We texted each other during the entirety of the Tony’s (and to be honest, for a few hours every day about our theatrical obsessions with text-based analyses). To share our mutual nerdiness with all of you, we have compiled a recap of the performances of musicals and presentations of playwrights you might have seen (or missed) at the 2019 Tonys along with several book recommendations to be paired with each!
But first, let us introduce ourselves:
Olivia is a pre-service secondary English teacher who writes middle grade and YA in her spare time. A lifelong theater-goer and choir-singer, her obsession for live performances have grown recently and she has become involved behind the scenes of some undergraduate productions at her university. She blogs at Books and Big Ideas, is too active on Twitter, and spends about as much time reading critical analyses of various media as she does consuming them.
Taylor is an ace scholar of media and culture. When she’s not geeking out over the latest queer YA, a new type of yarn she found to knit or the latest episode of Chopped, Tay is working on her queer romcom about cupcakes, musicals and learning how to fall in love, Ace of Cake. Based in New Jersey, she also goes to Broadway shows entirely too often, but is kind of obsessed with the feeling of settling into a plush velvet theater seat and waiting for the curtain to rise. You can find her on Twitter or her blog, Stay on the Page.
Olivia and Taylor also record a podcast, Culture Popped Open, where they dissect their favorite pop culture obsessions–including musicals. You can find updates and more information at their Twitter and Patreon.
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations – This jukebox musical chronicles the, well, life and times of the Motown hit group The Temptations with all of their smooth harmonies and synchronized dance moves (winner of Best Choreography!). Check out these books featuring African-American musicians:
- Want to a book about a teen black girl wanting to make it big in the rap world and help out her family and community? Check out On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
- Want to read about three diverse kids who come together through grief and their love for the local music scene? Read The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
- Want a book about a black violinist who finds community amongst a street artist and another musician until she becomes pregnant and needs to make an impossible choice? Read Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert
- Want a good nonfiction look at the history of Motown? Read One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture by Gerard Early
- Bonus: Want a comprehensive guide to the Temptations co-written by one of their members, who also produced Ain’t Too Proud and (played by Derrick Baskin) serves as its narrator? Read Temptations by Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowsk
Beetlejuice – This weird, kitschy postmodern musical is about a dead couple who employ the services of a summonable bio-exorcist and shenanigans (set to music!) ensue. Here are some creepy YA and crossover horror books about ghosts, demons and more that will give you the same vibe as this eccentric and spooky musical:
- Want a good book about a B-horror movies and messy families: Scream All Night by Derek Milman
- Want a satirical story about an angel and a demon who accidentally misplaced the Antichrist when trying to avoid a war between Heaven and Hell…and perhaps you just binged the wonderful new Amazon adaptation? Read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
- Want feminist horror with actual girl-eating demons? Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
- Bonus: Want to make your own horror and live out your newly dead status? Check out this Handbook for the Recently Deceased, inspired directly by the musical/movie, from Hot Topic.
Tootsie – Okay, we admit we’re a little biased on this one…Tootsie is based on the movie of the same name from 1982, which does comment on the sexism in the workplace, but…now we all are more aware it exists. Instead, this version takes place in 2019 on Broadway (instead of a soap opera), and it tries to address this, but apparently still makes a lot of jokes about what’s really under Dorothy’s dress (and won the Tony for Best Book, ugh). (Here is a good article that discusses the broader implications of its take on cross-dressing/drag, too. This is also good and has examples of the jokes.) Besides, the introduction at the Tonys said that this was about a (white, cis, straight) man who is told he won’t work as an actor when turning 40 and someone gets more success as a woman??? In what universe?? Frozen on Broadway star Patti Murin had a fantastic comeback to that on Twitter. (Shoutout to a supporting performance by our fave Lilli Cooper, though!) So our recommendations are adjusted accordingly:
- If you’re going to read about a straight cis dude who does drag, at least read one about a teen dude who does so to help his mom in a dire financial situation. Check out Debbie Harry Sings in French by Megan Brothers
- If you want a body-positive rom-com about an actual girl in a badass red dress, read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
- Guy dressing up as a girl to get the part? Meh. Girl dressing up as a guy to stay at her private music school and prove herself by joining an all-male a cappella group? Yes, please. Check out Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
- Want an #ownvoices book about a gay boy who does drag to have a shot at a brighter future? Check out Drag Teen by Jeffery Marsh
- Want to read a heist story where a wealthy socialite teams up with drag queens? Read Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
- Want a graphic novel filled with gorgeous illustrations and all the feels about a poor aspiring designer who makes elegant, inventive dresses for a crown prince who explores Paris as Lady Crystallia by night? Check out Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.
