Books from Broadway
As the world continues to open up, one of the things that I am most looking forward to is returning to the world of live musical theater. This last year was rough in many ways, but one of the saddest moments was canceling my planned trip to NYC to get some Broadway time in. The good news is that Broadway and live tours are back! I am going to my first in-person live theater on Tuesday and I cannot wait. I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about some of my favorite shows and the books you should read if you love the show.
There are so many amazing broadway shows, but I am going to limit this list to 5 specific shows, but if you want more like this then please let us know!
In no particular order, here we go!
The Show: Hamilton
The Recommendations: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow : & My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 5 years, you've heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda's genius broadway show about "The Ten Dollar founding father." The show takes an old, white revolutionary and masterfully transforms him through hip-hop.
Chernow's stellar biography of Alexander Hamilton is the basis for this powerhouse of a show. Anyone more curious about the man and history mentioned in the songs should pick up the biography. It's incredibly easy to read and immerses you in Hamilton's world without getting bogged down with dry historical writing. Alexander Hamilton is one of the biographies that I always recommend when someone is looking for a non-fiction that is engrossing, but accessible for those not super well versed in the history of the time. The joy of both Miranda and Chernow's interpretations of Hamilton is that they recognize that he was a brilliant man, but often stymied by his own sense of ego. I think it's one of the reasons that Hamilton, the musical, connects with so many people.
While all of the women of Hamilton are absolutely stunning, the heart of the show lies in Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. There are a variety of books about the relationship between Alex and Eliza, but My Dear Hamilton really shifts the perspective to Eliza and her take on the situation. The authors benefitted greatly from the numerous letters of Eliza, but still create a well rounded story that follows Eliza through her various identities - general's daughter, founding father's wife, and finally, one of the last surviving voices of the revolution. Basically, they capture the Eliza of the show, then dive deep into all of the amazing achievements that she did on her own.
The Show: Six
The Recommendations: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir and The Constant Princess, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, and The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory
Six is the newest show on this list. There's no doubt that the success of Hamilton provided some inspiration for this one, but I could not be more grateful. Six is about the six wives of Tudor king, Henry VIII. It's a pop extravaganza that takes the women who have been, "just one word in a stupid rhyme," and puts them front and center. As they put it, "history's about to get overthrown," and we are here for it.
There are so many books on these women, both fiction and non-fiction, but for me, it's the early ones that I read that have stuck with me the longest. Alison Weir's Six Wives was the first non-fiction account that I read about the Tudor queens. It's a really great starting point, especially if you aren't super into non-fiction. Because of the time period, it does have a bit of the generic dates things happened, but Weir dives deep into the historical record and provides a nuanced portrait of each woman. Whenever I need to do a quick lookup, this is my go-to book, even though its not perfect.
If I could point to a single book that I remember starting me on a historical deep dive of someone, it would be Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. She is responsible for introducing me to one of my favorite historical women, Anne Boleyn. Now, in hindsight, Gregory's writing is not perfect and her characterization of Anne is not the most enlightened particularly from a 2021 lens. That being said, this book and the ensuing Plantagenet & Tudor series brings the courts of Henry to life. They are lush, romantic, and completely engaging -- just like Six.
The Show: Hadestown
The Recommendations: Mythos by Stephen Fry, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I love a good broadway origin story, especially those that start out as completely different project. Hadestown is exactly that - it originally began as a concept album that slowly transitioned into the stunning Broadway show that it is today. The story is from the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where Orpheus travels down to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. The jazz infused show modernizes a tale that has survived the ages.
Stephen Fry is a well known multi hyphenate - writer, actor, and comedian. Not necessarily the person that you would go to as a purveyor of the Greek Myths, but Mythos subverts your notion of what the Greeks were and modernizes it. I personally think one of the reasons that the Greek myths remain popular is that they are both modern and of their time. You get a sense of antiquity, but that human behavior remains the same throughout the ages. Fry brings a wry sense of humor to these stories and its pure joy. Typically, I don't recommend the audiobook version of things, but Mythos is an exception as Fry narrates it and it adds a layer to the storytelling.
Recently, and by recently I mean the last 5-10 years, there are have been numerous takes on the Greek myths in fiction form. I could probably make an entire list on great Greek retellings, so that's why I have included two fiction picks here. The first is The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood which is the story of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus from the Odyssey. Atwood's stunningly short novel shifts the perspective to the forgotten woman of the Odysssey and brings her to life. The book feels outside of Atwood's traditional oeuvre but that is what makes it all the more fun to read. The second is Madeline Miller's amazing debut novel that tells the story of Achilles and his lover, Patroclus, set against the backdrop of the Battle of Troy. It's a beautiful, haunting, and unforgettable novel. Both Atwood and Miller bring modern interpretations and themes of acceptance and feminism to the ancient world.
The Show: Rent
The Recommendations: How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Rent is one of those shows that has completely permeated the culture. It's impossible to hear the opening bars of "Seasons of Love" and not immediately want to begin to sing, "Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes." The show is both incredibly hopeful and sorrow filled, it's impossible to watch without being transported back to the height of the AIDS pandemic and the changing landscape of NYC at the time when you listen or watch it.
There are a ton of great reading options about Rent, the show. Both because it was revolutionary at the time and due to the tragic death of the creator Jonathan Larson the night before previews of the show began. Yet, for me at least, the show is about the vibrancy of alphabet city and the challenges faced during the AIDS crisis which is why my first recommendation is journalist David France's How to Survive a Plague. It traces the AIDS epidemic in the United States, the neglect by the government, and how activists united to make change. This is a story about the little man challenging authority and making it out, albeit horribly scarred, on the other side similarly to the show. Much like the show, it will also likely make you cry.
Rent touches on a myriad of social issues, but when you really think about the show, it is all about the relationships that happen between the characters. The breakups, makeups, and friendships that form a vibrant community. In Boy Meets Boy, Levithan creates a utopian community that is incredibly accepting, but focuses on the high school friendships and romances of a tight-knit group of friends trying to navigate a slightly hostile world outside of their bubble. It's a more hopeful story than Rent but both resonate with the audience and highlight the importance of the connections we make in the world.
The Show: Chicago
The Recommendations: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins, and A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Chicago is an all-time great. Bob Fosse's stunning tale of murder and mayhem in the windy city transcends time because, as a society, we love a sensational trial. The show captures everything that we love while still managing to critique the media, those wrapped up in their 15 minutes of fame, and what happens to those after the media cycle tosses them out. It is impossible not to be totally wrapped up in this story, just like these3 books!
The Devil in the White City is the one true crime book that I will always recommend. Larson's cinematic true story follows the terrifying serial killer, H.H. Holmes, and his murder house during the 1893 Chicago's world fair. Even though this book, unfortunately, doesn't include a messy trial, it does capture the allure of the World Fair, the hype surrounding it, and all of the crime that occurred during it. Holmes, as Larson writes about him, is utterly charismatic and charming. Just like Billy Flynn, but with a murderous bent.
I couldn't decide between these two picks for this one, so you are getting both! The Wife Upstairs is a re-interpretation of Jane Eyre, but with a thriller twist. The tale switches between two female protagonists and the competition between the two is very Velma and Roxie. On the other hand is A Time to Kill which perfectly captures the drama and intrigue of a high stakes trial. Grisham's debut novel is easily one of his best and still is my number one legal thriller pick when asked.
Let us know if you've read any of these on the list!
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