SHELF LIFE: Books by Chenoweth, Suskin, Plummer, Laurents, and About Irving, Terry, Kander & Ebb

News   SHELF LIFE: Books by Chenoweth, Suskin, Plummer, Laurents, and About Irving, Terry, Kander & Ebb's new monthly look at theatre-related books pages through the memoirs of Kristin Chenoweth and Christopher Plummer, and checks out newly published books about songwriters John Kander & Fred Ebb, director Arthur Laurents and legendary orchestrators.


A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages
By Kristin Chenoweth with Joni Rodgers
Published by: Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 14, 2009
List price: $25, hardcover
Kristin Chenoweth originated the role of Glinda in the hit Broadway musical Wicked, won a Tony for 1999's You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, and captivated television audiences as late-in-the-series White House spokesperson Annabeth Schott on "The West Wing" and as Olive Snook in "Pushing Daisies," for which she was Emmy-nominated. She will also star in the new NBC drama "Legally Mad." And now, with the publication of her autobiography, the busy actress can add author to her impressive résumé. As the title of her book implies, behind Chenoweth's journey from small-town beauty queen to Broadway star is her firm belief in family and her strong personal faith. Or, as the publisher notes, the star reflects "on what it takes to stand firmly on a foundation of family and faith — while wearing a hot pair of Jimmy Choo platform sling-backs." For more about the actress-singer, visit her website at

Mainly on Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story, and Other Musicals
By Arthur Laurents
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: March 10, 2009
List price: $25, hardcover; 192 pages
If anyone knows about the demands and rewards of creating a Broadway musical, it's the man whose five-decades-long career includes his collaboration on two of the genre's finest: playwright, director, screenwriter Arthur Laurents. In September 1957, West Side Story, with a book by Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins, opened at the Winter Garden Theatre. It was still playing its final performances on Broadway when his next hit, Gypsy, with book by Laurents, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sondheim and direction and choreography by Robbins, arrived at the Broadway Theatre in May 1959. Astonishingly, in the 2008 and 2009 Broadway seasons, the 91-year-old Laurents, revisited both shows (albeit reversing the order), this time directing productions that will define each of them for a new generation of theatregoer. According to publisher, in "Mainly on Directing" Laurents "writes in rich detail about his most recent production of Gypsy, [which opened March 27, 2008, at the St. James Theatre and won Tony Awards for Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines], how it began as an act of love, a love that spread through the entire company and resulted in a Gypsy unlike any other. And about his new bilingual production of West Side Story," which opened March 19, 2009 at the Palace Theatre, with In the Heights' creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's Spanish translations of several Stephen Sondheim lyrics and sections of Laurents' libretto. Also included in this candid journey through his career are Laurents' accounts of some of the other musicals he directed — I Can Get It for You Wholesale, starring a very young Barbra Streisand and Elliott Gould, Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle, in which both Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick made their musical theatre debuts, and the groundbreaking La Cage aux Folles, the first mainstream Broadway musical with a gay theme. This portrait of an artist working with other artists is, according to the publisher, "a book profoundly enriched by the author's two loves, love for the theatre and love for his partner of 52 years, Tom Hatcher, who shared and inspired every aspect of his life and work."


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The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators & Orchestrations
By Steven Suskin
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: March 2009
List price: $55, hardcover; 672 pages; 10 halftones
Robert Russell Bennett, Don Walker, Jonathan Tunick. These are some of Broadway's top orchestrators. If you're a musical lover, chances are you are familiar with their names, but perhaps are not so familiar with the nature of their contributions to the shows you love. What is a Broadway orchestrator? Who are these talents whose work is so vital to the success of a musical? What do they do? These and other questions are answered in an entertaining and meticulously researched new book from's "On the Record" columnist, Steven Suskin. The book — according to the publisher, "the first ever to examine the careers of Broadway's major orchestrators" — is divided into three main parts: a biographical section focusing on 12 major theatre orchestrators, with briefer sections devoted to arrangers and conductors; a discussion of the art of orchestration; and a show-by-show listing of more than 700 musical with details such as who orchestrated what accompanied by commentary from people involved with the productions. "The Sound of Broadway" is chock full of intriguing facts and juicy anecdotes and offers new insight into the world of musical theatre.

A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families
By Michael Holroyd
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: March 2009
List price: $40, hardcover; 640 pages; 8 pages of color illustrations and 16 pages of black-and-white illustrations
"Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the 19th century." So gushed a beguiled George Bernard Shaw about one of the most celebrated actresses of the Victorian Age. Terry and the eminent actor–manager Henry Irving, according to publisher notes, "reinvented Shakespeare for a new century and created London's famed Lyceum Theatre." They toured to great success in America and, for their time, led scandalous private lives that brought them global attention. These two theatrical giants, along with their sometimes brilliant, often troubled descendants, comprise the ensemble cast of this epic new biography by Sir Michael Holroyd, whose previous works include acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey.

