Books, Historical Retrospectives, Industry Guides, and Novels. Within the categories, titles are sorted alphabetically.
For even more suggestions, check out Playbill’s 2019 spring roundup and book recommendations from your favorite Broadway artists.
Biographies & Memoirs
Barnum: An American Life, by Robert Wilson
Circus loveers (and fans of The Greatest Showman) won't want to miss this new biography of the Barnum & Bailey Circus co-creator. Take a deep dive into the life of P.T. Barnum from his upbringing in Connecticut through his career as a ringleader (and mayor for a year!) until his death. Available now from Simon & Schuster.
Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge, by Sheila Weller
Best known as Star Wars’ Princess Leia by some and a wise-cracking recovering alcoholic on Broadway by others, this look at the life of the star of stage and screen tackles it all. From Fisher's childhood in Hollywood as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds to finding her own niche in the industry, Weller paints a complete portrait of the feminist entertainer taken from us too soon. Available now from Sarah Crichton Books.
Come Along and Listen to My Life in Theatre, by Martin Markinson
The long-time owner of the Little Theatre (now Helen Hayes) and Tony-winning producer of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy shares tells his inspiring story. From growing up poor, taking big risks, and eventually selling his Main Stem venue in 2015, Markinson's story is a classic tale of the American Dream. Available now from Archway Publishing.
The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando, by William J. Mann
This biography examines one of the most storied performers of the 20th century, using The Godfather and On the Waterfront star’s personal photos and writings. Thanks to the use of Brando’s own archives, the book explores each part of the actor’s life—from his childhood in Nebraska to his triumph on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire to his wild days in Hollywood. Available now from Harper.
Dearest Lenny - Letters from Japan and the Making of the World Maestro, by Mari Yoshihara
Two unique relationships in Leonard Bernstein’s life are revealed through two series of letters from two fans in Japan, one of whom would go on to become his business representative and the other a close family friend. Dearest Lenny highlights how Bernstein's work had a global impact through personal connections. Available now from Oxford University Press.
Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
The Broadway and film superstar picks up where she left off in her first memoir, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, which means starting with her arrival in Hollywood. Andrews tells the story of her meteoric rise to fame in the film industry with all the highs (and challenges) that came with it, including Oscar-winning turns in Mary Poppins and Victor/Victoria, meeting her husband (director Blake Edwards), and becoming a mother. Available now from Hachette.
Jerome Robbins, by Himself: Selections from His Letters, Journals, Drawings, Photographs, and an Unfinished Memoir, by Jerome Robbins and edited by Amanda Vaill
Writings from Robbins’ personal archives give readers a special look into the life of this theatrical titan. A dancer, choreographer, director, and producer, Robbins is known for his work on West Side Story, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, The King & I, and countless others. In addition to journal entries, drawings, and mementos are letters between Robbins and other well-known artists like Leonard Bernstein, Laurence Olivier, and Stephen Sondheim. Available now from Knopf.
READ: 7 Highlights of the Jerome Robbins Exhibit at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center
Joanne Woodward: Her Life and Career, by Peter Shelley
Woodward is most famous for her Oscar-winning performance in The Three Faces of Eve, but the thespian appeared on Broadway throughout her career, including as an understudy in the Pulitzer Prize–winning Picnic, opposite future husband Paul Newman. One half of a Hollywood power couple, whose last onscreen appearance was in 2005’s Empire Falls, this shining star is now introduced to a new generation. Available now from McFarland Publishing.
Ian McKellen: A Biography, by Garry O’Connor
The Tony winner had a lustrous stage career before (and after) he embodied one of the most memorable fantasy characters ever in The Lord of the Rings. This look at McKellen’s life is based on O’Connor’s own interviews with his lifelong friend, whom he met while the pair attended Cambridge University. Available now from St. Martin’s Press.
Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols as Remembered by 150 of His Closest Friends, by Ash Carter and Sam Kashner
The EGOT-winning director (with eight directing Tonys) of Broadway’s The Odd Couple, Spamalot, and more, had a storied career and developed valuable friendships along the way. Nichols is remembered fondly through this collection of essays, poems, and anecdotes from stars like Tony winners Christine Baranski and Nathan Lane, along with creatives such as playwright Tony Kushner and director Diane Paulus. Available now from Henry Holt and Company.
Kathleen Turner on Acting: Conversations about Film, Television, and Theater, by Kathleen Turner and Dustin Morrow
Two-time Tony nominee Kathleen Turner (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) looks back on her four-plus decades of work and shares the lessons she learned along the way. The book dives into some of her famous roles as she discusses, with film professor Morrow, the techniques and skills she developed to become successful in the craft of acting. Filled with her signature wit (and that gravelly voice narrating in your head), this tome is bound to teach aspiring and established actors a thing or two. Available now from Skyhorse.
