Welcome back to Setting Smackdown, where two different romance settings brawl it out for first place in our hearts! (If you missed our first two Smackdowns you can find them here: Georgian vs. Victorian; France vs. Italy). In our Stage vs. Screen smackdown, we’re not looking for romances featuring actors on vacation or meeting and falling in love with ‘ordinary people’. We’re looking at books which take us right into the heart of Broadway or the West End, Hollywood or Bollywood, or even turn-of-the-century Paris, when film-making as an industry was just being born.
First, it’s interesting to note that “Stage” is much less represented in romance than “screen.” Even when we expand to include everything that happens on a stage, from striptease to Shakespeare, “Stage” is clearly the underdog of this fight. But I thought the Georgian era couldn’t brawl with the Victorians, so what do I know?
Stage has an edge in history, going back much farther than Screen can. The Regency era has three stage-set DIKs here. Joan Wolf’s His Lordship’s Mistress stars a well-born young lady turned actress, working to earn enough money to save her estate. Virginia Heath sets a diva on the road in How Not To Chaperon a Lady, and although our reviewer only gave it a B, Carla Kelly’s Miss Billings Treads the Boards (another road trip, with a troupe of actors and an undercover marquis) is a DIK in my book.
But just because film is more recent doesn’t mean there aren’t some excellent historical romances in its corner! The earliest days of film are captured in Judy Cuevas’s France-set Dance, of which the only negative thing I can say is that it’s out of print. Barbara Hambly’s Bride of the Rat God, set in 1923 Los Angeles during the silent film era, is a paranormal historical with historical details, an adorkable cameraman hero, and three warrior Pekingeses.
What about the modern era? Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert and All the Feels follow the cast of a Game of Thrones-type sword slinging fantasy drama, Total Creative Control by Joanna Chambers and Sally Malcolm is set in the production offices of a British-set vampire show, and Reel by Kennedy Ryan takes us deep into the process of filming the biopic of a lost Black Jazz legend – and the physical toll it takes on the heroine to do so. Dig up the buried treasure that is Laura London’s unexpected Sunshine and Shadow (seriously, if you ever thought ‘How about a movie between a film director and an Amish woman?’ have I got a book for you!). And one of the ways you will know that I’m being held hostage and and trying to signal for help is if I ever miss the opportunity to plug my all-time favorite romance novel – Again, by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, the love story of the showrunner of a Bridgerton-type Regency soap opera and the actor who plays the duke. We also have an entirely separate tag for reality tv, which is increasingly popular and too much to even get into here.
The most famous contemporary Stage-set series has to be Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, which has earned 4 DIKs and a B+ from us. But Broadway has the West End’s back! Christina Laurens’s Roomies stars a hot Irish subway musician-turned-musical theater star via the heroine setting him up to audition. Interested in dance as well as drama? Watch as global ballet phenom turns musical star – and sweeps the director off his feet – in Pas de Deux by Lynn Turner.
Which stars leave you struck? Are you a theater geek, or a silver screen aficionado? Let us know in the results!
~ Caroline Russomanno
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.