musical theatre schools

6 Essential Books on Musical Theatre

While books have seemingly taken a backseat to everything from YouTube videos to audiobooks, they are still an invaluable resource to supplement your musical theatre education, especially when it comes to the history of the stage and the biggest names behind the biggest works.

Musical Theatre

Here are some must-read books for musical theatre performers–both informative and a great way to pass the time when you’re resting your voice. 

Broadway Babies: The People Who Made the American Musical 
by Ethan Mordden

Recounting the development of the American musical comedy genre, this history is as entertaining as the song-and-dance productions it describes. The book features musical legends including Florenz Ziegfeld, Harold Prince, Bert Lahr, Gwen Verdon, Angela Lansbury, Victor Herbert, Liza Minnelli, and Stephen Sondheim, and explores shows with staying power like Anything Goes, Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Follies, and Chicago, to offer a rich account of a beloved but often overlooked American staple.

Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops
by Ken Mandelbaum

This book explores the various how’s and why’s that led to dozens of Broadway musicals that seemed like surefire hits to flop hard at the box office. Mandlebaum is both objective and generous though, finding the positives where he can in shows whose failures could have simply been a product of bad luck and timing. Published in 1992, the book doesn’t describe the infamous Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, but after reading it, you may have an idea of why even Marvel failed on Broadway.

The Vocal Athlete
by Wendy D. Leborgne and Marci Rosenberg

Musical theatre can push the human voice to its limits, and The Vocal Athlete is written specifically to help performers meet the high demands for a sustainable career on stage, providing ideal tools and exercises to help preserve vocal wellness. When it comes to taking care your most important asset, you’ll want all the help you can.

How Sondheim Found His Sound
by Steve Swayne

This highly-praised book is a biography of one of Broadway’s biggest icons–Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist behind works like Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Follies, and Sunday in the Park with George. Knowing Sondheim’s work and what makes the artist tick is key to understanding the very nature of Broadway, and Swayne’s book is a perfect way into his world and understanding how one of the greats came to be.

The Complete Phantom of the Opera
by George Perry

The Phantom of the Opera has cemented its place in Broadway history as an iconic musical, but its roots go much farther than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 masterpiece. This definitive account of The Phantom of the Opera recounts the history of the work from its historical origins to Gaston Leroux’s classic novel that inspired Webber’s version, as well as the story’s other incarnations in between. All of this is supplemented with beautiful photography that include images from the production itself.

Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway
by Ron Fassler

Up in the Cheap Seats is a truly original take on Broadway, looking at it as a fan from the ground up, or rather in Fassler’s case, from the cheap seats down. By imbuing the history of Broadway and hundreds of its productions from the personal point-of-view of an actor in his youth, along with the dozens of people he met along the way backstage, the book gives a memorable but relatable and unique take on the musical theatre scene from a heartfelt place of true love.

6 Reasons to See ‘Beetlejuice: The Musical’ 

While a lot of movies seem ripe for adapting to Broadway–like Frozen, Kinky Boots, and Once–many people were surprised when it was announced Tim Burton’s 1988 dark afterlife comedy Beetlejuice would be turned into a big-budget musical.

Though it may have been a surprise, it was certainly the right choice as Beetlejuice: The Musical has become a hit with critics and audiences alike, racking up an impressive eight Tony nominations earlier this Spring.

Beetlejuice Musical


If you haven’t already, here’s six reasons to check out
Beetlejuice: The Musical:

The creepy story

Fans of the film are well aware of the story, but it’s not one you’d normally see on Broadway:

A lonely teenage girl befriends the ghosts of a married couple after her family moves into their home. Scott Brown and Anthony King are well deserving of their Tony nominations for Best Book of a Musical.

It’s devilish fun

Director Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher, Moulin Rouge) takes a leap with this spectacular show that never takes a break from its silly energy and slapstick physical comedy. Capturing the manic energy of Michael Keaton’s original performance and Tim Burton’s direction is no small feat, so it’s no wonder the show has been Tony nominated for Best Musical.

There are visual effects, projections, and puppetry

Awarded for Best Makeup at the Oscars 1989, this visionary show lives up to the original film’s Hollywood special effects. Tony nominations for Best Lighting Design, Sound Design and Scenic Design should tell you that you’ll be in for a treat when seeing the various magical moments offered by this blockbuster musical.

Costumes straight from the film

A six-time Tony nominee for Best Costume Design, William Ivey Long obtains two more nods this year for his brilliant work in Beetlejuice and Tootsie. Original film director Tim Burton built his career on the stunning warped visuals from his own imagination, and Long’s wardrobe work both evokes the unique style while offering something new to a live theatre audience.

It is wickedly cast

Tony nominee and Broadway veteran Alex Brightman (School of Rock, Wicked, Matilda the Musical) is the perfect choice for the fast-talking wild card ghoul, Beetlejuice. After all, it’s not his first time in a Tim Burton adaptation–in 2013 he also performed in the musical adaptation of Big Fish. The stellar cast of Beetlejuice is rounded out by Anne Caruso (Blackbird), Kerry Butler (Les Miserables, Mean Girls) as Barbara, and Rob McClure (Avenue Q, Something Rotten) as Adam.