Me, by Elton John
The Tony-winning composer of The Lion King, Billy Elliot The Musical, and Aida shares his story in his this autobiography. From growing up in London to his family with David Furnish and the chaos that came in between, including a decades-long drug addiction. The “Rocketman” singer shares the ups and downs that come with being one of the biggest rockstars in the world. Available now from Henry Holt & Company.
Out Loud: A Memoir, by Mark Morris and Wesley Stace
As Mark Morris grew up, all he could think of was his dream of becoming a professional dancer. He did more than that after arriving in New York City—including founding the Mark Morris Dance Group to directing and choreographing Broadway's The Capeman—and here, Morris shares the life he’s led as one of America's greatest contributors to dance in the modern era. Available now from Penguin Press.
Ray Bolger: More Than a Scarecrow, by Holly Van Leuven
The consummate performer brought the Scarecrow to life in MGM’s classic film The Wizard of Oz. But his prolific career over five decades provides fodder for the first biography about Bolger. The dancer first found comfort in his tap lessons before running away to repertory theatre and vaudeville on his way to becoming a contracted performer in Hollywood’s Golden Age and a Tony Award winner for Where’s Charley?. Available now from Oxford University Press.
Sam Wanamaker: A Global Performer, by Diana Devlin
This biography of the actor, playwright, and director focuses on his 25-year project reconstructing William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre near its original site. Author Diana Devlin spent 20 years as Wanamaker’s partner, giving readers an insider’s point of view to this theatre visionary. Available now from Oberon Books.
Stages: A Theater Memoir, by Albert Poland
The veteran general manager and producer of more than 90 Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off Off-Broadway productions, has written a memoir about his 43-year career in New York theatre. From Little Shop of Horrors to The Boy From Oz, Judy Garland to Bette Davis, Poland explores lessons learned in the theatre and in life. Available now, self-published.
Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch, by Alexandra Jacobs
Everybody rise for this in-depth look at the Broadway star best known for Company, 30 Rock, and her Tony-winning solo show Elaine Stritch at Liberty. Stritch's story is here in full, from her upbringing in Detroit through her Broadway heyday to her late-in-life second act. Available now from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
They Made Us Happy: Betty Comden & Adolph Green’s Musicals & Movies, by Andy Propst
The writers behind On The Town, Bells Are Ringing, Wonderful Town, and more get the biography treatment in this lookback at their work, careers, personal lives, and the artists they collaborated with—Leonard Bernstein, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, and Greta Garbo among them. Plus, Propst illuminates Comden and Green projects that never made it to the stage or screen, including a musical version of The Skin of Our Teeth and a Busby Berkeley biopic. Available now from Oxford University Press.
Too Much is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood, by Andrew Rannells
A Tony nominee for originating the role of Elder Price in Broadway’s smash hit The Book of Mormon, Rannells has gone on to be one of today’s beloved actors of stage and screen. Originally from Nebraska, this memoir chronicles his coming-of-age, “bad auditions, bad relationships, and some really bad highlights as he chases his dreams in New York City.” Described as honest and hilarious—much like Rannells himself—the book pulls back the curtain on the struggling 20-something experience through Rannells’ specific story, before he became the well-known star he is today. Available now from Random House.
Broadway Show Deep Dives
Come From Away: Welcome to the Rock: An Inside Look at the Hit Musical, by Irene Sankoff, David Hein, and Laurence Maslon
This Broadway musical companion book to Come From Away is sure to be as fun as a Screech-In. With an introduction by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the book includes illustrations, complete music and lyrics, backstage anecdotes, photos from productions all over the world, and even a glimpse at songs that didn’t make it to the stage. Available now from Hachette Books.
Fleabag: The Special Edition, by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
This one is Off-Broadway, but Fleabag took the world stage with productions in New York, London, and its Emmy-winning series adaptation for Amazon Prime—so we’ll allow it here. This new edition of the script for Fleabag features never-before-seen color photos, behind-the-scenes accounts, and exclusive bonus content by Waller-Bridge, director Vicky Jones, and key members of the creative team. Available now from TCG.
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child: The Journey: Behind The Scenes of the Award-Winning Stage Production, by Harry Potter Theatrical Productions and Jody Revenson
Winner of eight Olivier Awards, six Tony Awards, and countless other accolades, the “eighth book” in the Harry Potter series is a play fans cannot get enough of. Go behind the curtain (but not beyond the veil) with photographs, interviews, sketches, notes, and more, to see how this story came to life onstage. Available now from Scholastic.
