A Tender Thing
Eleanor O’Hanlon has always dreamed of being a Broadway star, but New York feels so far from her home in Wisconsin. When she discovers that one of her favorite shows is holding auditions, though, Eleanor decides it’s her time—and manages to get cast in the production. This novel of Broadway in the 1950s shows readers the ins and outs of theater culture and the struggles of deciding where you fit in.
City of Girls
This thoughtful novel, set in the New York theater district in the 1940s, tells the story of Vivian Morris, who’s just been kicked out of Vassar College. Her parents send her to live with her aunt, who owns an old theater in Manhattan. Through the vivacious and larger than life people Vivian meets through the playhouse, she begins to truly think about what kind of life she wants—and what it will take to get it.
The Chelsea Girls
Fiona Davis’s delightful novel is set during the 1950s at New York’s famed Chelsea Hotel, where artists, writers, actors, and playwrights come together in a safe place where they can express themselves. Playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are using the hotel as inspiration in their work, but they don’t expect that the Communist scaremongering and Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt will have last repercussions on every facet of their lives.
Mambo in Chinatown
It’s not strictly about Broadway, but this sweet thoughtful novel centers on Charlie Wong, who lives and works in New York’s Chinatown. Charlie’s mother was a dancer, and she’s never thought of that route as being open to her until she gets a job at a ballroom dance studio. Suddenly, she wants more for herself, and her little sister, as her eyes are opened to a strange and wondrous new path.
Stephen Sondheim’s name is synonymous with Broadway, and now this gorgeous two-volume hardcover set collects the lyrics from some of his most popular music. From Sweeney Todd to West Side Story to Into the Woods, Sondheim is responsible for some of Broadway’s most memorable songs. These books contain observations and anecdotes that encapsulate the musician’s most time-honored wisdom.
The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later
This moving book chronicles the aftermath of the murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard—who was beaten and left to die in a brutal hate crime. The Tectonic Theater Project, led by Moises Kaufman, interviewed the town’s residents and constructed a play based on what happened after these tragic events. A decade later, the group returned to Laramie, Wyoming, to see how things had changed in the town and how they are transforming a legacy of hate into hope.
This acclaimed novel is set at a performing arts camp for teenagers, where six young people meet and forge relationships that will last decades. Each of these kids has aspirations in the arts—to be an actress, to be a musician—but the realities of life and adulthood take their toll. As this novel follows this set of friends over the course of decades, it asks questions of happiness, fulfillment, class, and the nature of power and money.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson
This heartfelt modern classic of a novel with two YA superstars behind it stars two teens with the same name—Will Grayson. Delivered from two different points of view, telling the story of each Will Grayson, these young men will have their lives irrevocably changed when they meet one another. It’s a glorious novel centering around a love of musical theater.
Life is hard right now, especially given the encouragement to isolate and avoid large public gatherings. We all certainly need an escape from the real world, but that is becoming increasingly difficult when we are encouraged to stay home and avoid spreading sickness, rather than going out to enjoy a movie or have a delicious meal.
That’s why this list of books set on Broadway, and books surrounding musical theater, is so necessary. Each of these books will provide an escape into a different time, a different place, and most of all provide a message of hope, which is what musical theater does when we need it most.