For today's blog entry, I thought I would add five more titles to the list that I thought you might enjoy. Below are my picks in no particular order.
1. Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow. Lithgow, possibly best know by mainstream audiences as Dr. Dick Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Son, writes a heartfelt love letter to the theater and the craft of acting. His genuineness and humility is quite refreshing. At the core of this memoir is a beautiful tribute to his father, Arthur Lithgow, who first introduced him to Shakespeare and drama through his work as a producer/director for such regional and summer stock organization as The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. Written with simplicity and wit, this memoir is very much a pleasurable read.
2. Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaborations, and All That Jazz by Fred Ebb and John Kander as told by Greg Lawrence. Through a series of conversations, Kander and Ebb walk you through their illustrious careers. Readers are given a real insider's look into the making of some of the most popular American musicals (Chicago, Cabaret) as well as their several flops. This books is full of surprises even for the the most well-versed musical theater fans. For example, one of my favorite bits of trivia revealed in this book is about the song "I Don't Care Much" which was later inserted into a revival of Cabaret. The revival placed this trunk song at the point in the play where Sally Bowles has decided to give up the opportunity for a conventional life in America with Cliff (and her unborn child) to go back to the dead-end Kit Kat Klub and seek an abortion. While this song packs quite a punch (literally - Cliff is socked outside of the club when he attempts to retrieve Sally), it was originally written as part of a parlor game. When Kander and Ebb were challenged to write a song before dessert was served at a dinner party, one asked the other what he would like to write about, and the other replied, "I don't care." And a new Kander and Ebb classic was born.
3. O'Neill by Arthur and Barbara Gelb. Possibly the greatest biography of America's greatest playwright. With a brilliant frame (O'Neill's life is examined through the plot and themes of his autobiographical and indisputably cathartic masterpiece, Long Day's Journey Into Night. No one delves deeper in terms of both biographical data and literary criticism than the Gelbs. This books proved priceless to me as I explored Freudian themes in the life and selected plays of Eugene O'Neill as part of my undergraduate honors thesis. I couldn't have done it without the Gelbs.
4. Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Story in Broadway History by Glen Berger. The definition of a great beach read. Fast, juicy, and scandalous. This book will not only please those who can't look away from car crashes on the highway, but also those who are fascinated by the process of putting together (with the best of intentions) a commercial Broadway musical.
5. The Commercial Theater Institute Guide to Producing Plays and Musicals by Various Authors and edited by Frederick Vogel and Ben Hodges. The Bible for all aspiring producers. With a collection of essays from Broadway's best and brightest, this book will walk you through every step of the process of producing a show. From new works to revivals and tours - this book addresses it all. If you have the time and resources, I also recommend the more in-depth courses offered by CTI (now run by Tom Viertel) both in person and through online seminars.
You can't spend all of your time on the beach. Make sure you have Stephen Sondheim's companion books: The Hat Box: The Collected Lyric's of Stephen Sondheim sitting on your coffee table at your beach house. Full of trivia and new insights, this collection is a must-have for every musical theater lover. Pop in an original cast recording and let Stephen, himself, walk you through his own works.