PHOTOS: Step Inside Broadway’s Lyric Theatre, Home to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
How Does the Show Go On?, by Thomas Schumacher
A third edition of this book by the Disney Theatrical Group President offers a fresh focus on Frozen. Offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what goes on in every aspect of a Broadway show, the book introduces theatre fans to the people, places, occupations, and equipment of the theater world. Using detailed explanations, drawings, and fun facts, the book takes readers on a journey through the St. James Theatre, where Frozen currently resides on Broadway. Available now from Disney.
Mitchell and Trask's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, by Caridad Svich
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is examined through the lens of rock ’n’ roll performance, American musical history, and LGBTQ+ culture. The show, written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, broke boundaries by featuring one of the first genderqueer protagonists on stage. Available now from The Fourth Wall.
A is for Audra: Broadway's Leading Ladies from A to Z, written by John Robert Allman and illustrated by Peter Emmerich
Let this illustrated guide be your celebration of—we mean, your child's introduction to—the most influential female performers to ever hit the Great White Way. From Kristin Chenoweth to Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters to Liza Minnelli, this is a book all kids (and many adults) will enjoy as they learn about and fall in love with the theatre. Available now from Doubleday Books.
Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Cannaday Chapman
A children’s book following the life of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who wrote Fences, The Piano Lesson, and eight others from The Pittsburgh Cycle. The story unfolds in two acts, following Wilson as he grew up and turned into one of the great American playwrights. Available now from Harry N. Abrams.
READ: Did You Know These Major Stars Got Their Start in August Wilson Plays?
Inspiring Stories That Make a Difference, by The Loukoumi Foundation and Come From Away
In partnership with Come From Away, this collection of essays is gathered from children from around the world, including Gander, about making the world a better place. The read is sure to warm the hearts of youngsters and adults alike. Available now from Hybrid Global Publishing.
Me and the Sky, by Beverley Bass
American Airline’s first female captain (and Come From Away character) tells her story of growing up wanting to take to the skies in this picture book. Enjoyable for children, Broadway aficionados, and history buffs alike, this autobiography is for anyone seeking an uplifting and inspirational tale of hard work and dedication. Available now from Alfred A. Knopf Books.
A Moment on the Clock of the World: A Foundry Production, edited by David Bruin and Melanie Joseph
This collection of stories, essays, interviews, and photos examines how the Foundry Theatre company can influence social justice and activism. Contributing authors include Cornel West, Taylor Mac, and Laura Flanders, all of whom have close ties to the 25-year-old experimental performing arts company. Available from Haymarket Books.
The Complete Book of 1920s Musicals, by Dan Dietz
Think you know everything there is to know about musicals from the Roaring ‘20s? Even the most knowledgeable theatre fans will learn something new in this comprehensive encyclopedia. It features 300 musicals from the decade that gave us Show Boat, A Connecticut Yankee, and Hit the Deck! and as well as looks at the minds of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin who came to the fore in the decade. A plot summary, cast list, musical numbers, creative teams, and opening dates, source material, and critical commentary are included for each production. Appendices dive into other shows from the decade, plus discography, filmography and a list of published scripts. Available now from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater, by Mark Larson
New York tends to get all the credit when it comes to theatre, but Chicago nurtures a bustling and vibrant arts scene, with over 250 theatres. Compiled from over 300 interviews, this book takes a look at how theatre evolved in the Windy City thanks to stories from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ed Asner, George Wendt, Michael Shannon, Tracy Letts, and more. Available now from Agate Midway.
In the Long Run: A Cultural History of Broadway's Hit Plays, by Jordan Schildcrout
The book illuminates the history of Broadway through an exploration of its longest-running plays from the past 100 years. From The Seven Year Itch to Torch Song Trilogy, what makes audiences coming back for straight plays? Read this theatrical exploration to find out! Available now from Routledge.
It's Always Loud in the Balcony: A Life in Black Theater, from Harlem to Hollywood and Back, by Richard Wesley
Stage and screen writer Wesley started in Newark before making a splash in the black theatre scene in Harlem and eventually working with Sidney Poitier on films. This is both Wesley’s memoir and a look at the historic works the black community has contributed to theatre from writers like Amiri Baraka to productions like Shuffle Along.... Available now from Applause.
Listening for America: Inside the Great American Songbook from Gershwin to Sondheim, by Rob Kapilow
Kapilow doesn’t just explore what makes these songs catchy and unforgettable—the author dives into how societal issues like race, immigration, sexuality, and cultural appropriation can intertwine themselves into the greatest theatrical masterpieces. Available now from Liveright.