New and familiar tunes

A musical isn’t worth seeing if the music isn’t great, and the numbers offered by Beetlejuice are fantastic. In addition to new, diverse rock- and pop-based tunes written for the show (Beetlejuice also earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score), the play also features two classics from the original film–the “Banana Boat Song (Day O)” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line.” So if you haven’t already, now’s the time for you to jump in the line for tickets to see Beetlejuice: The Musical!

8 Broadway Shows You Need To See in 2019

Whether you’re a tourist in town or a long-time resident of New York City, it’s always a great time to see a show on Broadway, Off Broadway, or even Off Off Broadway. The choices are vast, diverse, and there’s something for everyone:

Here are just some of the shows to see with friends and family!

Phantom of the Opera. A masterpiece from the French novel of the same name written by Gaston Leroux and published in 1910, the longest-running musical in history is a must-see, and a must-see it again! Every detail is sharp, specific, and a delight to observe while memorably scored with lyrical and rock opera songs. The Tony Award-winner for Best Musical in 1988 was written by Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar) and if there’s one to see one when your family comes to town, this may be the one!

Chicago. The second longest running musical in the history of Broadway, this satire on the criminal justice led by two fierce women truly knows how to showcase its choreography. Another classic to discover or re-discover, each and every song will be stuck in your head after leaving the theatre, and dancing in Times Square won’t surprise anyone. The show was adapted into a film directed by Rob Marshall and won the Best Picture Oscar in 2003; the show itself won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical in 1997.

Frozen. Frozen is adapted from the 2013 smash hit Disney animated film, which itself was adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Snow Queen. Disney Theatrical Productions knows what to do to make audiences feel the magic of the story and sing along to its catchy numbers. Director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford had already collaborated on Broadway for Evita, and were a perfect team to make alive this tale of sisterhood with superb technical effects, new songs, and the ones we already know so well.

Wicked. The untold story about the witches of Oz, this creative, witty sweet, and fun comedy is for the whole family. One of the most expensive shows to produce on Broadway due to its makeup and scenic effects, Wicked never gets old and puts some of the finest singers in musical theatre on center stage. Indeed, this show helped make household names out of its stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, who won the Tony Award for her role as Elphaba.

School of Rock. The 2003 film of the same name, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black, was a smash hit when it came out, so it was only a matter of time before producers brought its dynamic, rock ‘n’ roll vibes to Broadway. The show stars a strong cast of talented children headlined by a charismatic lead, and is passionate, touching, and just a whole lot of fun.

Jersey Boys. Inspired by the lives of the celebrated doo wop group Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, this lively show mixes comedy and drama with classic golden oldies. First starting on Broadway before moving Off Broadway, Jersey Boys was adapted into a film by Clint Eastwood in 2014.

Kinky Boots. Adapted from a British movie from 2005, this fresh and energetic show is an LGBTQIA+ story with an uplifting story, vivid colors, and strong characters and includes songs from activist-singer Cyndi Lauper and lyrics by Harvey Fierstein (Hairspray, Mrs. Doubtfire). Kinky Boots is closing on April 7, so now may be your last chance to see it on Broadway for a long time!

Stomp. Stomp is a British creation from the city of Brighton founded in 1991 that toured the world and has been performed Off Broadway since 1994. With no dialogue, this percussion celebration is a journey through unique sounds: matchboxes, zippo lighters, push brooms, and garbage cans to name a few. Each number is precise, musically innovative, and a heck of a good time.

The Difference Between Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway

Many consider New York City to be the Cultural Capital of the World — there are countless things to do for both tourists and native New Yorkers alike. But nearly everyone visiting the Big Apple makes sure they catch a show. While Broadway is obviously the flashiest of the options out there, there are also Off-Broadway and even Off-Off-Broadway productions. But what do these labels mean exactly?

The answer is surprisingly simple. What gives a show its designation as Broadway, Off-Broadway, or Off-Off-Broadway isn’t its production value or budget, or a measure of its success. It’s actually mostly related to a show’s seating capacity!

Broadway

Off-Off-Broadway

Off-Off-Broadway theatres have 99 seats or less, so are obviously smaller venues than their more well known cousins. There are around 120 Off-Off-Broadway theaters in New York City at any given time, with many located in the city’s more artistic neighborhoods, like the West Village.

Often these shows will have cheaper ticket prices, and closer access to the actors after a performance. Because it’s easier to take financial chances with smaller productions, Off-Off-Broadway shows are also more likely to be avant-garde or experimental than more mainstream venues. They can be more traditional plays and musicals however, and give theatre-goers a healthy amount of options throughout the year.

An example of an Off-Off-Broadway production is Benten Kozo, directed by Jim Simpson, an Obie award-winning production that ran for over six months.

Some Off-Off-Broadway theatres:
HERE Arts Center, The Kraine Theater, La MaMa E.T.C.


