Summer Book Guide 2021
Summer Book Guide 2021

Top Theatre Books to Read This Summer 2021

Huzzah! Broadway is opening up again, along with theatres all around the country and the world. Slowly but surely, audiences are returning to live performances. And as we do, our deep love for theater is stronger than ever. We want to see it, talk about it, listen to it … and read about it. Here are some of the best theater books of the summer. Enjoy!

Lilyville, How Y'all Doing, and Texaco

By Tovah Feldshuh
$29, Hachette Books

How Y’all Doing?
By Leslie Jordan
$26.99, William Morrow and Company

Last Chance Texaco
By Rickie Lee Jones
$28, Grove

The great actor Tovah Feldshuh is a huge, dominating personality on stage. So it’s a revelation to discover that Tovah’s mother was the perfect embodiment of the perfect wife who catered to her spouse and expected the same of her daughter. In this loving memoir, Tovah writes about yearning for her mother’s approval but vowing a constricted life devoted to a husband was not for her. Winning Tonys didn’t get the nod from her mother. But they grew closer when Tovah had children of her own and better appreciated the sacrifices her mom made, and closer still when her mother became a widow and came into her own.

Leslie Jordan has gone viral! After it was explained to the inherently funny actor exactly what this meant, Jordan embraced his newfound fame via TikTok and the like. In a new collection of comic essays, the exuberant Emmy-winning scene stealer from Will & Grace weighs in on everything modern. Watch your backs, Sedaris siblings!

Grammy-winning musician Rickie Lee Jones was the granddaughter of vaudevillians. Clearly showbiz was in her blood. In this career-spanning memoir, Jones documents it all: being a teen runaway, falling in love with fellow bohemian Tom Waits, her dizzying ascent to stardom via Saturday Night Live and the hit song “Chuck E’s in Love,” and the hard work that turned that bright moment into a career of import. While her connection to Broadway stops with her grandparents, it’s only a matter of time before the music of Rickie Lee Jones powers a Broadway show.

Footnotes, In the Heights, and A Wonderful Guy

Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way
By Caseen Gaines
$26.99, Sourcebooks

In the Heights: Finding Home
By Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegria Hudes, and Jeremy McCarter
$40, Random House

A Wonderful Guy: Conversations With the Great Men of Musical Theater
By Eddie Shapiro
$39.95, Oxford University Press

One hundred years ago, the all-Black musical Shuffle Along took Broadway by storm. The making of that groundbreaking, earth-shaking work was brilliantly captured 95 years later with the George C. Wolfe revival. Despite a stellar cast the likes of which we’ll never see again, it lasted all too briefly on Broadway. Happily, Footnotes by Caseen Gaines tells the behind-the-scenes story of that original 1921 show all over again, with depth and perception already receiving critical acclaim.

OK, so you’ve seen the film version of In the Heights. Twice. Relax, you’re not done yet — thanks to this celebration of the musical that first brought Lin-Manuel Miranda to everyone’s attention. It covers the entire history of the show, from its inception to the Tony triumphs and on to the film set, and it’s filled with backstage photos. You have to do something before you try to DM Lin-Manuel asking what his next stage musical will be, so buy it already.

Nice work if you can get it! Writer Eddie Shapiro sits down with 19 of Broadway’s leading men and digs deep for career-spanning interviews. He covers it all with the likes of Jonathan Groff, Ben Vereen, Joel Grey, Norm Lewis, Cheyenne Jackson, and others.

Death of a Salesman, Morningside Heights, Playing the Palace

Death of a Showman: A Jane Prescott Mystery
By Mariah Fredericks
$26.99, Minotaur Books

Morningside Heights
By Joshua Henkin
$26.95, Pantheon Books

Playing the Palace
By Paul Rudnick
$16, Berkley

A mystery, a novel of faded love, and a frothy royal romance are the best works of fiction on tap this summer. In the fourth Jane Prescott mystery, the savvy lady’s maid is thrust into the world of Broadway after her mistress invests in a new show. When a scheming producer is murdered, Jane and a tabloid reporter team up to stop the Great White Way from running red with blood.

In Morningside Heights, a Shakespearean scholar struggles with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Or, rather, his much younger wife struggles to deal with it as the great man fades away. This empathetic novel is poised to be the breakout commercial work for the already critically praised Henkin.

When you need a break from murder and illness, who better to lift the spirts than playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick, of I Hate Hamlet and Sister Act fame? In Rudnick’s latest novel, a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey falls hard for the openly gay, absurdly handsome Prince of Wales. And the dashing Prince apparently falls hard right back! Oh, it couldn’t possibly work out, could it? Not before they overcome hilarious misbehavior, transatlantic misunderstandings, a steely queen, a cooking-show disaster, Jersey in-laws, and a deeply romantic threat of abdication. Rudnick is always funny; here, he’s also romantic to the core.

