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Seven new books on musical theater: from Hamilton to Oklahoma! [reading list]

The musical is perhaps one of the easiest forms of theater to introduce new audiences to, and with theaters around the world anticipating opening their doors again in the coming weeks and months, the joy of the curtain lifting in a real-life setting can be shared once again.

Whether you’re new to the stage or eagerly counting down the days, explore some of our recent titles looking behind the scenes of musical theater.

1. Dueling Grounds: Revolution and Revelation in the Musical Hamilton edited by Mary Jo Lodge and Paul R. Laird

Hamilton opened on Broadway in 2015 and quickly became one of the hottest tickets the industry has ever seen. Dueling Grounds combines the work of theater scholars and practitioners, musicologists, and scholars in such fields as ethnomusicology, history, gender studies, and economics in a multi-faceted approach to the show’s varied uses of liminality, looking at its creation, casting philosophy, dance and movement, costuming, staging, direction, lyrics, music, marketing, and how aspects of race, gender, and class fit into the show and its production.

2. The Big Parade: Meredith Willson’s Musicals from The Music Man to 1491 by Dominic McHugh

In the 1950s, Meredith Willson’s The Music Man became the third longest running musical after My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music: a considerable achievement in a decade that saw the premieres of other popular works by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe, not to mention Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls and Bernstein and Sondheim’s West Side StoryThe Music Man remains a popular choice for productions, with a new revival starring Sutton Foster and Hugh Jackman sure to be one of the highlights once Broadway reopens.

The Big Parade

3. From Camelot to Spamalot: Musical Retellings of Arthurian Legend on Stage and Screen by Megan Woller

For centuries, Arthurian legend has captured imaginations throughout Europe and the Americas with its tales of Camelot, romance, and chivalry. The ever-shifting, age-old tale of King Arthur and his world is one which depends on retellings for its endurance in the cultural imagination. Using adaptation theory as a framework, From Camelot to Spamalot foregrounds the role of music in selected Arthurian adaptations, examining six stage and film musicals.

4. Oklahoma! The Making of an American Musical by Tim Carter

First published in 2007, Oklahoma! tells the full story of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. In this revised and expanded second edition, Tim Carter draws further on recently released sources, including the Rouben Mamoulian Papers at the Library of Congress, with additional correspondence, contracts, and even new versions of the working script used—and annotated—throughout the show’s rehearsal process. Carter also focuses on the key players and concepts behind the musical, including the original play on which it was based (Lynn Riggs’s Green Grow the Lilacs) and the Theatre Guild’s Theresa Helburn and Lawrence Langner, who fatefully brought Rodgers and Hammerstein together for their first collaboration.


5. Sweet Mystery: The Musical Works of Rida Johnson Young by Ellen M. Peck

Rida Johnson Young (ca. 1869-1926) was one of the most prolific female playwrights of her time, as well as a lyricist and librettist in the musical theater. She wrote more than thirty full-length plays, operettas, and musical comedies, 500 songs, and four novels, including Naughty MariettaLady LuxuryThe Red Petticoat, and When Love is YoungSweet Mystery looks at her musical theater works with in-depth analyses of her librettos and lyrics, as well as her working relationships with other writers, performers, and producers, particularly Lee and J. J. Shubert.

6. A Wonderful Guy: Conversations with the Great Men of Musical Theater edited by Eddie Shapiro

In A Wonderful Guy, theatre journalist Eddie Shapiro sits down for intimate, career-encompassing conversations with 19 of Broadway’s most prolific and fascinating leading men. Full of detailed stories and reflections, his conversations with such luminaries as Joel Grey, Ben Vereen, Norm Lewis, Gavin Creel, Cheyenne Jackson, Jonathan Groff, and a host of others dig deep into each actor’s career.

A Wonderful Guy

7. Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater edited by Eddie Shapiro

The counterpart to A Wonderful Guy, Alan Cumming described Nothing Like a Dame, as “an encyclopedia of modern musical theatre via a series of tender meetings between a diehard fan and his idols.” Eddie Shapiro opens a jewellery box full of glittering surprises, through in-depth conversations with twenty leading women of Broadway, including Elaine Stritch, Kristin Chenoweth, Patti LuPone, and Audra McDonald.

Feature image: Times Square, New York City by Florian Wehde. Public domain via Unsplash.

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