Suggested Reading
Compiled by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1996-2004)

There are many worthwhile books and articles on musical theatre. Listed here are sources that were referred during the creation of this website, with some hopelessly biased critiques. Get in touch with a good librarian and you might be surprised at how many are hiding on a shelf near you.

Special Bibliographies:


Stage - Authors A to K

  • Abbott, George. Mister Abbott. New York: Random House, 1963. An entertaining and at times frank autobiography from the dean of Broadway directors. Only drawback: some of his most important musical projects get the barest mention.

  • Allen, Robert C. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. A first-rate study of burlesque and its place in American culture during the 19th and 20th Centuries.

  • Alpert, Hollis. The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess: The Story of An American Classic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. An exhaustive and engrossing history of a masterpiece, with detailed coverage of all major productions up to 1990.

  • Altman, Richard and Mervyn Kaufman. The Making of a Musical: Fiddler on the Roof. New York: Crown Publishers, 1971. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the major stage and screen incarnations of a beloved classic.

  • Astaire, Fred. Steps in Time: An Autobiography. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000. Astaire was far too classy to write an unkind word about anyone, but his memories of life in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in Hollywood offer some fun first-hand insights. This was first published in 1959.

  • Ayre, Leslie. The Gilbert & Sullivan Companion. London: Papermac, 1985. A helpful dictionary covering G&S operas and their related history.

  • Baral, Robert. Revue: A Nostalgic Reprise of the Great Broadway Period. New York: Fleet Publishing Company, 1962. A veteran Variety columnist spent ten years compiling one of the first serious attempts to document the Follies and other classic Broadway revues. With hundreds of illustrations, its a fine (and affectionate) read.

  • Beckerman, Bernard & Siegman, Howard; Editors. On Stage: Selected Theatre Reviews From The New York Times, 1920-1970. New York: Arno Press, 1973. A fine overview of NY Times criticism during the Broadway musical's so-called "golden age."

  • Beddow, Margery. Bob Fosse's Broadway. Portsmouth New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1996. A Fosse dancer's intimate and loving perspective on the man and his work.

  • Bernheim, Alfred L. The Business of the Theatre: An Economic History of the American Theatre, 1750-1932. New York: Benjamin Blom Inc., 1964. Prepared for The Actor's Equity Association in 1932, this remains a fascinating record of stage economics.

  • Block, Geoffrey. Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical From Show Boat to Sondheim. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. A musicologist looks at the way music is used as a dramatic tool in some of Broadway's greatest 20th Century musicals. I think he overreaches at times, but many of his points will be of interest to aspiring stage composers.

  • Block, Geoffrey. The Richard Rodgers Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. It would take months if not years to track down all the materials gathered here, most from books and magazines long out of print, as well as hard to access oral history collections. A fascinating resource.

  • Bloom, Ken. Broadway: An Encyclopedic Guide to the History, People and Places of Times Square. New York: Facts On File, 1991. The first attempt to provide a serious history of Times Square, but beware -- this promising reference source is compromised by occasional inaccuracies.

  • Bordman, Gerald. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978 (New edition 1992). Still the most comprehensive single volume history of the American stage musical, covering every Broadway musical from the 1800's onwards.

  • Bordman, Gerald. American Operetta. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. A fine look at the beginnings of the musical in America. My only quibble is that Bordman may go a bit far to qualify certain shows as operettas.

  • Bordman, Gerald. Jerome Kern: His Life and Music. New York: Oxford University Press 1980. The definitive resource on Kern and his work. It is all here, a magnificent example of research.

  • Bratton, J.S., editor. Music Hall Performance and Style. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1986. An interesting, if limited, collection of essays on varied aspects of the music hall tradition.

  • Burke, Billie. With a Feather On My Nose. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948. From wife of Ziegfeld to "Glinda Witch of the North," Burke recalls her fascinating life in this lighthearted memoir. Some observations suggest this talented actress could make a feather to cut like a razor.

  • Carlyon, David. Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You've Never Heard Of. New York: Public Affairs Press, 2001. Long overdue look at early show business in the United States. Valuable insights into the pre-history of minstrelsy and musical comedy.

  • Chapin, Ted. Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. An absorbing behind the scenes look at the development of a controversial masterwork. Well written, and frank without ever being mean spirited, this is an instant classic in the field of musical theatre history.

  • Cheshire, D.F. Music Hall in Britain. Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1974. Concise an insightful history of British variety, one of the clearest and most rewarding books on the subject.

  • Coward, Noel. Play Parade. New York: Doubleday, 1933. Coward's first collection of hits, including Bittersweet. Playwrights (and theatre lovers) still have much to learn from "The Master."

  • Davis, Lee. Scandals and Follies: The Rise and Fall of the Great Broadway Revue. New York: Limelight Editions, 2000. An entertaining (if sometimes stretched) overview of the history of American variety stage entertainment, focusing on the legendary Broadway revues of the early 20th Century. 

