Summer Book Guide
Summer Book Guide

The Best New Theater Books of Summer 2023

We’re still recovering from the excitement of the Tony Awards and all those wonderful performances. (Keep ‘em coming next year, Tony!) Summertime used to be a chance to catch our breath — no school plays, less community theater as families take vacations, and so on. Not this year! Back to the Future: The Musical is coming to Broadway, along with a host of other shows we’re excited for. More shows are touring all over the country. And just like all that great theater, great books about theater keep coming out too. Here are the latest titles you’ll want to devour while waiting for the lights to dim and the curtain to rise!

Summer Stage
By Meg Mitchell Moore
$30, William Morrow & Company

Starring Adele Astaire
By Eliza Knight
$18.99, William Morrow & Company

By Nicole Cuffy
$27, One World

Want some family drama spiced by dreams of stardom? Just imagine parents and children, brothers and sisters, all tossed together in Rhode Island for the summer in author Meg Mitchell Moore’s latest bestseller. Amy is a failed playwright teaching high school English and overseeing the drama department. Amy’s brother, Timothy, is a movie star back in town to direct a play for the locals. Her daughter, Sam, is a child star turned TikTok influencer who’s skulked home in a cloud of secrecy and does not want to talk about it. Oh, and Timothy’s superstar ex-wife is the star of the play! Sit back and have fun.

You know Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels. Now get to know Adele Astaire, the sibling who partnered with Fred to become one of the most famous stage acts in the world, but longed for family and children. She crosses paths with Violet Wood, a young dancer burning with all the ambition Adele is slowly losing. It’s a fascinating look at what it takes to get to the top and stay there, all amid the looming backdrop of a world war.

Just like Adele Astaire, Cece Cordell is at the peak of her career. She’s the first Black ballerina to become the principal at the New York City Ballet. But Cece is plagued by imposter syndrome despite — or really because of — all the adulation she receives. Determined to ground herself in reality, Cece risks it all to make sense of her absent father, deal with her mother who dismissed Cece’s ambition, and track down the missing brother who was the only one who always lifted her up.

Creating Back to the Future: The Musical
By Michael Klastorin
$40, Abrams

A long-running hit in London, Back to the Future: The Musical is coming to Broadway. This lavish celebration tells its journey to New York City, from the early out-of-town tryouts and the dreams of the West End upended by the COVID pandemic, to, finally, its huge success. The songs, the sets (the entire theatre looks like it’s encased in a Flux Capacitor!), and the support of director Robert Zemeckis and the movies’ storied cast and crew are all captured here. Indeed, star Roger Bart wrote the foreword, Bob Gale wrote the Introduction and Zemeckis wrote the Afterword. And, of course, Back to the Future: The Musical directed by John Rando begins previews at the Winter Garden Theatre June 30.

Juliet: The Life and Afterlives of Shakespeare’s First Tragic Heroine
By Sophie Duncan
$30, Seal Press

Mozart in Motion
By Patrick Mackie
$30, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Why Beethoven
By Norman Lebrecht
$29.95, Pegasus Books

Three new books explore the impact and importance of theater and classical music.

In the U.K., Sophie Duncan’s exploration of Juliet — Shakespeare’s first tragic heroine — received across-the-board acclaim for the way Duncan probed how our perception of Romeo’s partner in love has changed over the centuries. From demure object of desire to a heroine with her own agency and everything in between, Juliet is both a complex creation and a reflection of the changing role of women.

In Mozart In Motion, poet Patrick Mackie dashes through Mozart’s life and times, illuminating his music with insights into how it related to the culture of Mozart’s time and the tumultuous goings-on of the composer’s life. It will have you dashing back and forth between musical passages and the book with delight.

Certainly Norman Lebrecht wants you to deeply explore the music of Beethoven. In this work that will open up new avenues of exploration even for the Schroeder in your life, Lebrecht chooses 100 different Beethoven pieces, describes them with care and passion, and then explains what makes them special. He brings the music of Beethoven to life with a deep understanding that is formidable and thrilling.

