Call them theater lovers or theatre lovers or drama queens or Broadway Babies: If you have somebody in your life who goes to shows, you can choose among many gifts to make them happy – from theater tickets and theater subscriptions to play scripts, cast recordings and cherished books about the theater to all sorts of souvenirs (calendars, Christmas ornaments, T-shirts, gum) intended as tangible reminders of an evanescent experience.
If you DO know what your theater lover loves, you can buy tickets for them yourself.
Hottest tickets on Broadway, arranged alphabetically:
THE BOOK OF MORMON
The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
Director: Jason Moore and Trey Parker
Twitter feed: @BookofMormonBWY
This new musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (book), the creators of South Park, and Robert Lopez, one of the composer-lyricists for “Avenue Q” (music and lyrics) is about both the founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and modern disciples. It is outrageous, irreverent in one way, but also deeply reverent to (even while parodying) the best traditions of the Broadway musical.
Buy tickets to The Book of Mormon
August Wilson Theater (245 West 52nd Street)
Opened: November 6, 2006
The story of the 1950′s-60′s singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, whose hits include “December 1963 [Oh, What A Night]” (my favorite) as well as “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” etc.
Here is what I wrote about the show recently, in an article entitled Jersey Boys vs. Jersey Shore: Although the music is better known than the musicians, and yes there are almost three dozen songs in the show, the story of the group is better than most of those ‘Behind The Music’ documentaries.
Buy tickets to Jersey Boys
THE LION KING
Minskoff Theater (200 West 45th Street)
Opened: November 13, 1997
Based on the 1994 Disney animated film about the coming-of-age of a young lion in the African jungle, this musical offers African-inflected music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and the visual magic of Julie Taymor. Taymor is the director, a composer and lyricist for some of the songs. But above all, she is the designer of the costumes, masks, and puppets — and it is these visuals that make this show a good first theatrical experience.
Buy tickets to The Lion King
Winter Garden (1634 Broadway)
Opened: October 18, 2001
It’s hard even for hard-core Mamma Mia fans to argue that the story pieced together using some two dozen hits from the 1970′s pop group ABBA makes very much sense: A young woman getting married on the Greek island where she has grown up invites the three men who may be her father to the wedding, without telling her mother: She had summer-quickie affairs with all three. The lyrics of some of the songs don’t always actually fit with what’s supposed to be happening at any moment.
But fans don’t care. The infectious music, most memorably “Dancing Queen,” and the whimsical disco-era dance numbers are enough for them. And whatever else you may think about the musical, it is true what the fans say: It is not quite as cheesy at the Meryl Streep movie.
Buy tickets to Mamma Mia
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Majestic Theater (247 West 44th Street)
Opened: January 26, 1988
The Phantom of the Opera, based on a 1911 French novel by Gaston Leroux, is about a disfigured genius named Erik who lives in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House and falls in love with Christine, an aspiring singer whom he helps…until an old flame of Christine’s named Raoul steps back into the picture.
However, the story in the musical, written and composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber — with more than its share of 1980′s heavy power ballads — is starting to take second place to the story of the musical, which is the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, and probably the most profitable. In January, it will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Broadway.
Buy tickets to The Phantom of the Opera
Gershwin Theater (222 West 51st Street)
Opened: October 30, 2003
The musical tells the story of “The Wizard of Oz” from the witches’ perspective, more specifically from the Wicked Witch of the West, who was not, as a child, wicked at all, but just green-tinted, taunted, and misunderstood. There is so much to like about this musical, the clever twists on the familiar tale, the spectacular set, and music that is a lot more appealing in context (such as the song “Defying Gravity”) that I will forgive the contortions necessary to tack on a happy ending.
BUY TICKETS TO WICKED
Here are some shows that I like that have opened in the 2012-2013 season:
Broadway (All of these have limited runs):
Looking promising (but not yet open):
Buy tickets to Rodgers and Hammersteins Cinderella The Musical
The best thing about tickets is that this is a gift that gives pleasure twice – at the time you give it, and then when the theater lover actually goes to the show, which can be many months in the future.
Many theaters – the non-profit ones — offer subscriptions or memberships, which can be a wonderful gift that lasts an entire season…or a terrible burden for the increasing number of theatergoers who are commitment-phobic. (I’ve written a whole article about the waning popularity of theater subscriptions.)
Still, this can be the perfect gift for the right recipient if you pick the right theater, some of whom offer more flexible alternatives to subscriptions, such as flex passes and memberships.
My personal favorite is the Signature Theater Company, which recently built a new theater complex on 42nd Street and 10th Avenue. Its mission of focusing on the work of a single established (if often underappreciated) playwright each season has been expanded, and it now features the work of up-and-coming writers as well. I recommend this theater not just for the quality of their shows, but also because, in my experience, they treat their subscribers very well. (I’m sorry to say that my experience with some of the other major theaters offering memberships or subscriptions has been uneven.)
