Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we delve into the topics at the very top of readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the razzle-dazzle discussion.
This week, we give our regards to Broadway, as this past weekend saw the 75th celebration of a certain prestigious awards recognizing excellent in Broadway Theatre. Not only were new productions like A Strange Loop and SIX: The Musical showered with wins, but so were returning favorites like Company, not to mention Dame Angela Lansbury, who was given a lifetime achievement award – and not just for the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd!
Let’s put on a show! Get ready to tread the boards and hit the spotlights – these are your recommendations for kids and YA books about . . . The Theatre!
First things first: Where Is Broadway? Luckily Douglas Yacka, Francesco Sedita, and illustrator John Hinderliter have written a book all about that. Not only does it have a fold-out map (very helpful), it covers the development of the first theaters and the birth of the American musical, as well as the shows and stars that have become Broadway legends.
And for those youngest readers, there are no better introductions to the world of Broadway than John Robert Allman and Peter Emmerich’s picture books, A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z and B Is for Broadway: Onstage and Backstage from A to Z. These musical alphabet books will help you separate your Chita Riveras from your Lizas with a ‘Z,’ and your auditions from your choreographers. Even better, some of the proceeds are donated to the Entertainment Community Fund, and the books come highly recommended by stage legends like Bebe Neuwirth and Kristin Chenoweth!
Finally, we present a picture book about kids with big stage dreams: Maya’s Big Scene by Isabelle Arsenault. In it, Montreal’s Mile End Kids are putting together a play about a feminist revolution, written by Maya. But the playwright learns her cast and crew have their own opinions on everything from costumes to lines, so Maya begins to demand obedience and loyalty! But, as readers learn, absolute bossiness corrupts absolutely!
A middle-school production of Fiddler on the Roof (winner of nine of those stage awards) sets up a chain of events that lead to uncovering a dark family secret in Broken Strings, a collaboration between writers Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer. Heroine Shirli Berman learns from her Zayde the power of music, both terrible and wonderful – something all musical theater lovers know intimately.
For installments of your favourite series for young readers where our heroes put on a show, check out Babymouse: The Musical by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, in which Babymouse dusts off her dancing shoes and tries out for the school musical – but she has some dogged competition from Felicia Furrypaws. And in Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach’s Jake the Fake Keeps It Real, our hero fakes his way into the Music and Art Academy for the gifted and talented. More funnyman than music man, Jake will have to think of something quick before he’s revealed as a bigger fraud than those fellows in The Producers.
And you can’t have a great musical without a few great dance numbers. Luckily, Sofia Acosta Makes a Scene by Emma Otheguy has a few! And like a great musical, it combines stage spectacle and social relevance. Sofia is a Cuban-American girl trying to figure out where she belong in her ballet-loving family and in the U.S. when she would rather be designing costumes. And – when she confides in a friend about some Cuban dancers defecting to the States – she learns her community isn’t as welcoming as she thought it was.
If you’re talking YA and musicals, then you have to mention John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson in which two boys from very different social circles, both named Will Grayson, meet in Chicago, and their lives become intertwined. And while it’s a great book, it would not be on this list without the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, friend to Will Grayson 1, offensive lineman, and musical theater auteur extraordinaire. Will and Will, alongside some romantic plots, work toward the epic production of Cooper’s biographical musical, Tiny Dancer (the greatest high school musical since Hamlet 2). You’ll also want to check out the companion novel, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan, a book filled with honesty, humor, and “big, lively, belty” musical numbers from the full script of the fictional musical.
Like a modern-day Fame, You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche follows five friends with dreams of stage stardom after they enroll at a prestigious New York City performing arts school. Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan, and Dave, have – among them – so much talent, so many romantic passions, and so much ambition, it’s a shock the novel (or Broadway itself) can contain them all!
Take a trip into the Great White Way’s past with Mazie by Melanie Crowder, in which an eighteen-year-old aspiring actress trades in starry Nebraska skies for the bright lights of 1950s Broadway. With money running out, and faced with too many failed auditions to count, Mazie begins to wonder if the dream is worth the cost – a dilemma explored in A Chorus Line, among other stage productions.
Looking for a little romance backstage? Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka is the story of Megan Harper, an aspiring theater director who is unlucky in love. She’s forced to take an acting role as part of a school requirement, gets cast as Juliet, and finds a potential Romeo in aspiring playwright, Owen Okita, though he’s totally unlike any one of her exes.
Justin, in Seth Rudetsky’s The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek, has always longed to be on Broadway – the shows, the lights, the cute guys! So when he gets an internship with a famous Broadway actor, he jumps at the chance, even if it means straining things with his kind (though maybe a little uptight) boyfriend Spencer. But as Justin’s personal relationships falter and his famous actor boss heads for the C-list, he realizes he’ll need a little more than jazz hands to get him out of his situation. A very funny coming-of-age story for any kid who’s wished to be six feet from stardom.
Finally, Fatal Throne by M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson is not so much devoted to musical theatre as it is ideal reading for fans of one of this year’s big winners, SIX: The Musical. Like SIX, Fatal Throne is a reimagining of the story of the many wives of King Henry VIII. Told in seven different voices (including Henry’s) by seven different authors, each wife attempts to survive their unpredictable king as he grows more obsessed with producing a male heir. As the musical advises, “Don’t Lose Ur Head” reading this one!