Check out updated, 2017 version of this guide: What Broadway Shows Should I say? Top 10 Suggestions
This is the time of year when people turn their attention to Broadway, for two reasons — it’s the summer, a good time to visit New York; and their interest is piqued thanks to the annual three-hour TV commercial known as the Tony Awards broadcast.
Below are some suggestions, listed alphabetically under several categories, starting with long-time hits.
Out-of-town friends frequently ask me what show they should see, since they know I see all of them. I say it depends on their taste, and ask them what they’ve seen before that they’ve liked. This is an answer that doesn’t seem to satisfy anybody, so here are 10 recommendations based largely on my taste.
LONG-TIME HIT MUSICALS
THE BOOK OF MORMON
The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
Director: Jason Moore and Trey Parker
Twitter feed: @BookofMormonBWY
This 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
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 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.
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 this musical (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. My review of Matilda was not an unmitigated rave. I list this one mostly because it’s closing January 1, 2017.
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 the most profitable. It’s a tourist favorite, which is why I list it (an exception to recommendations based on “my taste.”)
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.
THREE GREAT PLAYS
Broadway is full of “straight” (non-musical) plays, which don’t tend to have long runs and aren’t publicized as much, but can be both more substantive and more satisfying.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Ethel Barrymore Theater (243 West 47th Street)
Opened: April 5, 2014
Like the unusual character at its center, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time,’ a stage adaptation of a beloved book, overcomes a couple of daunting challenges to become…extraordinary…Marianne Elliott, the British director who last brought to Broadway the spectacular National Theatre production of ‘War Horse,’ works her magic again. The stagecraft of ‘Curious Incident’ is breathtaking. It is scheduled to close September 4, 2016.
John Golden Theater (252 West 45th Street)
Opened: March 6, 2016
I probably shouldn’t even list this because it’s closing June 19, 2016. But “Eclipsed,” by TV star Danai Gurira featuring movie star Lupita Nyong’o is worth catching in the short time it has left. A play about the captive wives of a rebel officer during the Liberian Civil War, this could easily have been a noble, grim and largely unwatchable testament to man’s inhumanity towards woman in wartime. But it turns out to be a well-acted ensemble piece and a thought-provoking drama that is surprisingly vibrant, and sometimes even whimsical.
Helen Hayes (240 West 44th Street)
Opened: February 18, 2016
The Humans tells the deceptively simple story of a family who meets for Thanksgiving. A hit Off-Broadway, its transfer to Broadway is timely, given its expression of middle class anxieties, but remains most noteworthy for the exquisite performances by some of New York’s finest stage actors, including Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell. For all the problems the characters face, the actors are superb in communicating an affection and good humor that feels genuine and that draws us in. They do justice to the work of playwright Stephen Karam.
Circle in the Square Theater (235 West 50th Street)
Opened: April 19, 2015
Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, is, yes, a musical about a lesbian cartoonist whose closeted father killed himself, but it is also about how we try to figure out the puzzle of our parents; about how we reassemble our childhood; about memory itself. It remains the inventive, entertaining, in places exhilarating, and almost inexpressibly heartbreaking show I saw Off-Broadway at the Public Theater a couple of years ago. And it is now one of those rare Off-Broadway musicals that actually improves when it transfers to Broadway. This is not despite the theater-in-the-round layout of the Circle in the Square, but in some measure because of it.
SHE LOVES ME
Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street, New York, NY, 10019)
Opened: March 17, 2016
I’ll admit to prejudice towards this show, having played one of the leads in my junior high school. But even somebody who has never heard of this romantic musical comedy could easily fall in love with “She Loves Me.” Yes, the 1963 musical occasionally offers some dated views towards women. But, as with the plot of the show — about two bickering co-workers who don’t realize they are Lonelyhearts Club correspondents and potential lovebirds — all rights itself by the end. This is thanks to the gorgeously melodic score, David Rockwell’s jewel box of a set, and the stand-out performances by Laura Benanti and Jane Krakowski as two lovelorn shopgirls in an elegant European parfumerie. This show is scheduled to close July 10.
THE COLOR PURPLE
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater (242 West 45th Street)
Opened: December 10, 2015
The scaled-down and wised-up revival of this musical based on Alice Walker’s sad and inspiring novel offers 18 tuneful, toe-tapping melodies in a variety of styles – gospel, blues, ragtime, jazz and some beautiful ballads. The main reason to see the show is the star, Cynthia Erivo, who sings in a crystal-clear voice that is capable of both exquisite nuance and shattering power.
WHAT ABOUT GREAT CHOREOGRAPHY?
Check out An American in Paris, On Your Feet, and Shuffle Along.
WHAT ABOUT HAMILTON?
I loved Hamilton, both Off-Broadway and on Broadway, finding it ground-breaking and breathtaking. But it’s not worth spending the kind of money that it would take to get a ticket this summer — and not just from the resellers, but from the show itself, which is selling 200 “premium” tickets per performance for $849 — which is very much a record (nearly twice as much as any other show on Broadway.)
There IS a daily lottery online (and in person for Wednesday matinees), where you can try your luck at snagging one of the 21 tickets for $10.
Check out my preferences (not predictions) for the 2016 Tony Awards