By Vashti Harrison
$19.99, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A delightful picture book by best-selling author Vashti Harrison tells the story of a little girl with big dreams of being a dancer. The cover alone will win you over. Happily, the images and words inside are paired in a beautiful pas de deux that all picture books aspire to but few ever achieve.

The Spectacular
By Fiona Davis
$28, Dutton

Rehearsed to Death
By Frank Anthony Polito
$16.95, Kensington Cozies

The Murder Wheel
By Tom Mead
$26.95, Mysterious Press

You love theater? And you love mysteries? You’ve come to the right place. In The Spectacular, it’s 1956 and Marion Brooks has just escaped the possibility of a stultifying marriage to become a dancer with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. But the Big Apple is rocked by a series of bombings, and Marion soon finds herself working with a quirky young doctor who’s developed a psychological profile of the terrorist … and believes Marion could be the perfect bait to lure him out. Anonymous bombings in public places really did terrify NYC for many years, and author Fiona Davis makes the most of it with this glamorous thriller.

The stakes are much lighter in Rehearsed to Death. Sure, it involves murder, but the egomaniacal director in Detroit to oversee a play and make everyone’s lives miserable won’t exactly be mourned by anyone he belittled. Still, maybe it was a bit much to strangle him to death with his own cashmere scarf. So Peter and JP — the playwright and his handsome partner who was starring in the play — team up to solve the crime. That is, when they’re not making sure the show goes on and overseeing renovations of their latest home for their reality show called Domestic Partners. Yes, it’s a cross between The Thin Man and Extreme Makeovers. Enjoy.

Finally, it’s England in 1938, right on the cusp of war. But conjuror turned sleuth Joseph Spector doesn’t have time for international politics. He must deal with lawyer Edmund Ibbs and Scotland Yard’s George Flint while trying to solve not one, not two, but three mysteries: the murder of a man sitting at the top of a Ferris wheel with his wife, a corpse that mysteriously appears onstage during the act of a fellow illusionist, and the murder of a person found inside a locked dressing room. It’s the second mystery in a series that debuted with the novel Death and the Conjuror, which Publishers Weekly named one of the best books of the year.

Staging Luther: Four Plays by Han Sachs
Translations and Contributions by Annis N. Shaver, Ian A. Macphail-Fausey, Clara G. Hendrickson, and Robert Kolb
$32, Fortress Press

Private Lives
By Noël Coward; introduction by Simon Stephens
$14.95, Methuen Drama

Finally, it all begins with the words. Without a play or the book, music and lyrics of a musical, people would have nothing to perform. Here are two notable new reminders of this. Staging Luther is a collection of four plays by Hans Sachs, a contemporary of Martin Luther. They’re translated into English for the very first time, along with his most popular work, the poem “The Wittenberg Nightingale.”

And you can never go wrong with Noël Coward. Acclaimed for his light comedies and amusing tunes, over the years Coward has been revived and reappraised again and again as we discover, to our surprise, the darkness and complexity that made his plays far more than mere entertainments. Methuen Drama is reissuing a clutch of his titles with new introductions, including Private Lives with an appreciation by playwright Simon Stephens. What better way to celebrate theater than to read the words of Coward and bring them to life in your mind? I mean, you have to do something while waiting for the next show to begin!

And don’t forget about these recent picks:

The Best Theater Books for May 2023: Gays on Brodway, Shakespeare Was a Woman, and Hamilton & Me

The Best Theater Books for April 2023: Shakespeare’s Book, Chita: A Memoir, and Enough: Scenes From a Childhood

The Best Theater Books for Spring 2023

Michael Giltz is the cohost of the weekly entertainment podcast Showbiz Sandbox. He covers all areas of entertainment as a journalist, critic, feature writer, and analyst. Giltz has written for numerous outlets, including the New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and The Advocate. When Michael’s not attending the theater, he’s reading about it.