Holiday Gifts for Theater Lovers 2014

My Broadway gift guide has proven popular enough in the past couple years that I am updating it for 2014, with information on theater tickets, theater subscriptions, play scripts, cast recordings and new and cherished books about the theater, as well as souvenirs intended as tangible reminders of an evanescent experience.


Gift cards:  Telecharge gift cards  and TKTS gift certificates allow the theatergoers on your holiday list to pick their own show to go to (or several shows – depending on how much money you put on the card.)

Some suggest it’s better to give a gift card from Visa or Mastercard,because the theater-specific gift cards charge fees for each show.

If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, you can buy tickets for them yourself. (Here is a link to buy tickets to some of the most popular shows, or you can buy from their websites or at their box office.) Some long-time favorites:


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.

My review of The Book of Mormon: Ridiculing Religion, Worshiping The Great White Way

Jersey Boys

August Wilson Theater (245 West 52nd Street)
Opened: November 6, 2006
Twitter: @JerseyBoysInfo
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.

Minskoff Theater (200 West 45th Street)
Opened: November 13, 1997
Twitter: @TheLionKing
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.

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.

Lunt-Fontanne Theater
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.

This show is closing on Broadway in January, 2015, but promises to return after a national tour.

Majestic Theater (247 West 44th Street)
Opened: January 26, 1988
Twitter: @TheOperaGhosts
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.

Gershwin Theater (222 West 51st Street)
Opened: October 30, 2003
Twitter: @WICKED_Musical
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 2014-2015 season, which you can also see in my Broadway Guide for Fall 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time


Love Letters

On the Town

Side Show

There are many superior shows Off-Broadway, although their generally shorter runs can be problematic when looking for a gift. Don’t forget the shows that have not yet opened, although let’s hope that your theater lover is adventurous enough to avoid blaming you for any disappointment.

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 favorite is Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons logo

Here are others listed alphabetically. (I’ve had a membership/subscription to each one of these at one time or another.) One of the problems you will see when you click on the links is that the subscriptions to some of these theaters this season are already sold out.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, which makes it easy to buy a purchase of gift membership.

Classic Stage Company

Lincoln Center Theater

MCC Theater

Manhattan Theater Club

New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater

Roundabout Theater Company

Signature Theater Company

 Vineyard Theater



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 probably  already owns them.

A less expensive and less sexy alternative are such perennial reference books as “Broadway Musicals Show by Show” by Stanley Green, now in its eighth edition.

DramaBookshoplogoMy 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.

The most talked-about new theater books:

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

By John Lahr

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write

By Sarah Ruhl

Memoirs are always popular. New ones include Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, and Lady Parts by Andrea Martin

SamuelFrenchlogoAnother 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 books logo

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. For what it’s worth, here are their top ten best-selling books in October, 2014.

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 , as well as Soho Rep


PeterPanLivelogoBroadway Records offers the Broadway cast recording of Matilda, Side Show, and this year Peter Pan Live (the NBC broadcast), as well as 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.)

PS ClassicsAudraMcDonaldLadyDay —  Fun Home, Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill starring Audra McDonald, On The Town, and a huge catalogue of Sondheim shows.


Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlightaladdinlogo — Their new releases run the gamut, Aladdin, Beautiful, Cinderella, Dogfight, Fortress of Solitude.

Masterworks Broadway — A division of Sony Classics, they 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

KinkybootstshirtEach Broadway show offers a range of merchandise that you can buy online in a variety of sites, for example at the 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.

broadway-cheer posterAmong the featured offerings this year is a poster, also available as holiday gift cards, that feature some of the best-known Broadway stars toasting the holidays.


original-broadway-cast-cd-set-2012-11-cds-10An extravagant gift would collection of the cast recordings from the 2013-2014 Broadway musical season “in one fell swoop. This set of 13 CDs includes Aladdin, Beautiful- The Carole King Musical, Big Fish, The Bridges of Madison County, Bullets Over Broadway, First Date, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, If/Then, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, A Night with Janis Joplin, Rocky and Violet.”

An Off-Broadway cast set of 7 CDs is also available, featuring some of the best Off-Broadway musicals from the past two years: Far From Heaven, Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging, Fun Home, Heathers, Here Lies Love, Murder for Two and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.


I may actually spring for the Playbill Broadway 2015 calendar. Playbills reproduced: Cabaret, Hair, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof, Pippin, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Kinky Boots the Musical, South Pacific, The Producers, Hairspray, Aida, Annie


Theater ticket album

Playbill binder, to put your programs in. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get one of these.


Know of a favorite gift you’d recommend? Tell me about it!


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

1 thought on “Holiday Gifts for Theater Lovers 2014

  1. Anika Larsen (Cynthia Weil in BEAUTIFUL) is releasing her debut CD – SING YOU TO SLEEP now available on amazon. SING YOU TO SLEEP is a tuneful and personal album for adults and children alike, which Larsen recorded with her nine siblings and fourteen nieces and nephews in mind. The twelve soulful songs are drawn from contemporary pop (“Count on Me” by Bruno Mars, “Fields of Gold” by Sting), legendary singer/songwriters (“Annie’s Song” by John Denver, “Make You Feel My Love” from Bob Dylan), musical theater (“Summertime” from Porgy & Bess, “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom) and animated classics (the poignant “Baby Mine” from Dumbo) and An American Tail (a gently swinging version of “Somewhere Out There,” with lyrics by her Beautiful character Cynthia Weil). Jessie Mueller, who won the 2014 Tony Award winner for playing Carole King in Beautiful, is featured on the album in a duet with her co-star for James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Executive Producer Dan Watt on Yellow Sound Label.

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