The year 2016 was a boom time for theatre books, with one title topping the Amazon charts (guess who?) and another among the top-selling performing arts books.
Here are Playbill.com‘s picks for the top 11 theatre books of the past 12 months.
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
by Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling, and John Tiffany
The hardcover playscript for the London megahit was published to suggest the eighth in Rowling’s Harry Potter fantasy novels about young witches and wizards battling evil. Set two decades after the time of the original series, the two-part play focuses on the adventures of the school-age children of the now middle-aged Harry and his friends as they travel through time to head off one last threat from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It rose to become the best-selling book of the year in any category on Amazon.com.
2. Hamilton: The Revolution
by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
One of the best-selling performing arts book of 2016 includes, not only the complete libretto of the hit musical, but this tome full of interviews with the creators and stars, profiles of collaborators like Questlove and Ron Chernow, and perspective by Stephen Sondheim and others. It also features a running commentary on the text by Miranda, reproductions of original Alexander Hamilton letters and memorabilia, and dozens of production photos, most of them not seen by the public before.
3. The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway
by Steven Suskin
A chronicle of the musical’s long road to the Imperial Theatre, by author and Playbill columnist Suskin. The book contains Dave Malloy’s original annotated libretto, plus a history on how he adapted it from a 70-page passage in Leo Tolstoy’s monumental novel, War and Peace, and its various Off-Broadway productions before moving to Broadway this fall. The book includes a CD with three songs heard only in the Off-Broadway incarnations, plus two new recordings for the Broadway production featuring the new Pierre, Josh Groban.
4. The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 3
by Jennifer Ashley Tepper
The third volume of historian and producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s Untold Stories of Broadway series, which spotlights eight Broadway houses: the Broadhurst, the Belasco, the Edison, the Lyric, the Majestic, the Schoenfeld, the St. James, and the Walter Kerr. Tepper interviewed more than 200 theatre professionals—actors, directors, producers, stagehands, designers, ushers, and others—to elicit their funniest and most compelling backstage experiences on The Great White Way.
5. I Want to Be a Producer: How to Make a Killing on Broadway…or Get Killed
by John Breglio
Longtime Broadway attorney tells why he gave up safe hourly rates for the gamble of being a producer. His book is equal parts autobiography, textbook, and showbiz tell-all involving clients from his years in the business. The backbone of the book is Breglio’s relationship with director and choreographer Michael Bennett, who left Breglio in charge of his estate when he died in 1987. There are many speculations in show business history, like what really happened between Patti LuPone and Andrew Lloyd Webber during the fateful transfer of the musical Sunset Boulevard from London to Broadway; or the exact terms of the agreement Bennett struck to give members of the original cast of A Chorus Line a share of the profits. Breglio helped craft those deals, and is able to pull back the curtain on their mysteries, setting the record straight.
6. By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O'Neill
by Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb
The Gelbs delve into a “trove of previously sealed archival material” for their latest O’Neill bio, this one about his gritty relationship with the women in his life. The book was published in a year that saw Jessica Lange win a Tony Award for playing O’Neill’s haunted heroine, Mary Tyrone, in the Broadway revival of O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, based on his own mother. This book takes us inside the playwright’s real-life circle of family and friends.
7. Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage
by Robert S. Bader
A detailed history that brings to light the part of the Marx Brothers’ career we know the least about: the hardscrabble early years honing their act in front of live audiences in vaudeville and on Broadway, and how they developed their well-known characters and routines before their arrival in Hollywood. The book covers their professional journey from Groucho’s debut in 1905 to their final live performances of scenes from A Night in Casablanca in 1945.
8. The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built
by Jack Viertel
A how-to guide by the former senior vice president of Jujamcyn Theatres and now the artistic director of City Center Encores! series, the book delves into the nuts and bolts of turning shows like Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, A Chorus Line, Guys and Dolls, and the more recent Hairspray and The Book of Mormon into hits. He explains classic structural concepts like “I-Want” songs and 11 o’clock numbers, but also shows how breaking the rules sometimes leads to success.
9. On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution
by Drew Hodges
Hodges, founder and owner of the industry advertising agency SpotCo, looks at the last 20 years of Broadway history through an unusual lens: the ad campaigns that sold some of the era’s greatest hits to the public through posters, logos, commercials, et cetera. The heavily illustrated coffee table book looks at the sales strategies of SpotCo clients from Rent to Hamilton.
10. Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep
by Michael Schulman
This new biography of the 19-time Oscar nominee (three-time winner) and Tony Award nominee, begins with her early years growing up in New Jersey, attending Yale, playing Shakespeare in Central Park, breaking in on Broadway, her tragic early love affair with John Cazale, and concludes with her first Oscar win for Kramer vs Kramer. Streep was not interviewed for the book; the author relies on friends and co-workers to paint a portrait of “the greatest actress of her generation” just beginning to spread her wings.
11. New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway
by Edna Nahshon
When actor Fyvush Finkel died earlier this year, New York said farewell to one of the last living links to the grand tradition of Yiddish theatre that boomed along Second Avenue from the 1880s to the 1930s with the influx of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe, but then withered as Yiddish speakers moved away or adopted English. This book describes that golden age, and tracks not only what it contributed to American Jewish life, but to Broadway and American culture as a whole.
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