The best books about Broadway musicals

Thomas S. Hischak Author Of Musical Misfires: Three Decades of Broadway Musical Heartbreak
By Thomas S. Hischak

Who am I?

Having taught college courses on and written books about theatre, film, and popular music for over forty years, I have great respect for those who write about the popular art form known as musical theatre. As a theatergoer, I've watched the Broadway (and Off-Broadway) musical develop, change, and sometimes decline. It seems musicals are more popular today than ever before; they certainly are more diverse. I grew up with the traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein model and have seen musicals take on new forms over the years. It is an exciting art form that deserves to be written about.


I wrote...

Musical Misfires: Three Decades of Broadway Musical Heartbreak

By Mark A. Robinson, Thomas S. Hischak,

Book cover of Musical Misfires: Three Decades of Broadway Musical Heartbreak

What is my book about?

Musical Misfires looks at 151 musicals that did not run long enough to be considered hits. Such shows were once called flops but that is no longer an appropriate description. Some of these were superb pieces of musical theatre that, for one reason or another, couldn't find an audience, did not please the critics, couldn't pay the high weekly bills, or just were not right for the time and place in which they opened. Oft-overlooked gems like The Scottsboro Boys and Caroline, or Change are explored alongside such famous musicals as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Seussical. A wide variety of musicals are included in this captivating look at Broadway shows from 1989 to 2020 and their search for success.

The books I picked & why

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The World of Musical Comedy

By Stanley Green,

Book cover of The World of Musical Comedy

Why this book?

An early and still one of the best works on the subject, Green's The World of Musical Comedy is the book that introduced generations of musical theatre fans to the art form. It was first published in 1960 and that first edition was my first encounter with the great songwriters and musicals of the American theatre. Green later revised and updated the book and the fourth edition stops at 1980 but the book remains in print. I still recommend it as the best way to discover the classic works in the world of musicals.


Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920's

By Ethan Mordden,

Book cover of Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920's

Why this book?

Mordden has written books about musicals from several decades of the Twentieth Century but my favorite remains Make Believe about the 1920s. Too few American musicals from that decade are still performed today. Show Boat and No No Nanette are two memorable exceptions. So most of the shows in the book are not familiar to theatergoers. But Mordden brings these musicals to life with his vivid writing and enthusiasm for what was a Golden Age for the art form.


Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops

By Ken Mandelbaum,

Book cover of Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops

Why this book?

Musical theatre fans delight in reading about the famous and not-so-famous disasters in the genre. Mandelbaum covers nearly 200 of these musical flops that opened (and often quickly closed) on Broadway between 1950 and 1990. It is a lively read, well researched, and has plenty of "what were they thinking?" attitude. Not much copy is given to one musical (except the title musical Carrie) but the coverage is comprehensive. A favorite among musical theatre fans, Not Since Carrie was the inspiration for Mark Robinson and myself when we continued Mandelbaum's chronicle with our own Musical Misfires.


American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle

By Gerald Bordman, Richard Norton,

Book cover of American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle

Why this book?

This weighty reference book is not something to be read from cover to cover but, for browsing or looking up a plot or commentary on Broadway musicals, it is still the leader in its field. Bordman published his Chronicle in 1978 and he revised it up until his death, critic Richard Norton helping on the fourth edition. The coverage is impressive: musicals from the late 1700s up to 2010. The writing is concise and to the point. This book discusses shows you're not likely to find in any other book or website.


The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical

By Mark Grant,

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical

Why this book?

If you are looking for a highly opinionated and passionate account of the Broadway musical and the changes it has undergone over the decades, this book is for you. Grant does not pull his punches and the general tone is one of despair at the decline in the quality of musicals. But the book is well researched and offers many provocative ideas which the die-hard musical fan will find fascinating. It's the kind of work that you want to read after you have a solid knowledge of American musical theatre and you want to have your traditional ideas challenged.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in musical theatre, Broadway musicals, and New York State?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about musical theatre, Broadway musicals, and New York State.

Musical Theatre Explore 33 books about musical theatre
Broadway Musicals Explore 62 books about Broadway musicals
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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