  • Dietz, Howard. Dancing in the Dark: Words by Howard Dietz. New York: Quadrangle-NY Times Book Co., 1974. Entertaining and sometimes blunt autobiography from a lyricist/publicist who worked with many of the biggest names in 20th Century show business.

  • Disher, M. Willson. Music Hall Parade. London: Charles Scribners Sons, 1938. A celebration of music hall history, with some fascinating illustrations. Hard to find but rewarding.

  • Dunn, Don. The Making of No, No, Nanette. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1972. Although hard to find, this is the dishiest book ever on the madness involved in putting a Broadway musical together.

  • Ewen, David. American Musical Theatre. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970. Underrated and now out of print, this is a thorough encyclopedia of important American musicals up to 1970.

  • Fields, Armond and Marc Fields. From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. I live to find books like this! Evocative, well researched and a pleasure to read, it offers solid scholarship without any hint of academic gobbledygook. The often overlooked role of Lew Fields in the development of musical theatre gets full coverage, with a superb overview of popular entertainment from the late 1800's through the mid-20th Century.

  • Filichia, Peter. Let's Put On A Musical: How To Choose The Right Show For Your Theatre. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1997. The key production requirements for all the major musicals, aimed to help your group pick the perfect show. Other books have tried to do the same thing, but none are as practical or as thorough.

  • Flinn, Denny Martin. Musical!: A Grand Tour. New York: Schirmer Books, 1997. A wide-ranging and eloquent look at the history of the American musical on stage and screen. Clear, informative and insightful, even when expressing viewpoints I disagree with.

  • Fordin, Hugh. Getting To Know Him: Oscar Hammerstein II. New York: Ungar Publishing Co., 1977. Sensitive and superb biography of a gentle giant. One of the best theatrical biographies ever.

  • Frank, Rusty E. Tap!: The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories, 1900-1955. New York: DaCapo Publications, 1994. A much needed book on an all too rarely covered subject. Comprehensive and informative, with plenty of illustrations. It gives the rarified art form of tap a human face.

  • Furia, Philip. Irving Berlin: A Life in Song. New York: Shirmer Books, 1998. Delightful bio, written with great insight into Berlin's life and career.

  • Ganzl, Kurt. Lydia Thompson: Queen of Burlesque. New York & London: Routledge, 2002. Detailed and thoroughly researched, this long overdue bio of a burlesque legend offers a fascinating glimpse into a lost theatrical era.

  • Georges-Graves, Nadine. The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville: The Whitman Sisters and the Negotiation of Race, Gender and Class in African American Theater, 1900-1940. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. A well researched look at one musical family act that spent decades touring the TOBA (black vaudeville) circuit. Too many good ideas get bogged down in academic jargon (such as "applying semiotics" and "Lacanian psychoanalysis"). 

  • Gilbert, Douglas. American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times. New York: Dover Publications, 1963. This was the first serious attempt to tell vaudeville's story, and still one of the best books on the subject. Still very much worth a look, and a pleasure to read.

  • Glenn, Susan A. Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. An insightful, clear academic look at how theatre and vaudeville helped redefine the role of women in American society. Includes extensive discussion of various vaudeville stars and Ziegfeld's Follies.

  • Goldman, Howard. Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. A well researched and readable biography of the woman who inspired Funny Girl, proof that truth can be far more fun than fiction. Great insights into the show business world of the early 20th Century. The appendix includes Fanny's detailed performance catalog.

  • Goldman, Howard. Jolson: The Legend Comes To Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Goldman's first show biz bio is the best, most thoroughly researched Jolson biography. In fact, it is one of the best theatrical bios ever. The appendix covering Jolson's entire performance history still astounds me, both as a career and as an academic resource.

  • Gottlieb, Robert and Robert Kimball. Reading Lyrics. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. A wonderful, much needed collection of lyrics for over a thousand songs penned between 1900 and 1975.

  • Grafton, David. Red, Hot and Rich: An Oral History of Cole Porter. New York: Stein and Day, 1987. As much a memoir of Porter's times as of his life, a great collection of memories from his friends and contemporaries.

  • Green, Stanley. Broadway Musicals Show By Show. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Books, 1985. A show-by-show approach to the history of musical theatre, with excellent photos and the essential statistics.

  • Green, Stanley. Encyclopedia of the Musical. London: Cassell & Company, 1976. A priceless resource covering NY and London productions up to the mid-1970's. Super feature: separate chronologies allow you to review the development of careers with a glance.

  • Green, Stanley. Ring Bells, Sing Songs: Broadway Musicals of the 1930s. (New Rochelle, NY: 1971) Lavishly illustrated and packed with detailed info on every musical that played the Main Stem during this turbulent decade. One of my all-time favorite books, well worth tracking down.