I would normally suggest as well Playwrights Horizons, but their website as of this writing says they are no longer selling subscriptions, flex passes or memberships for the current season, which so far has been splendid and promises to be even better.
Some other established quality non-profit theaters offering subscriptions or memberships, alphabetically:
The Brooklyn Academy of Music, which makes it easy to buy a purchase of gift membership.
PLAYS, SCRIPTS, BOOKS
There are some wonderful evergreen, expensive gift ideas. My favorite:
August Wilson’s complete 10-play Century Cycle, which includes such gems as “The Piano Lesson,” “Fences,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – one play for each decade of the twentieth century, which together offer a compelling look at African-American life through the eye and ear of one of the nation’s greatest dramatists.
Stephen Sondheim’s two-volume collection of his lyrics, Finishing The Hat and Look, I Made A Hat, a collection of lyrics , anecdotes, fascinating scholarly notes, and strong opinions from the composer and/or lyricist of such seminal musical theater as “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Company,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Assassins.”
The downside, besides the expense, is that anybody who would die to get these as gifts may well already own them.
My suggestion if you wish to buy a script or a book for somebody is to check out The Drama Book Shop, at 250 West 40th Street, which has generally friendly, knowledgeable staff, and is one of my favorite hang-outs in the theater district (I should point out that I don’t drink.) Its hours are from Monday—Saturday,11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Thursdays until 8:00 p.m. They also have a website from which you can order.
Their online holiday gift suggestions feature categories ranging from new “Big Books” (expensive) — for example Broadway Musicals: From the Pages of The New York Times, edited by current New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley, who selects what he thinks are the 119 most important theater reviews by Times critics over the last century, and Performance of the Century: 100 Years of Actors’ Equity Association and the Rise of Professional American Theater, by Robert Simonson – to Under $10. My favorite of these are two silly gifts capitalizing on the popularity of the Bard.
Masterpuppet Theatre for $9.95, features 60 fingerpuppet cards of Shakespeares characters, 12 backgrounds, a book of scenes you can play out on your paper stage. For $2.95, there is Shakespeare Insult Gum, gum with cards that include some of the playwright’s most pungent insults.
There are also such praised biographies, now in paperback, as Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein and Judi Dench’s memoir, And Furthermore.
Another excellent place for scripts and theatrical books is Samuel French, the “definitive” publisher of plays and musicals in English – mostly in relatively inexpensive “acting editions.” Also now available are “e-plays” and cast recordings. You can visit at 45 West 25th Street, but it’s not a place to hang out. Their redesigned website has some cool features: Click on “Now Playing” and you will get to a map showing the location of current local productions of the plays it has published.
Applause Theatre and Cinema Books closed their bookstore on the Upper West Side, alas, but remains a publisher of quality theatrical books, which you can order online.
The online bookstore of Theatre Communications Group offers some wonderful plays it publishes, including the new Pulitzer-winner, “Water by the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegria Hudes, and the screenplay by Tony Kushner of the Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln.”
Bookstores in Theaters: It’s worth pointing out that some of my favorite theaters also have books for sale, mostly scripts of the plays they have produced. These include both Signature and Playwrights Horizons (where you can purchase scripts of their latest hits, The Whale and Detroit and past works, and CDs like The Shaggs), as well as Soho Rep,which this season offers 13P: The Complete Plays, the work of a company of 13 playwrights that deliberately went out of business.
BROADWAY BAUBLES — posters, CDs, t-shirts and other knick-knacks
Each Broadway show offers a range of merchandise that you can buy online in a variety of sites, for example at the Playbill.com store
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has an online store using the logos and/or Playbill program covers from the best-known Broadway shows for everything from umbrellas and clocks to iPhone covers and shower curtains to Christmas ornaments. Proceeds from their products help the needy.
Standing out this year:
Carols for a Cure, a 2-disc compilation of holiday standards and original songs featuring the companies of Once, Evita, Peter and the Starcatcher, Newsies and Kinky Boots, and such performers as Ricky Martin, Elena Roger, Cyndi Lauper and Chita Rivera.
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark 2013-14 Calendar features 14 of the performers who play the masked superhero on Broadway
Broadway Barks offers a 2013 calendar featuring the stories and photographs of 18 dogs adopted through this charity founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore.
Normally I would buy a Broadway calendar, but I can’t find a good one. I find it irritating that most of the 12 Playbill covers featured in the 2013 On Broadway wall calendar are of shows that have recently closed.
Playbill binder, to put your programs in. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get one of these.
For theatergoers who would rather stay home, there is a game for Nintendo Wii called: Dance on Broadway: “Perform 20 authentic Broadway-style choreographies from the most beloved show tunes, including ‘Cabaret’, ‘My Favorite Things’, ‘Dreamgirls’, ‘Roxie’, and many more!”