The Producer’s Perspective Summer Reading List

Remember when you were in high school and you were forced to read Jane Eyre or Moby Dick over the summer?  Booooring.

Well, you’re not in school anymore (or most of you aren’t – I do get a few emails from theater-pros-to-be from time to time).  But just because you’re not prepping for the SATs doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few things from a summer reading list!

And that’s why we made one for you!

The cool thing about this list, is unlike the titles assigned to you by fascist English teachers that sometimes make you never want to pick up a book ever again, you know this list is going to be all about a subject you enjoy:  the theater.

Since the theme of this blog and the Godspell blog is to help all of us understand more of what it takes to get a show up on its feet, I only chose books that featured a behind-the-scenes perspective on the mounting of big shows.

Enjoy!  Book reports due in September!  (ok, not really, but how many of you got heart palpitations when I said that?)


1.  Letters from An Actor by William Redfield

William Redfield’s recollections of appearing in the 1964 production of Hamlet starring Richard Burton and directed by Sir John Gielgud.

2. Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff

“Each year, hundreds of stagestruck kids arrive in New York determined to crash the theatre, firmly convinced they’re destined to be famous Broadway stars or playwrights. One in a thousand turns out to be Noel Coward. This book is about life among the other 999. By one of them.” -Helene Hanff

3. The Whorehouse Papers by Larry L. King

An account by a journeyman dramatist of the production–from phone call to first night–of his first play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the attendant wranglings, clashes, and confusions.

4. The Seesaw Log by William Gibson

A day-by-day candid account of the creativity, conflict, and compromise involved in the making of a smash-hit Broadway show (Seesaw), by the playwright himself.

5. We Bombed in New London by Brian Gari

A day-by-day candid account of the creativity, conflict, and compromise involved in the making of a legendary flop Broadway show (Late Nite Comic) written by the composer-lyricist.

6. Everything Was Possible: The Birth of The Musical Follies by Ted Chapin

Ted Chapin is now Chairman of the American Theatre Wing. But when he was 22 years old, he was just a lowly Production Assistant, running around after Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, and Michael Bennett as they created one of the most legendary musicals of all time. This was his journal.

7. A Year With The Producers: One Actor’s Exhausting (But Worth It) Journey From Cats to Mel Brooks’ Mega-Hit by Jeffry Denman

Jeffry Denman’s journey with The Producers from audition to opening night.

8. The Show Business Nobody Knows by Earl Wilson

Earl Wilson chronicled Broadway’s Golden Age in The New York Post from 1942 to 1983. This book tells some of his sordid tales.

9. Showstopper by Abigail Pogrebin

A recent release, this mini-book is now-author Abigail Pogrebin’s story of getting cast in Merrily We Roll Along at the age of 16.

10. Making It Big: The Diary of a Broadway Musical by Barbara Isenberg

Barbara Isenberg was a fly on the wall during the out-of-town tryout and Broadway birth of the musical Big. From a review by Library Journal: “This book is not for the weak-hearted or those with illusions about Broadway as the home of art; making this musical was more like making war.”


Do you have a suggestion?  Comment below!


(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)



– 93 Days to Godspell!  Read the day-by-day account of producing Godspell on Broadway here.

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  • Kevin says:

    Thank goodness I have already read one of those books! Ted Chapin’s book is wonderful. What about THE SEASON by William Goldman and ACT ONE by Moss Hart? This list could get very long. Thanks for the recommendations — get me to my iPad!

  • Katie says:

    I’m always looking for books about “the ‘biz.” Put a few on hold through my public library.
    I really enjoyed Letters from Backstage by Kostroff. Insight into life on a tour and some really funny, laugh out loud moments.