  • Green, Stanley, editor. Rodgers and Hammerstein Fact Book: A Record of Their Works Together and With Other Collaborators. New York: Lyn Farnol Group, Inc. 1980. Every major production either Rodgers or Hammerstein were involved with up is included, with statistics, reviews -- an amazing collection of data.

  • Green, Stanley. The World of Musical Comedy. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1960 (and later editions). One of the most popular overviews of American musical theater, focusing on major composers. Numerous illustrations, plus a detailed appendix with production stats and discography.

  • Grubb, Kevin Boyd. Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989. Entertaining and thorough, with many rare Fosse photos.

  • Grun, Bernard. Gold and Silver: The Life and Times of Franz Lehar. New York: David McKay Co., 1970. Charming and informative, this book includes extensive coverage of The Merry Widow and a refreshing assessment of Lehar's controversial final years.

  • Hanson, Bruce. The Peter Pan Chronicles. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1993. Every incarnation of Peter Pan is chronicled with affection and solid research, right up to Cathy Rigby. Lots of rare photos, plus cast lists, etc.

  • Haskins, Jim, and M.R. Mitgang, Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1988. A straightforward, well-researched and long overdue look at the life and career of the legendary tap dancer.

  • Henderson, Mary C. The City and the Theatre: The History of New York Playhouses. New York: James T. White & Co., 1973. (2nd Edition: NY, Back Stage Books, 2004) Despite a number of errors (there is a sizable errata booklet) in the original edition, this has long been the most important -- and most quoted -- history of New York theatres. The errors are corrected in the handsome 2004 edition, which includes many new illustrations.

  • Herman, Jerry. Showtune. New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1996. A master composer/lyricist reviews his life in a book filled with sentiment and optimism.

  • Hirsch, Foster. The Boys From Syracuse: The Shuberts' Theatrical Empire. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. A frank and thorough chronicle of the most powerful and hated dynasty in the American theater. Far more extensive and revealing than previous efforts.

  • Hirsch, Foster. Harold Prince and the American Musical Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. A detailed look at Prince's directorial work up to Phantom of the Opera. Hirsch makes some ill-advised points, but there are plenty of useful facts and observations along the way for serious students of these works.

  • Hischak, Thomas S. Word Crazy: Broadway Lyricists From Cohan to Sondheim. New York: Prager, 1991. An intelligent (if wordy) overview of lyric writing via the work of several of the theatre's most important lyricists.

  • Hoyt, Harlowe R. Town Hall Tonight. New York: Braham House, 1955. The author's family operated a theater in the days of variety and vaudeville. He captures that lost era with affection, from minstrelsy to melodramas like East Lynne.

  • Israel, Lee. Miss Tallulah Bankhead. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1974. The best Bankhead bio, both honest and sympathetic. An enjoyable look at the world of show business in the mid-20th Century.

  • Jablonski, Edward. Irving Berlin: American Troubadour. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1999. The best bio of Berlin to date, thoroughly researched and a pleasure to read.

  • Jablonski, Edward. Gershwin: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 1987. There are many books on George Gershwin, but this is the best to date. Comprehensive, intelligent, and frank.

  • Jackson, Henry T., editor. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Over 1300 informative pages covering the history of New York, theatrical and otherwise. A priceless resource.

  • Jones, John Bush. Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre. Lebanon, New Hampshire: Brandeis University Press, 2003. An examination of the way Broadway musicals have both reflected and promoted social change, expressing a serious academic viewpoint in readable terms. This is essential reading for all serious students of musical theatre history.

  • Jordan, Richard Tyler. But Darling, I'm Your Auntie Mame! Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1998. The story of Mame Dennis in all her incarnations, including the musical play and film. Full of great dish and some rare photos. Odds are you'll learn some things about Roz, Angela and Lucy that you never knew before.

  • Kahn, E.J. The Merry Partners: The Age and Stage of Harrigan and Hart. New York: Random House, 1955. One of the best theatrical histories ever written, this book brings a long-lost Broadway world to vibrant life.

  • Kantor, Michael & Laurence Maslon. Broadway: The American Musical. New York: Bulfinch Press, 2004.This eloquent & lavish companion book to the landmark PBS documentary series on musical theatre offers a rich collection of rare photos & insightful text -- a "must have" for anyone interested in this subject.

  • Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2002. Tons of detailed research, covering a variety of African American performers and cultural trends. Noteworthy for its coverage of the landmark hit Shuffle Along.

  • Kruger, Miles. Show Boat: The Story of a Classic American Musical. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. (Updated soft cover edition - New York: Da Capo, 1990) The complete history of Showboat in all its incarnations up to the publication dates, this well written book is a model of scholarly research blended with passion for the musical theatre. This volume inspired the historic John McGlinn recording of the uncut score, as well as the wondrous 90's revival.

On to: Suggested Reading: Stage Pt. II - Authors L-Z

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