Putting it Together: Books That Pull Back the Curtain on Broadway

It’s a funny thing, time: it keeps moving and I keep running after it. While November was last month, I missed out on participating in the last half of one of my favorite yearly features: Nonfiction November. It’s hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at Julz Reads, and Leann at Shelf Aware with the goal of celebrating all of those wonderful nonfiction books we’ve read since last year. While it’s officially over for 2020, you can still use the link-ups on their sites to discover some great posts by people who understand punctuality.

Week 3: (November 16-20) Be the Expert (Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

The third week’s theme is all about showing off expertise, which was frightening to consider. What exactly am I an expert in? Not time management, I admit, but … I like knitting. I like birdwatching. I even like elaborate puzzles because I have a very exciting life. However, I wouldn’t say I’m an expert when it comes to any of those things.

So, what do I really know?

Growing up in a rural area, I didn’t have much access to live theatre. I’d sometimes see commercials for touring shows that were too far away to attend and, occasionally, a filmed performance popped up on PBS. The best, though, was the Tony Awards—the whole theatrical celebration that got me excited about Broadway in the first place.

But the Tony Awards only happen once a year, so I needed a lifeline to get me through the other 364 days. So I did what I usually do: I read. A lot. Books. Articles. Reviews. Blogs. Fan forums. If anything even mentioned theatre, then I would read it. Before I ever experienced my first professional show, I knew stories about everything from David Merrick’s publicity tricks for turning flops into hits to the wild atmosphere surrounding The Wild Party. Not only did I subside on these Broadway tales, but I’d tell them to anyone who would listen.

In a way, I became a small expert on Broadway anecdotes—stories of backstage drama, production woes, casting could-have-beens, and so many more. And now, I’m sharing five books that’ll start you on your journey to becoming a master of these true narratives, yarns, and occasional urban legend.

THE SEASON: A CANDID LOOK AT BROADWAY by William Goldman

Often referred to as the essential book for Broadway fans, The Season chronicles the 1967-68 Broadway season while giving a backstage look at classic shows like Hair and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—and more than a few flops, too.

Goodreads

Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel

Journalist and critic Michael Riedel regularly offers up all the offstage drama that happens on Broadway for his column in the New York Post. Here, he focuses on its more gossipy history from the 1990s through the millennium, detailing everything from the tumultuous casting process for Sunset Boulevard to the sudden theatrical rise of Disney.

Goodreads

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Berger

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was either going to reinvent the idea of what a musical could be or it was going to be a completely disaster. Fortunately, the show’s book writer has offered up details on how the show was put together along with his thoughts on what happened and what went wrong.

Goodreads

the untold stories of broadway by Jennifer Ashley Tepper

Every theatre has a history of shows—stories that have filled their stages with performers and their seats with audiences. No one might know that better than Jennifer Ashley Tepper. A producer and writer, she has crafted a series of oral histories and stories that examine every Broadway theatre with the help of the people who have worked in them.

Goodreads

the whorehouse papers: A CANDID, HILARIOUS, AND SOMETIMES HYSTERICAL OUT-OF-SCHOOL ACCOUNT OF THE JOYS, SORROWS, CONFUSIONS, AND SMALL MURDERS ATTENDANT TO THE MAKING OF A SMASH BROADWAY MUSICAL THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS by Larry L. King

In 1974, writer Larry L. King wrote an article for Playboy detailing the Chicken Ranch, a brothel in La Grange, Texas that had come under sudden public pressure to close. While that might not seem like the ideal plot for a musical, Peter Masterson and Carol Hall thought otherwise and, in 1978, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas opened on Broadway. Here, King pulls from his journals to recount the rocky process of writing and producing the show. The result might be the funniest book ever written about musical theatre.

Goodreads

6 Comments

  1. I love theatre, but I haven’t read too many nonfiction books about it! Song of Spider-Man sounds really interesting, since the show is so infamous. Thank you for the recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

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