- Want to read about the difficulties of being a woman in Hollywood’s golden age, with a queer twist? Read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Bonus: Want a nonfiction history of drag for all ages? Read Drag: Combing through the Big Wigs of Show Business by Frank deCaro
The Prom – In this energetic musical comedy, four egotistical washed-out former Broadway stars travel to a small, conservative Indiana town to help Emma, a lesbian teen who wants to bring her girlfriend to the high school prom (loosely inspired by the 2010 Itawamba County School District prom controversy). The adults are all highkey annoying, but the teens are adorable and the last two musical numbers soar (and there’s an epic kiss at the end!!!). Check out these other adorable YA prom books that feature queer teens dealing with the struggles of androgynous tuxes, PFLAG chapters, rainbow proms, and more.
- Check out this snarky book about two boys (who hate each other…initially) who help plan their southern county’s PFLAG-sponsored “rainbow prom” to break up their parents: Social Intercourse by Greg Howard
- Check out this cute book about queer teens, prom-posals gone wrong and fake-dating: How Not to Ask a Boy to Prom by S.J. Goslee
- Want *many* adorable prom stories by some incredible YA writers? Read 21 Proms by Various Authors
- Want a sweet indie romance about a girl who finds the courage to take a chance on love with her best friend when she finds the perfect suit? Read Prom and Other Hazards by Jamie Sullivan
- Want a funky story about a boy who helps his best friend go to prom with a girl after she comes out as a lesbian? Read Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
- Bonus: Check out the novelization of the musical: The Prom: A Novel Based on the Hit Broadway Musical by Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar, and Saundra Mitchell (Out 9/10/19)
Hadestown (Greek mythology reimaginings bonus if it has any of the characters in the musical) – The big Tony winner of the night with 8 wins including Best Musical, Score, and Director was Hadestown, the folk, and jazz-inspired, post-apocalyptic retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, narrated by Hermes (André De Shields, Tony winner!). Go listen to the music, it will change your life. Unlike the original story, Eurydice has more agency and instead of dying chooses to work for Hades in his mines, giving up a free life in an uncertain climate for security with grueling work. Orpheus, believing in creating a more hopeful world through song, journeys down to Hadestown to bring her back…if doubt doesn’t come in. Check out these blends of myth, storytelling, love, fate, and social commentary:
- Want a lyrical series of mythological retellings, including an Orpheus retelling? Check out The Metamorphoses Trilogy by Sarah McCarry
- Want a sweeping historical fiction tale where the Gods of Love, Music, Death and War recount two epic World War I love stories from a posh 1940s NYC hotel room? Read Lovely War by Julie Berry
- Want a mythological retelling with commentary on climate change? Read Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
- Yearning for another Orpheus and Eurydice retelling? Check out A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
- Want a Greek mythology retelling with a focus on gender? Read Circe by Madeline Miller
- Want a retelling of an ancient story all about attempts to defy fate, comments on gender and agency, full of Latinx culture and commentary on colorism? Read Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
- Want another dystopian where a wall is built, with a queer Latinx focus? Read We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
- Bonus: Read Book X of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to see a version of the original Orpheus and Eurydice myth!
