Summer reading recommendations for theater fans

Composition with books on the table
Getty Images

Going on a theater-free vacation doesn’t mean you actually need to leave Broadway behind. Below are some new books for theater fans that should make for worthwhile beach reading. 

Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers 

Mary Rodgers, daughter of composer Richard Rodgers and mother of composer Adam Guettel (“The Light in the Piazza”), was herself the composer of the tuneful 1959 musical comedy/fairy tale burlesque “Once Upon a Mattress.” She was also the author of the ultra-successful 1972 children’s novel “Freaky Friday” and a lifelong friend of Stephen Sondheim. Almost a decade  since her passing at age 83, her explicit, name-dropping memoirs (based on her conversations with New York Times theater critic Jesse Green) have finally come to light. Published by  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Grease, Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Stories from the Broadway Phenomenon That Started It All

The raunchy and gritty original production of “Grease,” which opened 50 years ago and went on to become the longest-running show in Broadway history at the time, has since become eclipsed in memory by the 1978 film version and recent revivals that hew closely to the movie. This extensive oral history of the original “Grease” includes contributions from co-author Jim Jacobs, director Tom Moore, original cast members including Barry Bostwick and Carole Demas, and replacement cast members such as John Travolta and Marilu Henner. Published by Chicago Review Press.

I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir

Playwright, actor, and gay rights activist Harvey Fierstein has enjoyed many stage triumphs, including his Tony-winning performance as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” and writing the drama “Torch Song Trilogy” and the books for the musicals “La Cage aux Folles,” “Newsies,” and “Kinky Boots.” In his new memoir, Fierstein offers stories from his career, growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, and living through the AIDS crisis and addiction. Published by Knopf.  

The Letters of Oscar Hammerstein II 

Since his passing more  than 60 years ago, Oscar Hammerstein II has become associated with the sunniness and optimism expressed in “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” and “The Sound of Music.” Using Hammerstein’s unpublished correspondence, archivist Mark Eden Horowitz presents a more shaded and wide-ranging portrait of the iconic lyricist and librettist. Published by Oxford University Press.

The Jukebox Musical: An Interpretive History

The jukebox musical, the most critically-reviled genre of commercial theater, finally receives a serious critical examination of its own. Authors Kevin Byrne and Emily Fuchs delve into the genre’s categories, strengths and weaknesses, predecessors, and best-known examples, most especially “Mamma Mia!” Published by Routledge.

Transforming Space Over Time: Set Design and Visual Storytelling with Broadway’s Legendary Directors

Tony-winning scenic director Beowulf Boritt, whose designs were featured in three Broadway shows last season, delves into his work on six different productions, including the conceptualization and physical creation of the set and his collaborations with major theatrical figures. Published by Applause.

Sondheim In Our Time and His

The recent passing of Stephen Sondheim has led to an impulse to revisit and reexamine his best-known and lesser-known musicals. In this new book, academics explore such topics as sexual identity and politics in Sondheim’s work, in addition to the influence of William College, an abandoned adaptation of “Mary Poppins,” the Actors Studio, and performing Sondheim in the Age of #MeToo. Published by Oxford University Press.