  • This is a great list Ken, and a thread that I will keep bookmarked. I’ve been reading books like this non-stop for the last few months, so I have a bunch to add– and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else says. Amazon makes it easy to find these niche books, that would otherwise be difficult to acquire in the hinterlands. I rarely spent more than eight bucks for them, including shipping.
    A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett
    Ken Mandelbaum (If you read just one– this is a very thorough account of A Chorus Line– plus all of Bennett’s shows.)
    Broadway Stories: A Backstage Journey Through Musical Theatre Broadway Stories: A Backstage Journey Through Musical Theatre– Marty Bell (Nice interviews with a wide range of people from the 91-92 season)
    The Show Makers: Great Directors of the American Musical Theatre -Lawrence Thelen (This is pretty fun, haven’t made it all the way through, but lots of down and dirty details about shows here.)
    A Hymn to Him: The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner
    Benny Green, Alan Jay Lerner — (Though this is mostly lyrics, it contains tidbits about each of Lerner’s shows that are quite informative. And even the shows you probably don’t know contain gems. He really is top of the class–though I don’t know if people mention him in the same breath as Sondheim, Porter, Harburg, Hammerstein, Hart and Loesser these days.)
    Footnotes: A Memoir–Tommy Tune. (Aptly named, written like a dancer, (not exactly linear) lots of fun, flights of fancy)
    Put on a Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir-Charles Strouse (Especially sweet as I spent time in the original ASCAP Musical Theater Workshop which he hosted, and took a class at Columbia with Lee Adams, his songwriting partner. Plus Bye Bye Birdie was the first movie I ever saw and I watched it at least fifty times. It’s fun to hear the inside info on the shows he wrote.)
    The Art of the American Musical: Conversations with the Creators– Jackson R. Bryer, Richard A. Davison– I really enjoyed this one, lots of great interviews including Arthur Laurents and George C. Wolfe

  • list of books. nice. v nice. yes, such titles r v useful 4 new producers. they have been 4 me. ur list of 10 r autobiographicals, rather than how-2s. So, i read m. thnx, -bob

  • Jenna Papke says:

    For anyone who is interested in our theatre friends across the sea, I would also suggest Simon Gray’s diaries which chronicle the writing and producing of several of his shows, along with more personal aspects of his life.

  • Marina says:

    Thanks Ken, I can’t wait to start reading! You are amazing.

  • richard rizzo says:

    ” An Actor’s Guide MAKING IT IN NEW YORK CITY, Everything a working Actor needs to Survive and Succeed in the Big Apple, second edition by Glenn Alterman is a must reading for those young actors who hope to be in or replace actors in GODSPELL.
    It is quite a comprehensive guide for the young actor.

  • David says:

    I’m so delighted to see “Underfoot in Show Business” on this list. I believe it’s out-of-print. I pulled out my old yellowing copy last time I was at my parent’s house. I had the book for about 25 years and I thought it was high time I read it. It was absolutely delightful, bringing back a whole era of theatre that is gone. For recommendations, I would suggest any of Ethan Mordden’s studies of the American musical theatre, including “The Happiest Corpse I’ve Ever Seen: The Last 25 Years of the Broadway Musical”, “Open a New Window: The Broadway Musical in the 1960s” and “Coming up Roses: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s”.

  • Jeanie Balch says:

    Another entertaining read is Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & the Biggest Flop of the Season – 1959 to 2009 by Peter Filichia. Thanks, Ken, for your list!

  • jodi freedman says:

    Ghost Light – Frank Rich

  • Stephen says:

    Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing by James Kirkwood is a great account of his play “Legends” that starred Martin and Channing that was aimed for Broadway but never ended up coming in.

  • Jery says:

    Thanks for the list!! Finally I have something to look forward to on my lunch breaks, besides getting out of my 9-5.

  • Tim Heitman says:

    I’m a kindle user and it seems to me that this genre of reading, my favorite, is decidedly not kindle friendly. I hope that changes. I did find one on your list (that I’ve not already read) that I could read on my kindle — thanks so much.

  • Carol says:

    What did it take to put on the original GODSPELL? How did GODSPELL evolve from an off-off-Broadway experiment to a major hit musical–one worthy of being revived by Ken Davenport?
    Don’t forget the biography of Stephen Schwartz.
    It’s full of behind-the-scenes stories. Available on Kindle as well as in print. Be sure to check the “Extras” section for comments about each GODSPELL song!

  • How about Arnold Wesker’s diary about the making of play “The Merchant” – it is called “The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel”. (I was the young press agent on the show and am mentioned in Arnold’s book.)

  • christopher gooley says:

    how come these books I can’t get on my ipad to read =( SAD DAY!!

  • brian gari says:

    How nice to see an unsolicited recommendation for my book here. I hated summer reading in school. Ruined my vacations! But what a joy to see someone is asking others to read my work during the summer. Many thanks.
    Brian Gari

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