Battle for the Big Top, Turning Pointe, and American Vaudeville

Battle for the Big Top
By Les Standiford
$28, Public Affairs

Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers Is Saving Ballet From Itself 
By Chloe Angyal
$28, Bold Type Books

American Vaudeville
By Geoffrey Hilsabeck
$19.99, West Virginia University Press

When the circus came to town, everyone smiled. But before the fun began for kids of all ages, the wars took place. Battle for the Big Top brings to life the intense rivalries between Barnum and Bailey and Ringling and all the other circus impresarios, a race to dominate that set off a three-ring circus of competition. Les Standiford tames this tale with entertaining pizzazz.

Journalist and former dancer Chloe Angyal takes a close look at the world of ballet. In Turning Pointe, she documents how a new wave of talent is determined to rescue this art form from both its racist, sexist, hidebound past and stuffy, restrictive present.

Poet and author Geoffrey Hilsabeck tells the mysterious, almost surreal tale of vaudeville. For decades, it dominated America like no other entertainment. And then — so suddenly it took almost everyone by surprise — the show was over. Were there special circumstances or is this a cautionary tale for other art forms? Hilsabeck brings the seedy, magical world to life while unraveling its sudden death.

Macbeth, Letters to Sala

Macbeth: Play On Shakespeare
By William Shakespeare, translated by Migdalia Cruz
$9.95, ACMRS Press

Letters to Sala
By Arlene Hutton
$15, Overlook Press

Shakespeare will always be reimagined. But rarely has it been done so thoroughly and completely as it is right now with the Play On series. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned 39 translations of Shakespeare by a diverse group of voices, running the spectrum in terms of age, experience, as well as gender and racial and sexual identities. Now those plays are being published, kicking off with Macbeth reimagined by Nuyorican playwright Migdalia Cruz.

Letters to Sala is a new edition of the hit drama by writer Arlene Hutton, a playwright who flourishes Off-Broadway and in theatres around the country à la Romulus Linney and Horton Foote before her. Here, Hutton tells a little-known story of the Holocaust, the experiences of those trapped in Nazi labor camps. Their trauma comes to life via the found documents rescued and preserved by a survivor.

Inside Comedy and Don't Applaud, Either Laugh or Don't

Inside Comedy
By David Steinberg
$30, Knopf

Don’t Applaud. Either Laugh or Don’t. (At the Comedy Cellar)
By Andrew Hankinson
$18, Scribe Us

Comic David Steinberg looks at the last 50 years of stand-up comedy. Easy for him to do, since he’s directed some of the best TV, worked with some of the best talent, and killed audiences himself on The Tonight Show some 140 times (not that he’s counting). Steinberg offers insights about the greats both then and now with the sharp eye of a director, writer, and discerning ear of a fellow stand-up. From the lightning bolt that was Lenny Bruce (Steinberg quit rabbinical school after seeing Bruce perform) to his thoughts on the best of today, like Dave Chappelle, and his pick for the all-time best (Jonathan Winters), this is a rare insider’s look with a sense of history.

Steinberg shows us where stand-up came from, while journalist Andrew Hankinson wonders where stand-up will go in the age of raised sensitivity. He starts with Louis C.K.’s controversial return to live stand-up after worldwide shaming for his abusive personal behavior. Then Hankinson works backward to tell the story of the legendary space Comedy Cellar, what it’s meant to stand-ups, and then tries to see if there’s any future for pushing the envelope when people aren’t laughing anymore.

High School Musical The Musical The Road Trip, Between Perfect and Real, and Take Me Home Tonight

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Road Trip
By Melissa de la Cruz
$17.99, Disney-Hyperion

Between Perfect & Real
By Ray Stoeve
$18.99, Amulet Books

Take Me Home Tonight
By Morgan Matson
$18.99, Simon & Schuster Books for Younger Readers

Either you love the idea of something called High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Road Trip or you don’t. We do. In any case, the TV-movie phenom turned franchise turned ongoing series now has a novelized spinoff by legit bestselling young-adult author Melissa de la Cruz. The gang from the latest incarnation is on a road trip (duh, it’s in the title) and they’re headed to a theatrical convention, which sounds pretty awesome. Adventures ensue.

A more personal journey takes place in Between Perfect & Real. Our lead character, Dean, is seen by everyone at their high school as a lesbian. But Dean knows he’s really a trans guy. Getting cast as an unconventional Romeo in a production of Romeo & Juliet is the perfect way for Dean to grapple with who he is and reveal that proudly to the world.

The best vacation of all happens when two pals head to New York City to catch a Broadway show. Kat and Stevie may be totally different in most ways, but they love theater, and so the young women sneak into Manhattan for a night on the town. Things do not go as planned, from a bad show (it happens) to a great party they crash. Everything from lost phones to grumpy cabbies and some much-needed dry cleaning conspire to keep them from reaching Grand Central and the last train out before midnight.