Oklahoma! – OOOOOOOklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains…In this re-imagining of the genre-defining early book musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein, a group of frontier settlers plays out complex gender, racial and community dynamics through a re-orchestration of the original music. The musical shows Laurey William’s hesitant courtship by an arrogant cowboy Curly McLain and her family’s sinister farmhand Jud Fry, a love triangle that escalates in increasing heat and tension until the play’s final moments that reveal the faultlines of loyalty in this tight-knit community. Check out these books about Oklahoma and/or race:
- Want an Oklahoma-set book that feels like the horror musical that this stark, brave and compelling revival aims to me? Read The Last Harvest by Kim Liggett
- Want a book that holds up an unapologetic mirror to xenophobia, whiteness, and politeness like the revival of Oklahoma! Does (and also has punctuation in the title)? Check out Dig. by A.S. King
- Want a country-wide book about trauma and gendered violence? Read A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
- Want a book about Oklahoma history and racial tensions past and present? Read Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
- Bonus: Looking for a classic work of American fiction about how life on the prairie affected young immigrants and influenced gender roles? Read Willa Cather’s 1918 novel My Antonia
Kiss Me, Kate – Cole Porter’s classic “golden age” musical was the first show to win an Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre (aka a Tony Award) for Best Musical in 1949. The subject of multiple Broadway and West End revivals, the musical is about a production of William Shakespeare’s comedy Taming of the Shrew and the sparks that fly between the show’s director and it’s leading actress, his ex-wife. This rich musical is filled with extravagant classic dance numbers, NYC gangsters and commentary on theatrical production. Check out these books that feature teens doing theater in various forms:
- Want a gender-bent contemporary retelling of Taming of the Shrew? Check out The Taming Of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm
- Want a stunning book about a girl who plays her dream role in a Greek Tragedy, only to be distracted by the girl who helps work the lights? Check out Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta
- Want a dramatic tale about five teens in a performing arts high school preparing for the future? Check out You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche
- Want a classic YA dramatic comedy about a bunch of teens at theater camp? Read Dramarama by E. Lockhart
- Want a sweet middle-grade novel where a girl falls in love with Shakespeare and the girl playing Juliet? Read Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee.
- Bonus: Read Taming of the Shrew by the Bard himself and delve into some of the source material for the musical!
The Ferryman – In this sprawling, messy, lyrical three-act play from Jez Butterworth that won Best Play and numerous other awards, the Carney family celebrates the harvest, but their festivities are cut short by betrayal and complicated politics surrounding the IRA and family loyalties at the height of the Troubles. This play about a Catholic family living in Northern Ireland in the 1990s asks difficult questions about loyalty to family versus loyalty to politics and finds its relevance to a contemporary American audience through those themes as well as an elaborate set and naturalistic dialogue. Check out these books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Northern Ireland, the “Troubles” and Irish mythology:
- Want a rock music and angst-filled tale about a girl who moves to Ireland from Chicago and makes a difficult emotional and geographical journey in the wake of tragedy? Read The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley.
- Want an atmospheric fantasy rooted in Irish mythology? Check out Uncharted by Erin Cashman
- Want a dual-narrative drama about two teens caught on opposite sides of a Belfast Peace Wall more than a decade after the Troubles while the actions of their parents during that time haunt them? Read All the Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson
- Looking for a solid, detailed and lyrical non-fiction account of the Troubles in Northern Ireland? Definitely read Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
- For a stunning debut by a Northern Irish Author about the impact of secrets and trauma on a young woman in 1980s and 1990s Ireland? Don’t miss Where They Were Missed by Lucy Caldwell
- Bonus: Watch Derry Girls on Netflix, a show about five teenagers who go to a Catholic school in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and their countless, hilarious adolescent shenanigans
What the Constitution Means to Me – In this unconventional but witty and relevant one-act play, Obie-award winning and Tony-nominated actress and playwright Heidi Schreck revisits, revises And restates her experience as a teenager competing in national competitions about the US Constitution. Weaving memories of the competitions with sharp commentary on Constitutional law and stories about the five generations of gendered violence and trauma through the women in her family, Heidi provides a raw and honest look at a document that fundamentally does not protect we the people. With charming wit and a beaming smile, Heidi takes on issues ranging from rape to domestic violence to abortion in this deeply personal and riveting play. If this sounds great, check out these books about teenage girls who kick ass and initiate change in themselves and/or communities:
- Want a funny book about a snarky, queer girl who manages her grief and gets into school politics by writing emails to her favorite newscaster? Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner
- Looking for a charming and funny story about local politics by two all-star YA authors? Read Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed (out February 4, 2020)
- Looking for a fundamental and iconic book about a girl who fights for social justice in the face of police brutality? Read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Looking for a sharp, funny, sex-positive about teens who fight for inclusive sex-ed and contraception supplies at their high school? Read The Birds, The Bees & You and Me
- Looking for a book about abortion, theater, and family? Read Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin
- Bonus: Read Heidi Schreck’s play about faith, love, and community set in a Bronx food kitchen, Grand Concourse!
