One can argue that plays are meant to be seen, not read, but it's hard to imagine any theater aficionado not being thrilled with The August Wilson Century Cycle (TCG), a beautifully packaged set of all 10 of Wilson's revered "Pittsburgh Hill" plays, complete with specially written introductions by such notables as Laurence Fishburne, Tony Kushner, Toni Morrison, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Phylicia Rashad.
If you want to introduce a child to the joys of theater, consider How Does The Show Go On? (Disney Books), co-authored by producer Thomas Schumacher and Jeff Kurti. Filled with hundreds of enticing photographs, this 125-page volume explains everything from what it means to be a choreographer to the definition of cyclorama. Given that Schumacher produced The Lion King, it's no surprise that show gets plenty of play in the book. As a companion gift for an adult, buy the newly updated version of Julie Taymor: Playing With Fire (Harry N. Abrams), a gorgeous coffee-table volume devoted to the work of The Lion King's visionary director.
Another handsome addition to your coffee table would be Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Broadway Books) by Time Out theater editor David Cote. Musical theater fans might also appreciate the librettos to last year's Tony winner, Spring Awakening (TCG), the cult favorite Grey Gardens (Applause), or the revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company (TCG).
Thespians -- budding or otherwise -- might appreciate Actors at Work (Faber & Faber), in which Rosemarie Tichler and Barry Jay Kaplan have interviewed 14 of our greatest performers, including Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep, about their working methods, as well as Notes to an Actor (Ivan R. Dee), a volume of practical advice from actor-director-writer Ron Marasco. If your recipient would prefer to read about actors, there's Brian Kellow's new biography Ethel Merman: A Life (Viking) or Barry Day's fascinating The Letters of Noel Coward (Knopf), in which the famed sophisticate wrote to everyone from Gertrude Lawrence to Tallulah Bankhead.
STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN
CDs and DVDs are ideal stocking stuffers or can be the main event in themselves. On the DVD front, you can't beat the new expanded 2-disc "Shimmy and Shake" edition of the hit film Hairspray (New Line). For those who appreciate darker fare, the L.A. Opera is releasing their celebrated production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (EuroArts Music International) starring Tony winners Audra McDonald and Patti LuPone. Or how about the film version of Tracy Letts' bone-chilling play Bug (Lionsgate), featuring stage star Michael Shannon opposite Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr.?
Among the hottest new CD offerings are a trio of delightful discs from three Broadway divas on the PS Classics label: Victoria Clark's Fifteen Seconds of Grace; Lauren Kennedy's Here and Now, and Andrea Burns' A Deeper Shade of Red. Buy 'em all and make someone really happy!
Meanwhile, some of my other favorite divas have great new CDs available. Andrea Marcovicci has put out a recording of her current cabaret show, Andrea Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart (Andreasong), which includes some songs from this legendary pair that I'd never heard before; Darlene Love's It's Christmas, Of Course (Shout Factory) is not your usual holiday album, thanks to covers of songs by Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, and James Brown, and Betty Buckley 1967 (Playbill Records) is a fascinating glimpse into the early promise of one of our greatest artists. And Legally Blonde star Laura Bell Bundy has a holiday CD, I'll Be Home for Christmas (Lab Records), with some of the proceeds going to her favorite charities.
Speaking of divas, who could compare to Lena Horne? (That's rhetorical, folks.) DRG has just reissued her classic albums Feelin' Good and Lena in Hollywood (as a two-disc set), Lena Soul, and the holiday-appropriate Merry From Lena. Another great lady of the stage, Glenn Close, can be heard on Busker Alley (Jay Records), a recording of last year's concert staging of the Sherman Brothers' musical about street performers, starring Tony Award winner Jim Dale.
If you want to feel doubly good about gift-giving, order the enchanting Carols For a Cure, Volume 9 (Broadwaycares.org), with all proceeds going to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, or Brian Gari's all-star studio recording of his short-lived Broadway show Late Nite Comic (Original Cast Records) -- the performers include Karen Ziemba, Julia Murney, Brian d'Arcy James, and Daniel Reichard -- which benefits The Actors' Fund.
THAT'S THE TICKET
Of course, there's no gift a theater lover will appreciate more than theater tickets! But if you want to go the extra mile, make it a package deal. For example, you can pair up ducats for the Manhattan Theatre Club's upcoming Broadway production of Come Back Little Sheba with an adorable stuffed Steiff dog from toy giant F.A.O. Schwarz -- which will be guaranteed to never run away.
You can make a visit to the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George even more special by throwing in a membership to the Museum of Modern Art (www.MoMa.org), which is currently displaying The Drawings of Georges Seurat. This fascinating exhibition includes many of the studies for Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the painting that provides the central image for the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical.
Looking for a bigger gesture? Before your loved one pays a visit to the new Broadway musical Passing Strange why not arrange a visit to Amsterdam, the city that provides inspiration for the show's autobiographical hero. Northwest Airlines (www.NWA.com) can put together a great airfare-and-hotel deal for those who want to go Dutch.
Finally, if you want to do something truly grand, place two tickets to the Vineyard Theater's critically acclaimed production of Julia Cho's The Piano Teacher -- starring the extraordinary Elizabeth Franz -- atop a baby grand from the legendary Steinway Piano company (www.steinway.com). Talk about your special delivery!