Radical Vision, The First Ten Years, Jayne Mansfield

Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry
By Soyica Diggs Colbert
$30, Yale University Press

The First Ten Years
By Meg Bashwiner and Joseph Fink
$17, Harper Perennial

Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It
By Eve Golden
$34.95, University Press of Kentucky

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry is much more than the author of the brilliant drama A Raisin In the Sun. Radical Vision, the new biography by Soyica Diggs Colbert, gives Hansberry her due as an activist of the first order who made the most of her all-too-short life.

Meg Bashwiner and Joseph Fink met cute in real life one night when they both worked inside the cramped box office of an East Village theatre. Their relationship and their careers flourished, with Meg working as a writer, performer, producer, and tour manager, and Joseph creating the hugely popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale. In this dual memoir, they each recount their first 10 years together, with stories intersecting, colliding, and flatly contradicting one another in telling and amusing ways both large and small.

Pin-up and celebrity Jayne Mansfield enjoyed her big break with a role on Broadway in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? She quickly jumped to film. But a spread in Playboy magazine (the first celeb to willingly do so) and a nude scene in a flick left the busty star with a sultry image she could never Dolly Parton her way out of in the public’s eye. Mansfield definitely made the most of the situation, gamely staying famous just for being famous in a style fans of the Kardashians will recognize. This biography takes Mansfield seriously without ignoring the fun side of her sexy, self-aware status in a prudish but sex-obsessed era.

The Chance to Fly, Roar-chestra, Fearless

The Chance to Fly
By Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
$16.98, Amulet Books

ROAR-chestra!: A Wild Story of Musical Words
By Robert Heidbreder, illustrations by Duyan Preticic
$17.99, Kids Can Press

By Mandy Gonzalez
$17.99, Aladdin

Three fun books for theater-loving kids … or kids you want to turn into theater lovers. Tony winner Ali Stroker of Oklahoma! fame delivers a middle-grade story about Nat, a 13-year-old girl who competes in races with her wheelchair team and loves musicals. True, she’s never seen someone on stage in a wheelchair before, but so what? Should she try out for a part in a new local production of Wicked? And is the lead boy the cutest guy she’s ever seen? Yes and yes.

Keep this on the pianissimo, but not everyone knows what some of those fancy musical terms mean. You know, stuff like glissando and andante and other words that make you want to learn how to play an instrument (or at least eat some gelato). In the picture book ROAR-chestra!, a conductor and his animal players bring these words to life in ways you’re sure to remember. And if the word is fortissimo and all the animals are shown howling and roaring with vigor, no one will blame you for joining in.

Since actress Mandy Gonzalez was in the original cast of In the Heights and currently stars in Hamilton, she clearly knows Broadway. So who better to deliver up a spooky story of a haunted theatre? In the first of a series, 12-year-old Monica Garcia is an understudy for the star of a new Broadway show. Awesome! Except for the string of bad luck plaguing them before opening night, a curse and an apparition that may explain it all. Forget a ghost light: This show needs a ghostbuster — or at least Monica Garcia and her friends in the cast and crew teaming together to put things right.

Character, Act, Breaking It Down

By Robert McKee
$35, Twelve

Act: The Modern Actor’s Handbook
By David Rotenberg
$14.95, ECW Press

Breaking It Down: Audition Techniques for Actors of the Global Majority
By Nicole Hodges Persley and Monica White Ndounou
$36, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Here are three key texts for the artists pursuing theater as a career and the fans who want to understand the work that goes into their favorite entertainment. With Character, legendary teacher and mentor Robert McKee completes his trilogy on writing for the arts that also includes the classic Story and its follow-up, Dialogue. Essential reading for anyone writing for stage or screen or page.

An acting teacher for the past 30 years, David Rotenberg sums up his insights into the craft with this new handbook. He’s taught the likes of Tatiana Maslany, Rachel McAdams, and Felicity and Netflix’s You actor Scott Speedman, who praises Rotenberg for helping him find his voice.

Finally, a groundbreaking work for actors looking to find work. In Breaking It Down, Nicole Hodges Persley and Monica White Ndounou offer nuanced and specific advice on auditioning for actors of the global majority. The global majority? That would be the 80 percent of people on the planet who are women, people of color, and of diverse gender and sexual orientation. In this practical guide, already praised by the likes of Library Journal and Booklist, they show the way for actors to tackle successful auditions without having to abandon their full identity. A timely, passionate, and practical book.

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, contributing to numerous outlets including the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, The Advocate, Parade, Book and Film Globe, and many others. When Michael’s not attending theater, he’s reading about it.