If A Is For Audra is a crash course in Diva Studies, writer John Robert Alllman and illustrator Peter Emmerich’s upcoming follow-up is a syllabus for showbiz.
That’s not to say that B Is For Broadway won’t be filled with divas. Ethel Merman, Jennifer Holliday, Kristin Chenoweth—and yes, Billy Porter counts—grace the cover; get an exclusive look below. But the new book will also celebrate leading men (like fellow cover stars Lin-Manuel Miranda and Joel Grey) and the folks out of the spotlight, opening doors to the whole process of putting on a show. Let’s start at the very beginning: A is for Auditions, B is for Backstage, C is for Choreographers, and so on.
“We’re now also profiling so many wonderful people behind the scenes,” Emmerich says. “So it’s giving kids the opportunity to say, ‘Well, that’s something I’d want to do,’ or, ‘I’d find that interesting.’”
As in A Is For Audra, Allman and Emmerich exude enthusiasm for the theatre through witty couplets and vibrant caricatures, respectively. Off the page, they’re just as obsessed. While discussing B Is For Broadway with Playbill, Allman found organic ways to share his thoughts on the Mame movie and nerd out over Shirley MacLaine going on in The Pajama Game (spoiler: U is for Understudy). Emmerich, in the absence of live theatre during the pandemic, says he lives in each page, drawing on cast recordings and extensive research for inspiration. That shared passion provides the perfect backdrop for their collaboration.
“The best thing you can do as a marketer is market something that you care about. Something you’d want to talk about with people anyway and get them hyped,” says Allman, who worked at Broadway advertising agency SpotCo before landing at HBO (he hasn’t, as the adage goes, quit his day job). “I feel that way when I write about theatre.”
He’s succeeded in getting his audience “hyped,” anecdotal evidence would suggest. A Is For Audra has become a popular gift to new parents from Broadway enthusiasts (the book’s hashtag is paired with #guncle more than once on Instagram). “Every so often,” Allman says, “Someone will tag me in a video of their three-year-old repeating these people’s names over and over again. Their imaginary friend is now Audra McDonald. Their favorite diva is Patti LuPone. They’re trying to pronounce ‘Bernadette Peters.’”
The books are just the first step in ensuring young theatre lovers are carefully taught. “It’s designed to be an overture to more learning,” Allman puts it. “You’re getting a taste of these people, these shows, these stories.” Studies from the Broadway League indicate that kids who attend shows are more likely to become regular theatregoers as adults. But with theatres dark at a formative time for these kids, it’s books like these—and perhaps the resulting YouTube spirals—that could ensure a future generation of Broadway devotees.
“It’s the gateway,” Emmerich says. “We made the gateway drug for Broadway.”
B Is For Broadway will be released October 12 via Doubleday Books for Young Readers; pre-order here. A portion of proceeds from each purchase will go to The Actors Fund.