Off-Broadway

Off-Broadway theatres can be significantly larger than on Off-Off-Broadway, and can hold up to to 499 seats. With fantastic original stories, musical revivals, and even performance art shows, many shows that begin on Off-Broadway can jump to Broadway if successful enough and warrants larger audience capacity — a famous example being historical musical, Hamilton.

Well-known stage performers can also be prominent in the Off-Broadway scene, not just limiting themselves to larger Broadway shows. Many performers tend to go back to the intimacy of a smaller theatre where an audience can be engaged more intimately with a production and its cast. There are roughly 85 Off-Broadway theatres in Manhattan.

Stomp is an enormously popular production that began in the United Kingdom and has been running in the East Village’s Orpheum Theatre for years, and is a unique example of the varied types of shows you can catch on Off-Broadway.

Some Off-Broadway theatres:
Cherry Lane Theatre, SoHo Playhouse, Minetta Lane Theatre

Theatre Ballet
Broadway

Broadway shows have the strictest guidelines to earn their moniker. In addition to having 500 seats or greater, they must be located in the Theatre District (around Times Square in Midtown, Manhattan) as well as in venues certified by The Broadway League, the trade association for the Broadway industry.

Because of their prime locations, Broadway shows have a greater chance to attract tourists and other theatre-goers, and as such, have long since been known to have much larger budgets and production values than other musicals and stage shows in New York City. Similarly, they can also attract larger stars, as well as adaptations of famous films and other works whose rights may be expensive to procure.

Examples of famous Broadway shows are nearly countless, with The Phantom of the Opera being the longest running show on Broadway to date.

Some Broadway theatres:
Gershwin Theatre, Winter Garden Theatre, Ambassador Theatre

7 Books Every Actor Needs To Read

acting books books reading

Some actors are born great, some actors achieve greatness, and some actors have greatness thrust upon them. No matter which of the three categories you fall into, reading books about acting is an excellent way to nurture your abilities. Importantly, acting books can help with a myriad of skills including acting technique, auditioning, and self-marketing, all things that are important to any actor. Here are the top five books that every actor should read.

1. An Actor Prepares By Constantin Stanislavski

This is the oldest book on the list and the first of the three acting books written by Mr. Stanislavski. In these pages, Stanislavski takes the reader on a trip through his system by following the experiences of a group of actors as they learn with their teacher. The result is an in-depth theory of acting that includes exercises and techniques meant to encourage imaginative and true performances. There is not a book on this list or an actor in the world who is not directly influenced by the teachings of An Actor Prepares.

2. Audition By Michael Shurtleff

One irony of acting is that before you can act, you have to audition. This book by Michael Shurtleff addresses the art of auditioning from the perspective of an experienced casting director. The book is simple and informative and uses a 12-step guide with corresponding questions to help actors prep for auditions and callbacks. Some favorite techniques that emerge are “playing opposites,” “finding humor and love,” and “the moment before.”

3. Respect for Acting By Uta Hagen

Legendary actress Uta Hagen wrote a book that been a lifesaver for both theatre and film thespians. Along with practical advice like how to combat stage fright and how to avoid complacency when playing the same role for too long, Hagen also distills the core of acting into nine specific questions. You’ll have to read the book to see all nine and truly learn how to investigate them, but perhaps the most important question Hagen tells actors to ask when it comes to their characters is “Who am I?”

4. Acting as a Business By Brian O’Neil

After you book a role and become a working actor, the best thing you can do is promote yourself. This book is written by a former talent agent and walks aspiring actors through the process of self-marketing as well as finding an agent to represent you. O’Neil writes updates to his book every few years and the most recent edition includes tips for how to use the internet as a tool and also details recent trends in the entertainment industry.

5. Sanford Meisner on Acting By Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner is considered by many to be the best acting teacher ever and his technique is up there with the Method as the most practiced technique among actors. Regardless of the technique you prefer, this book offers insights and exercises as the reader follows a group of actors studying under Meisner. His famous quote pretty much encapsulates the tone of his writing: “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances”

6. Improvisation for the Theatre By Viola Spolin

Improvisation has become a core tenet for modern acting (and the modern comedy scene) and can find its roots in the innovative theatre work developed by actress Viola Spolin. The acting exercises she called “Theatre Games” later became the basis for modern improvisation in acting, and Spolin explains the process in her seminal book, Improvisation for the Theatre. Learn how to act in the moment without a safety net with Spolin’s lessons as well as exercises she lays out in the book.

7. The Intent to Live By Larry Moss

“I call this book The Intent to Live because great actors don’t seem to be acting, they seem to be actually living,” Larry Moss said. He is a highly-regarded acting teacher of recent times, having instructed hundreds including Hillary Swank, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Justin Timberlake. He is a sort of contemporary master of acting instruction, like Stanislavski and Meisner in their times, making his book especially vital to the modern actor. He stresses preparation and script work and offers insights into developing characters and tackling difficult roles.

Acting is a skill that can be learned through education. For the actor that is interested in achieving greatness, any of the above titles is an ideal place to start. Once an actor masters their technique on camera and in auditions and realizes the power of marketing, greatness will eventually be thrust upon them.