By Michael Giltz
The savvy reader’s favorite website BookFilter.com chooses the best theater books of May just for StageNotes.
By Michael Schulman
$26.99 | Harper
Meryl Streep hasn’t appeared onstage nearly enough in the past few decades. Despite bravura turns in The Seagull for Shakespeare In The Park and other appearances, Streep was stolen by the movies. Happily, Michael Schulman of the New Yorker tackles the life of Streep and he focuses on her early years. That means “Her Again” is filled with rich detail about her work at Vassar and the Yale School Of Drama right up to her explosion into the spotlight. At one point, Streep was filming her supporting roles in Kramer Vs. Kramer, Woody Allen’s Manhattan AND appearing in The Taming Of The Shrew with Raul Julia at night for Joe Papp! Oh, and getting married. Her life – and acting – would never be the same. Schulman didn’t interview Streep but he interviewed many people around her and the result is a book that does delve into her personal life but is mostly about the work.
By Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
$40 | Grand Central Publishing
Well, heck. You can’t get tickets to the show so you might as well get this extensive, making-of coffee table book. It contains the full libretto including footnotes by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a complete history of the ground-breaking musical, behind the scenes info, photos and more. I mean, you’re still listening to the cast album obsessively so at least now you have something to hold in your hands while doing so. (And let’s be honest, while practicing your flow when singing along.)
By Jo Baker
$26.95 | Knopf
Novelist Jo Baker had a critically acclaimed bestseller with Longbourn, a novel that was set in the world of Pride & Prejudice but focused on the travails of the servants. All downstairs with very little upstairs to get in the way. Now she’s moved away from Jane Austen’s fictional universe and stepped into the real life of playwright Samuel Beckett. Baker focuses on Beckett when he arrives in Paris in 1939, just ahead of the Nazis. He joins the Resistance and finds the world he knew and loved shattered by violence and war. Beckett comes alive personally and intellectually, for Baker describes him wrestling with the need to express the alienation he feels onstage in a way that will transform theater forever. It puts flesh and blood on a figure of the arts we all know, tells a passionate private tale of romance and danger and offers insight into the dramatic voice he discovered and why it resonates so strongly today.
By Drew Hodges
$45 | Rizzoli
Savvy readers know the name Chip Kidd: he’s designed some of the best book covers in recent years, the rare artist of the form to become a household name. It’s no surprise he’s written an introduction for this handsome work. Why? Because “On Broadway” explores the last 20 years of theatrical history via the posters and imagery created in tandem with SpotCo, the company founded by author Drew Hodges. From working with the still grieving family of Jonathan Larson on “Rent” to the record-breaking revival of “Chicago” and right up to the selling of the hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” SpotCo has been in the thick of it. For many people, name a show and the first image that pops to mind is the poster. “On Broadway” turns the creation of those posters into a thumbnail sketch of the Great White Way for the past two decades. It’s a reminder that working in the theater can mean a lot more than just performing on stage – anyone with a passion for theater can find a role they’re suited for, from being the “suit” (legal representation) to an artist that captures the spirit of a show in a poster.
By Gary Paulsen
$16.99 | Simon & Schuster For Younger Readers
Reading Gary Paulsen’s survival tale Hatchet is a coming of age ritual for teenage boys. Now the best-selling author has produced an unexpected book perfect for fans of theater. It tells a Breakfast Club-like story of six misfits who are forced to stay in their school’s restroom when a storm unexpectedly strikes. Six strangers…and a stuffed cat. Needless to say, they enter as strangers and leave as friends. While Paulsen is always a draw for readers, what makes this so appealing is the fact that’s he’s included a full stage adaptation at the end of the book so any six kids can read it out loud or perform it together, any time and anywhere. Even a school restroom.
By John Breglio
$29.99 | Applause Books
When a show wins the Tony Award for Best Musical or Best Play or Best Revival, the stage is crowded with the backers, the producers who may have done as little as write a check or as much as conceive a production and shepherd it to success from an idea to script and workshop and Broadway. Okay, sure. But what does a producer do, really? John Breglio answers that question with practical insight into the many hats a producer can wear. He offers up typical problems a producer can face and how Breglio and others solved them over the years, offering vivid examples from his work on shows like the recent revivals of A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls to a career that stretches beyond theater to include film and music as well. It’s a practical guide to the behind the scenes work of a producer, not to mention a de facto memoir stuffed with stories about Michael Bennett, Stephen Sondheim, Patti Lupone and Mel Brooks among many others.
By Rachel Basch
$14.95 | Pegasus
This novel just out in paperback presses a lot of buttons: the intense relationship formed between a therapist and their patient, gender identity, sexuality, death and the transformative power of theater. Noah is a freshman at Baxter College who is struggling with gender issues. He dresses as Leah, gets a part in the school musical and dives back into therapy with Malcolm Dowd, the psychologist who first treated Leah when she identified as a young man. It’s an acclaimed book that suggests non-traditional casting isn’t just a theater convention but more and more the way of the world.
By Tracey Miller with Allison Bergman
$24.99 | Allworth Press
The second edition of this guide to performance is updated to cover the latest in both performance and the industry. It covers everything from warm-up techniques to auditions for professional jobs, offering various levels at every stage, so beginners won’t feel lost and more advanced talent can get right to the heart of the advice. It’s especially suited for those exploring performance as students and teachers, with terminology explained, advice on microphone techniques and the basics of creating a character and finding the subtext of a song. Collaborating with other actors, the uses of YouTube and the best approach to online auditions are all to be found here.
By Jillian Keenan
$25.99 | William Morrow
Roger Ebert opened our eyes to the usefulness of acknowledging sexiness in film criticism. Too often, the erotic is giggled over or mentioned quickly and almost with embarrassment. Ebert demonstrated the appeal of actors is so fundamental to enjoying the arts that ignoring it is foolish. And the sooner you do acknowledge what turns you on, the sooner you can start thinking seriously about why and how it turns you on. Writer Jillian Keenan doesn’t know from embarrassment, as her memoir makes clear. She’s written for countless outlets from the New Yorker to the New York Times, from Scientific American to Playboy. Here Keenan combines her personal journey of realizing and accepting her own identity as a sexual masochist with a close reading of Shakespeare’s plays. The result is genuine insight, from the (obvious) bondage and domination of “The Taming Of The Shrew” to the (less obvious) sexual masochism of Helena in “Midsummer” to the (unexpected) possibility that King Lear is a sexual predator.
By Michael Billington
$26.95 | Guardian Faber
Author Michael Billington is as much a part of the UK theater scene as the National or Judi Dench. He’s lectured on the arts, published biographies of Harold Pinter and Peggy Ashcroft and above all reviewed theater with passion and insight. So yes, while you or I or just about anyone could whip up a list of “the 101 greatest plays,” you or I or just about anyone probably isn’t as informed and ready to create a list worth reading as much as Billington. (He’s been reviewing shows for nearly 50 years and seen about 9000 productions…and counting.) Mind you, it’s not the list that really matters, choices that range from the ancient Greeks up to the present. It’s Billington’s passionate arguments and essays about what he’s selected and why that will inform and enrage and delight. And likely send you off to read a few plays and make your own list in response.