The Show Won't Go On: The Most Shocking, Bizarre, and Historic Deaths of Performers Onstage, by Jeff Abraham and Burt Kearns
Certainly the most macabre book on our list this season, this is for fans of the weird and obscure. With stories like the magician who unexpectedly expired on live TV and the actor who died on stage in a play called The Art of Murder, The Show Won’t Go On is a collection of some of the weirdest occasions in which a performer went beyond the veil. Available now from Chicago Review Press.
WATCH: Take a Tour of Haunted Broadway On This Walking Tour
Broadway Investing 101: How to Make Theater and Yes, Even Make Money, by Ken Davenport
The Tony Award-winning producer of Once on this Island and Kinky Boots has a lot to share thanks to his tremendous success bringing shows to the Great White Way. From choosing the right show to investing the proper amount and managing the risk, Davenport (also a producer on such shows as Spring Awakening, Groundhog Day) navigates readers through the necessary steps to become a profitable Broadway producer. Whether you’re curious about the business or eager to take the leap, this book will intrigue anyone who’s considered becoming a producer. Available now through Amazon Digital Services LLC.
Getting Off: Lee Breuer on Performance, by Lee Breuer and Stephen Nunns
One of the most influential avant-garde theatre artists, Breuer arrived to the New York scene in the 1970s and has remained a staple since. Breuer created works independently, and through his co-founded Mabou Mines company, described as unique, challenging, and exciting. His works include The B Beaver, The Red Horse and The Shaggy Dog Animation. In this book, theatre historian Nunns takes a look at the director-writer-performer’s productions and Breuer’s past interviews to create something that is equal parts autobiography, anthology, and critical insight. Together, it creates an intimate look at one of theatre’s most daring minds. Available now from Theatre Communications Group.
Introduction to the Art of Stage Management: A Practical Guide to Working in the Theatre and Beyond, by Michael Vitale and Jim Volz
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a stage manager? Michael Vitale, who has assisted in productions ranging from the Hollywood Bowl to the Barbican Theatre in London, shares his insights on one of the stage’s most influential behind-the-scenes job. Vitale gives readers a guide to develop the skills of a successful stage manager, whether it’s pre-production or running closing night. Not contained to a singular genre, this book looks at stage management for various types of productions: theatre, opera, cruise ship performance, and dance, to name a few. Available now from Methuen Drama
Rock the Audition: How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals, Second Edition, by Sheri Sanders
Sheri Sanders updates her guide to landing your dream role by adding more inclusive language, personal details, and emotional insight to acting the song. Rock The Audition offers tips and real-life stories to help performers approach their potential roles with a mix of cultural anthropology and music study. Available now from Rock the Audition.
READ: How to Sing for a Rock Musical Audition—and Why All Young Performers Need to Learn How
Waiting in the Wings: How to Launch Your Performing Arts Career on Broadway and Beyond, by Tiffany Haas with Jenna Glatzer
After dozens of auditions and consecutive rejections, Tiffany Haas finally got her break in Wicked as Glinda. Along her journey, she learned a lot about the road to becoming a Broadway star. Now, she shares that knowledge with anyone who has dreams of breaking through onstage. This guide offers advice for auditioning, finding an agent who will then find the best role for you, and everything in between. With insider tips, this book is for anyone who wants to have a career as an actor in theatre. Available now from St. Martin's Griffin.
City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
When Vivian Morris gets kicked out of college, she’s sent to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. Despite making lots of friends, Vivian makes a scandalous mistake, turning her new world upside down. Available now from Riverhead Books.
The Chelsea Girls, by Fiona Davis
Playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use the Chelsea Hotel’s revolving door of creatives to their advantage. Soon, they discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art: it’s politics. Available now from Dutton.
Leading Men: A Novel, by Christopher Castellani
This fictionalized tale of Tennessee Williams and his longtime lover Frank Merlo, set in Italy, explores the pair’s relationship after a mysterious woman changes their lives forever. Available now from Viking.
The Prom: A Novel Based on the Hit Broadway Musical, by Saundra Mitchell with Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, and Matthew Sklar
One of last season’s most queer-friendly shows gets a novelization. The Prom follows Emma, a teenager who just wants to bring her girlfriend to the high school prom. When the PTA steps in, her hopes are dashed. Could a narcissistic group of Broadway actors swoop in to save the day while trying to reach their own dreams of super-stardom? Available now from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Sentenced to Shakespeare, by Iris Dorbian
After getting arrested for assault and battery, 15-year old Leah must serve her sentence by complete a Shakespeare workshop or else risk incarceration. The unusual form of rehabilitation forces the teen to explore the Bard in ways she never imagined. Available now from Milford House Press.