A trip to the theater isn’t always possible, especially during the busy — and pricey — holiday season. When a craving for stage drama hits, fear not, there are options. In the world of literature, long-awaited memoirs by Barbra Streisand and Chita Rivera arrived this year, as did the first major biography of the playwright August Wilson. Whether you prefer a live capture of a popular Broadway show like “Waitress,” or a film adaptation of, say, “Dicks: The Musical,” an Upright Citizens Brigade sketch, there is an abundance of musical theater films. (And if all else fails, you can listen to our critics discuss two recent musical-theater highlights or hear the story of the success of “Wicked” from our theater reporter.) Here is a small selection of notable works of theater-related memoir, fiction and film.
‘My Name Is Barbra’
Barbra Streisand’s memoir spans 970 pages of print and 48 hours via audiobook. But for an icon of her stature, whose personal life — her Brooklyn upbringing, her celeb lovers, her underdog charm, that famous nose — is almost as mythic as her career, a page count exceeding that of “Ulysses” could be considered restraint. While it’s filled with chatty, personable retellings of stories that may be familiar to Streisand fans, there are plenty of fresh anecdotes too. Alexandra Jacobs called it “a banquet of a book” in her review in The New York Times and advised that “you might not have the appetite to linger for the whole thing, but you’ll find something worth a nosh.” Read the review.
‘CHITA: A Memoir‘
The Broadway legend Chita Rivera wants to share the spotlight with her successors, and so, though her book is a memoir, Rivera kept the next generation in mind while writing it with the arts journalist Patrick Pacheco. In a conversation with Juan A. Ramírez in The Times, she said, “It’s not as much of a memoir as it is an opportunity for kids to realize that if they want this, they can have it — but they have to work hard.” That endless striving earned her three Tony Awards and led to her collaborations with the likes of John Kander and Fred Ebb, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. Her drive shines in this book along with glimpses of snark from her “fire-breathing alter ego, Dolores.”
‘August Wilson: A Life’
If the seminal American playwright August Wilson were to read his own life story, written by the former Boston Globe theater critic Patti Hartigan, he would most likely do so in the back of a seedy diner, drinking coffee and chain smoking, as he often did. In the first major biography of the playwright, Hartigan chronicles Wilson’s prolific career — including his Pulitzer Prize-winning plays “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson” — and his immeasurable influence on capturing the experiences of Black Americans in the 20th century.
‘The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race’
In the scholar Farah Karim-Cooper’s book about Shakespeare and racism, she posits that “love demands that we reconcile ourselves with flaws and limitations.” Karim-Cooper, a director of education at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and a professor at King’s College London, applies this philosophy to the great playwright, scrutinizing his relationship with race and interrogating how his works shaped harmful Renaissance ideals — while still professing admiration. Pick it up for an expert perspective on a thorny theater subject, or to share a reading list with the prominent Shakespearean actor John Douglas Thompson, who reviewed the book for The Times.
If you’re looking for fiction with a theatrical spin, turn to “Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett. Influenced by Thornton Wilder and Anton Chekhov, Patchett tells the story of a stage actress and mother of three daughters who contend with their memories and legacy while living on the family cherry orchard. Alexandra Jacobs called it “folksy” and “a thing of pies and quilts,” so it makes for a snug read by a roaring fireplace or a canny gift for the teen in your life auditioning for a production of “Our Town.” For extra wrapped-in-a-cardigan energy, opt for the audiobook narrated by Meryl Streep.
Streaming and in Theaters
‘Dicks: The Musical’
Starring Nathan Lane and directed by Larry Charles, perhaps best known for “Borat,” this absurdist, lowbrow musical comedy (now available for streaming) tells the tale of two salesmen who learn they are identical twins who were separated at birth. God narrates. High jinks ensue. The film, adapted by Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp from their campy 2014 Upright Citizens Brigade show, leans into puns, gags and over-the-top theatrical musical numbers. Expect raunchy satire and winking fun-poking at heterosexuality.
‘Waitress: The Musical’
If you didn’t get enough sugar, butter, flour from “Waitress,” the 2016 musical with a melodic pop score by Sara Bareilles, or “Waitress,” the 2007 Adrienne Shelly film starring Keri Russell, confectionary cravings may be met with a third iteration: “Waitress: The Musical” the movie. The film version (now in theaters) presents Diane Paulus’s musical production (which was nominated for four Tony Awards), shot on Broadway in 2021, and stars Bareilles as the down-on-her-luck protagonist, a newly pregnant, hard-working waitress with a knack for baking and a crush on her gynecologist. In her review for The Times, Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote that Bareilles provides “a warm anchor for the movie,” and thanks to her, this second musical helping “goes down easy.”
‘A Christmas Carol’
A pay-what-you-wish streaming of this dramatized holiday classic offers a glimpse into Dickens’s time, if with a little more glam. Viewers are transported to 19th-century London by the show, set in a parlor room at New York City’s Merchant House that is ornamented with Christmas décor. John Kevin Jones stars as Charles Dickens, under the direction of Rhonda Dodd. A one-time donation includes free shares to friends and family and unlimited views until Dec. 30.
‘How to Dance in Ohio’
An adaptation of Alexandra Shiva’s 2015 documentary about young autistic adults preparing for a spring formal dance in Columbus, Ohio, is the basis for the new Broadway musical with the same name. The documentary film, which won a Peabody Award, centers on a social skills therapy program. The musical is set at a similar counseling center for young adults and has a cast of seven autistic actors, all making their Broadway debuts. The film “is not a traditional documentary full of talking heads sharing detached academic wisdom,” the critic Neil Genzlinger wrote in a review in The Times, and though there are plenty of feel-good moments, the documentary goes deeper than the cloying evening-news stories of uplift.
‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’
Stephen Sondheim superfans know this one well. For the uninitiated, this 2016 documentary film by the theater director Lonny Price presents an enchanting look behind the scenes of “Merrily We Roll Along,” the notorious 1981 flop by Sondheim and Hal Prince. “Best Worst Thing” features tender interviews between Price, who was in the show, and his former castmates, alongside audition and rehearsal footage of their youth (all the actors in the original production were ages 14-20). At times the film mirrors the plot of “Merrily,” which, depending on your disposition, is a heartening or heartbreaking cautionary tale about time’s erosion of youthful ideals. For those who can’t make it to the starry revival on Broadway, experiencing the show’s genesis through its wistful first company just might be the next best thing.
If all of those books and documentaries tire the mind, a wordless spectacle might be in order. Matthew Bourne’s reinterpretation of “Swan Lake,” with its cast of bare-chested, muscular male swans, is available for free streaming. A year after the boys’ version of the classic premiered in 1995 at Sadlers Wells in London, the production moved to the West End and later had a four-month run on Broadway in 1998 (for which Bourne won two Tony Awards, for directing and choreography). Behold beautiful dancers who need not be in the same room to conjure the wonder of the live performance.