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus – In this bizarre and grotesque comedic follow-up to one of Shakespeare’s goriest plays, the remaining characters are left with the job of cleaning up…the gore. This play uses excess and vaudeville techniques to provide a darkly humorous look at class and art. Check out these unforgivingly funny and/or dark books along with another Shakespeare sequel:
- Want to read some classic poetry about finding hope and connection in the modern world by the same writer who inspired Cats? Read The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
- Aching for the perfect Shakespeare sequel but with a lot less gore? Read Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
- Need the revenge book of your heart in your life? Check out Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin (out February 4, 2020)
- Want a weird, laugh-out-loud funny about bloody English history? Read My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows
- Want a grotesquely funny and weird book that makes you think about life? Read Going Bovine by Libba Bray
- Want a bloody revenge book with a lot of heart and some laughs? Read Sadie by Courtney Summers
- Bonus: Read the original Titus Andronicus, which I promise is a wild, maybe nonsensical journey and full of missing limbs, cannibalism, rape, and on-stage deaths unlike any Shakespeare you’ve read/seen before.
Choir Boy (Performance, Playwright) – From the writer of the play that became Oscar-winner Moonlight, Choir Boy received a Special Tony for its music and impressed with its musical performance and McCraney’s speech. It follows a black queer boy’s journey in private school and serves tribute to the spiritual music history he belongs to. Check out these incredible books about music, black teens and private school dynamics:
- Want a book that explores private school dynamics and toxic masculinity? Read Tradition by Brendan Kiely
- Want a sweet, poignant book about class, music, and love? Read Someday, Somewhere by Lindsay Champion
- Want a striking book about a boy who speaks up in his classroom and works through his feelings about race and privilege in the wake of an act of police brutality? Read Dear Martin by Nic Stone
- Want an honest, compelling book about a black teen who goes to a very white private school? Read Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker
- Want a rich and complex book about twins who grow apart as they take very different approaches to their racial identity and community? Read This Side of Home by Renée Watson
- Want a sweet and funny middle-grade graphic novel about a black kid struggling to fit in at his new low-diversity private school? Read New Kid by Jerry Kraft
- Want a story about a queer black kid who confronts a flawed education system and finds his own voice by channeling his anger? Read Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
- Bonus: Watch Moonlight. Not related content-wise to Choir Boy, but treat yourself. It’s on Netflix, and it’s better than La La Land.
Ink – We all knew we needed another play about white men in power. We needed yet another white male journalist story this season, apparently. They really broke the mold here. The play explores the rise of media mogul Rupert Murdoch in a play set in 1969 London against the backdrop of British populism as Murdoch acquires a struggling newspaper, The Sun. Check out some nonfiction about Murdoch or delve into some genuinely funny and diverse books about teenage journalists instead!
- Want a sweet rom-com about two teens chasing down one last good news story the night of senior prom? Read The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman
- Want a powerful story about an indigenous girl who takes on covering a musical casting controversy at her high school with the cute photographer? Read Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- Want a stunning book about a boy who works on his school newspaper but the biggest investigation of his life is within his own family? Read Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
- Instead of some diverse and fun YA novels about teen journalists, do you want a critical biography of Robert Murdoch released in the midst of the 2008 Great Recession? Read The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch by Michael Wolff
- Want a nonfiction look at Murdoch in light of the phone-hacking scandal? Read Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires by David Folkenflik
- Bonus: Don’t watch Fox News, Sky News, or read The Sun
EXTRA BONUS: Read the plays nominated for Best Revival this year, which includes winner Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song, Lanford Wilson’s Burn/This, and Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery!