Check out the 2015 holiday gift guide for theater lovers
My gift guide from 2012 proved so popular that I am updating it for 2013.
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:
Here is a link to buy tickets to these shows, or you can buy from their websites.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street,
Opened: April 11, 2013
The quirky musical, about a neglected little girl with extraordinary powers, is based on a cartoonishly dark, oddball 1988 novel aimed at children by Roald Dahl. There is much to like in what was unquestionably one of the best new musicals of last season on Broadway (although it was neglected at Tony time.) “Matilda” offers dazzling stagecraft overseen by director Matthew Warchus, a faithful and intelligent book by David Kelly, and Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. The production also, however, sometimes feels in need of a translator.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
Opened: April 14, 2013
It is easy to see “Motown: The Musical” as Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr.’s affectionate tribute to himself. But many who love the music of Motown will not be put off by the lame book from enjoying the musical, which features some three dozen performers playing 90 characters and singing an astonishing 60 songs made popular by the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross, among many others.
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.
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.
Here are some shows that I like that have opened in the 2013-2014 season, which you can also see in my Broadway Season Guide 2013-2014:
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.
The problem with these is that by this time of year, it’s often too late. For example, one of my personal favorites is the Signature Theater Company, which recently built a new theater complex on 42nd Street and 10th Avenue. But if you check out their website, they say subscriptions are all sold out.
Some other established quality non-profit theaters offering subscriptions or memberships. I list them alphabetically. (I’ve had a membership/subscription to each one of these at one time or another and my experience was not as uniformly positive as it was at Playwrights Horizons or Signature, both of which have superior customer service.)
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.
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 $14.95, features 60 fingerpuppet cards of Shakespeare’s 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 August: Osage County by Tracy Letts (gaining new attention because of the forthcoming movie). For what it’s worth, here are their top ten best-selling books in October.
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 such recent hits as 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.
Since last year, I’ve come to appreciate far more the record companies (or whatever they’re called these days) that issue original cast recordings.
Broadway Records offers the Broadway cast recording of Matilda, and the wonderful live performances of such Broadway stars as Patti LuPone, Aaron Tveit, Norbert Leo Butz and Laura Benanti at 54 Below.
A night at 54 Below itself, “Broadway’s supper club,” would make a nice present.
Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight — I’m wild about Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Masterworks Broadway — A division of Sony Classics, they offer the latest Tony winner for best musical, Kinky Boots, as well as The King and I with Yul Brynner, and the 1949 recording of Kiss Me Kate, and the original 1992 recording of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, and lots of albums that don’t begin with the letter K.
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. I happen to favor t-shirts.
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.
This year one of their featured offerings is a collection of the cast recordings from the 2012-2013 Broadway musical season “in one fell swoop. This set of 13 CDs includes Annie, Bring It On: The Musical, Chaplin, A Christmas Story, Cinderella, Hands on a Hardbody, Jekyll & Hyde: The Concept Album, Kinky Boots, Matilda The Musical, Motown The Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Pippin and Scandalous.
An Off-Broadway cast set of 10 CDs is also available, featuring Bunnicula, Closer Than Ever, Dogfight, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking, Giant, The Last Five Years, The Last Smoker in America, Marry Me a Little, Murder Ballad and Passion.”
I may actually spring for the Playbill Broadway calendar this year, even though half the shows are no longer running: 42nd Street, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Mamma Mia!, Rent, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Wicked the Musical, Cats, Phantom of the Opera.
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!”
Know of a favorite gift you’d recommend. Tell me about it!
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