The best books for next level Broadway fans

The Books I Picked & Why

The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

By Jack Viertel

The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built

Why this book?

What? A scholarly book about Broadway to kick things off? Absolutely. If you think you know everything about musicals, Jack Viertel (a jack-of-all-trades with a career seeped in working in and around the stage) is here to take you a step deeper. From the evolution of what is “popular” and preferred, to the aspects that make a show into a hit, Viertel leads you through the decades of American musicals for a thorough education that is equal parts analysis and a shared love of the genre. The best part is that he loves Broadway as much as you do! He pulls the curtains aside to probe how this amazing world works, in an entertaining and informative way. 

One of my favorite books on the genre, and indispensable if you’ve moved beyond show scores and behind-the-scenes anecdotes (although he has those too!).


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How Musicals Work: And How to Write Your Own

By Julian Woolford

How Musicals Work: And How to Write Your Own

Why this book?

Woolford describes his book as a prenatal guide for musicals and it is indeed just that. He breaks down the process from idea to opening night for a thorough examination of what goes into each part of writing a musical. From the tickle of inspiration—and everything that went into its construction after that point, including the steps back and sideways, trying to find the right formula for success—there isn’t much left out. Warning: You might be inspired to try your hand at writing once you finish this book! 

I felt as if I’d taken a college-level theatre course at the end of How Musicals Work, with an instructor who revels in the complicated chaos that is musicals! It opens up a whole extra level to watching/experiencing a musical.


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Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway

By Michael Riedel

Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway

Why this book?

The true-life story of the ’70s and ’80s in New York City and the world of theatre—when the Great White Way was basically slated to become a parking lot—as it is saved by a colorful host of characters (and a boardroom coup!) is just begging for a musical of its own. Until that happens, we will have to be content with this page-turning book from a saucy and witty theatre columnist, which chronicles the entire amazing ride of how Broadway was reborn. 

Along the way, we get a thorough probing of Broadway history and the highs, lows, and everything in between including some scandal, gossip, and shocking reveals. See? How is this not a musical already?! Riedel is a dramatic and verbose writer who holds back nothing, thankfully. Recommendation: Don’t expect to be using a bookmark too often. I couldn’t put this book down.


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Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical

By Barbara Isenberg

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical

Why this book?

Full disclosure—Fiddler of the Roof is one of my favorite musicals of all time. I love the story, the music, the stage version, the movie, the various soundtracks…all of it. So it was an absolute pleasure to read this deep dive into the history of the show and understand the trials and tribulations that went into the journey to get it made.

Warning: This will incite you to listen to the soundtrack(s) and definitely want to watch the movie version (as of the writing of this piece, it was on Netflix!). You’ll be listening and watching with a new perspective of how Fiddler was an unexpected but well-earned hit.


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Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George

By James Lapine

Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George

Why this book?

I don’t think I could put together a list of books for next-level Broadway lovers without a Sondheim entry. There are many books to choose from but this one sweeps you off your feet and into the world of creating a Broadway classic. “Behind the scenes” doesn’t even begin to cover this journey into not only the Pulitizer award-winning show but also the intergenerational friendship between Sondheim and Lapine. That relationship and their creative collaboration are curated through script notes, personal photos, and sketches, giving you a glimpse into genius Broadway minds. 

Sunday in the Park with George is such a layered work on its own but this book takes you another step into the mix, with a backstage view of how it came to be. My brain was firing in a million directions when I was finished with this one. This book, like the rest of this list, enhances the view of our favorite musicals and the genre we love. 


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