Kander and Ebb
By James Leve
Published by: Yale University Press
Publication Date: Feb. 2, 2009
List price: $40, hardback; 384 pages, 7 black-and-white illustrations & 45 examples of their work
Pop Quiz: What composing team had the longest collaboration in Broadway history? If you answered Rodgers and Hammerstein, you'd be forgiven, but you'd be wrong. It's John Kander (composer) and the late Fred Ebb (lyricist). From Cabaret to Chicago to The Rink to Kiss of the Spider Woman, the Kander and Ebb style, a unique blend of darkness and light, graced the Broadway stage with brilliant music and wise and witty words for over 40 years. In this first study of their partnership, notes the publisher, James Leve, associate professor of musicology and coordinator of music history at Northern Arizona University, draws on personal papers and numerous interviews to examine Kander and Ebb's artistic accomplishments as individuals and as a team, their contribution to the concept musical and the unique nature of their collaboration. The book is another entry in The Yale Broadway Masters series, which aims to introduce both general readers and students to major figures in Broadway theatre.


In Spite of Myself: A Memoir
By Christopher Plummer
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: Nov. 4, 2008
List price: $29.95, hardcover; 656 pages, Illustrated
In this rollicking, engaging memoir, two-time Tony Award winner Christopher Plummer regales the reader with a life well lived and establishes that one of the theatre's most gifted actors is an equally masterful storyteller. He begins with his childhood in Montreal and proceeds through a professional career marked by work with and for many of the greats (Judith Anderson, Katharine Cornell, Eva Le Gallienne, Julie Harris, Laurence Olivier, Tyrone Guthrie), a personal life as a seemingly irresistible magnet to women (an account of having sex at a party with a leading lady while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with her husband is proof positive) and his role as drinking buddy to the likes of good friends Jason Robards, Jr. and George C. Scott. Along the way he draws vivid pictures of everyone from Olivier to Edward Everett Horton to Lenny Bruce!

PLAYS OF NOTE Almost An Evening
By Ethan Coen
Published by: Three Rivers Press
Publication Date: April 7, 2009
List price: $13, trade paperback; 80 pages
Academy Award–winning screenwriter Ethan Coen, who along with his director brother Joel Coen has been responsible for some of the most intriguingly odd and mesmerizing moviemaking of the past 20 years ("Blood Simple"; "Raising Arizona"; "Fargo"; "O Brother, Where Art Thou?; "No Country for Old Men") is also a gifted playwright. His play Almost An Evening premiered at Off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company in January 2008 and is now in print for the first time. As described by the publisher, the three one-act plays that comprise Almost An EveningWaiting, Four Benches and Debate — offer "hilarious takes on hell in our everyday lives, hell in the hereafter, and the dueling gods of the Old and New Testaments." Like his famously idiosyncratic film work, Almost An Evening is provocative and highly entertaining.


The God of Carnage: A Play
By Yasmina Reza (Author), Christopher Hampton (Translation)
Published by: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: April 28, 2009
List price: $13, trade paperback; 80 pages
Yasmina Reza's play is currently enjoying an engagement on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (billed as God of Carnage). Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden star as two sets of parents who convene to deal with the unruly behavior of their children. As the play's official website ( describes the action, "At first diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the meeting progresses and the rum flows, huge tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving more than just their liberal principles in tatters." The play, with translation by Christopher Hampton, was named the year's best new comedy at the 33rd annual Olivier Awards.

An Oresteia
Translated by Anne Carson
Published by: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: March 31, 2009
List price: $27, hardcover; 255 pages
In "An Oresteia," notes the publisher, Aiskhylos' Agamemnon, Sophokles' Elektra and Euripides' Orestes have been combined by poet, translator and essayist Anne Carson to evoke a "wholly new experience of the classic Greek triumvirate of vengeance." Carson's marriage of modern language with the traditional form of Greek tragedy makes these ancient tales of power, revenge and redemption accessible to today's audiences while simultaneously unveiling the essence of the original plays. "An Oresteia" is currently being presented at Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company in two parts. Part 1 — Agamemnon and Elektra — is directed by Brian Kulick & Gisela Cardenas, and Part 2 — Orestes — is directed by Paul Lazar and associate directed and choreographed by Annie-B Parson. The limited engagement runs through April 19. For more information, go to


reasons to be pretty
By Neil LaBute
Published by: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: June 2008
List price: $14, trade paperback; 152 pages
Though Neil LaBute's play was published last year and was presented at Off-Broadway's Lucille Lortel Theatre in the summer of 2008, it is just now getting a Broadway production — opening at the Lyceum Theatre on April 2. reasons to be pretty is another of LaBute's darkly comic, frequently brutal examinations of male/female relationships, male bonding and un-bonding and, most provocatively, our obsession with physical beauty and body image. As described by the publisher, "In reasons to be pretty, Greg's tight-knit social circle is thrown into turmoil when his offhand remarks about a female coworker's pretty face and his own girlfriend Steph's lack thereof get back to Steph. But that's just the beginning. Greg's best buddy, Kent, and Kent's wife, Carly, also enter into the picture, and the emotional equation becomes exponentially more complicated. As their relationships crumble, the four friends are forced to confront a sea of deceit, infidelity, and betrayed trust in their journey to answer that oh-so-American question: How much is pretty worth?"

Check out the shelves of theatre books that are available now at Playbill


Judy Samelson gathers information on theatre-related books, including published plays, for's monthly Shelf Life column. Write her at

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