Musical Theater Books

To learn more about the importance and history of the Americal musical, we recommend the following books:

I’m the Greatest Star: Broadway’s Top Musical Legends from 1900 to Today (Applause Books) by Robert Viagas Here is the first major survey of Broadway musical theatre stars, telling the life stories of 40 stage luminaries from Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, and Gwen Verdon, to Nathan Lane, Patti Lupone, and Audra McDonald. Author Robert Viagas describes each star’s most important stage roles as well as the triumphant, tragic, inspiring, and cautionary tales of how they achieved – and maintained – their status as top Broadway stars.

Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater (Norton) by Larry Stempel takes its place alongside Green and Mordden as the finest overviews of the field. Like Mordden, Stempel moves chronologically (beginning in 1849), but the result is more welcoming to those readers who are not obsessed with minutiae. Nevertheless, at 826 pages the story is all here, and it even includes a section titled “Children of Sondheim,” dealing with such important contemporary creators as Jason Robert  Brown, Adam Guettel and the late Jonathan Larson. If you don’t know their work,  Stempel will convince you to track down a batch of CDs at once. And the author  is more hopeful about the future than many of his colleagues: “Musical theater will undoubtedly discover new ways of doing what it has always done in transforming our experience as Americans into the stuff of an art that entertains.”

Hollywood Musicals: The 101 Greatest Song-and-Dance Movies of All Time by Ken Bloom, with a forward by Jane Powell. The new follow-up hit to the bestselling and acclaimed Broadway Musicals, Hollywood Musicals pays grand tribute to the 101 most popular and enduring musical movies. Beginning in 1927 and continuing to the present it celebrates all of the greatest films of the genre including Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cabaret, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz, The King and I, A Star is Born, West Side Story, Funny Face, The Jazz Singer, and All That Jazz, as well as more recent movie musicals such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Organized alphabetically, each film is featured across several spreads, which are jam-packed with expert commentary that places the film in historical and cultural context.

Broadway Musicals, Revised and Updated: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time by Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik; foreword by Jerry Orbach. The rich history of Broadway—from the beloved classics of each decade to the most popular recent hits—are showcased here in colorful chapters that include authoritative commentary, features on the creators and performers, and more. The list of the 101 best has been reevaluated by the authors for this edition, and new shows include Avenue Q, The Drowsy Chaperone, Grease, Grey Gardens, Sunday in the Park with George, and Wicked. This 2004 book is filled with insight, along with dozens of spectacular production photos that had never before been published.

The World of Musical Comedy by Stanley Green. Originally published in 1960 but updated several times before Green’s death in 1990, this volume is still required reading. It’s the best overview of the art form, written by the first exemplary historian in the field. In a format that provides biographies of all the leading figures in the musical’s development, Green manages to convey the spirit of the Broadway stage, its musical make-believe, and yet remain objective about the creative swings in its history and the careers of its individual creators.

Mordden-One More KissEthan Mordden’s seven-volume series:
Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920s
Sing for Your Supper: …the 1930s
Beautiful Mornin': …the 1940s
Coming Up Roses: …the 1950s
Open a New Window: …the 1960s
One More Kiss: …the 1970s
The Happiest Corpse I’ve Ever Seen: …the Last 25 Years of the Broadway Musical
The most exhaustive treatment of the art form ever attempted; but far from exhausting, it is invigorating. Mordden’s passion is irresistible, and on every page he makes us feel we are sitting next to him in the audience, whether the musical is Show Boat or Dreamgirls.

American Popular SongAmerican Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 by Alec Wilder. The first book (1971) to analyze the music of the major composers for stage and screen including Kern, Berlin, Rodgers, Gershwin, Porter and Arlen. American Popular Song focuses on the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic qualities that distinguish American popular music and have made it an authentic art form. Illustrated with over seven hundred musical examples, Wilder’s sensitive analyses of the most distinctive, creative and original songs of this period reveal unexpected beauties in songs long forgotten and delightful subtleties in many familiar standards.

Poets of Tin Pan AlleyThe Poets of Tin Pan Alley by Philip Furia. This book does for words what Wilder does for music. All of the ranking theater and film-musical lyricists are covered including Hart, Hammerstein, Harburg, Porter, Berlin and Loesser. In these pages, the lyrics emerge as an important element of American modernism, as the lyricists, like the great modernist poets, took the American vernacular and made it sing.

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