My fifth annual Broadway gift guide below includes info on shopping for theater tickets, theater subscriptions, play scripts, cast recordings and new and cherished books about the theater, as well as souvenirs and knick-knacks intended as tangible reminders of an evanescent experience. Proof that theater lovers like….things… is the new store devoted entirely to “Hamilton” gift items, across the street from the Richard Rodgers Theater where “Hamilton” is playing (and where you can get most of the same memorabilia.)
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.)
If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, you can buy tickets for them yourself directly from the show’s website or from the box office, or from the secondary ticket seller whose links I provide below.
Some popular Broadway favorites, listed alphabetically:
THE BOOK OF MORMON
The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
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.
The Richard Rodgers
Opened: August 6, 2015
Twitter feed: @HamiltonMusical
When Hamilton opened Off-Broadway in February, I called it groundbreaking and breathtaking – and I was trying not to gush…Analyzing the importance of ‘Hamilton’ misses the main takeaway from the musical: It’s thrilling to watch. It seems always in motion, thanks to a creative team including director Thomas Kail, and especially choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who keeps the sexy ensemble very busy. They help enhance what are some terrific performances.
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.
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.. Important note: Jersey Boys is scheduled to close January 15, 2017.
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 in what was unquestionably one of the best new musicals of the 2012-2013 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. Important note: Matilda is scheduled to close 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.
SCHOOL OF ROCK
Winter Garden Theater
Opened: December 6, 2015
Andrew Lloyd Webber has chosen to adapt a movie with a plot that could hardly be sillier, and supplies a new score that could hardly be more addictive. ‘School of Rock’ is full of both hard-charging rock n roll and supremely catchy melodies…The kids don’t just sing exquisitely and dance with infectious abandon, they also play the musical instruments themselves
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.
Favorite Broadway Show So Far This Season
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Josh Groban is Pierre, but just one of the terrific performers in this musical adaptation of a sliver of War and Peach that is the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. ‘Great Comet’ is awesome in its stagecraft, in its music, and in its performances Director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien in particular deserve kudos for staging on Broadway something very close to the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world – everywhere but Broadway, until now.
Broadway Shows Not Yet Opened
Don’t forget the shows this season that have not yet opened, although let’s hope that your theater lover is adventurous enough to avoid blaming you for any disappointment.
I can’t recommend shows I haven’t seen, but here are links for tickets already on sale
What about Off-Broadway?
There are many terrific shows Off-Broadway, although their generally shorter runs can be problematic when looking for a gift.
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
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. (You might be able to purchase memberships for next season.)
The Brooklyn Academy of Music, which makes it easy to buy a gift membership.
THEATER BOOKS, PLAYS, SCRIPTS
There are some wonderful evergreen, expensive gift ideas. My favorites:
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.”
Hamilton: The Revolution is a book for fans, with page after page of full-color photographs from the production, and lots of personal anecdotes. But if it’s a souvenir book, it’s one that—like the musical and its creators—is unusually ambitious. It includes the complete lyrics, annotated by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, alternating with chapters that explain the evolution of the musical but also the historical and political significance of Alexander Hamilton.
The three-volume set of Arthur Miller’s plays — 42 in all — from the Library of America/
Buy The Collected Plays of Arthur Miller (Library of America)
This beautiful book offers many of the movie and theater illustrations by the best-known Al Hirschfeld, who lived to 99 and whose name is up in lights on Broadway (a Broadway theater is named after him.)
This readable book focuses on the structure of successful musicals, going chronologically step by step from the overture to the finale. It is written by Jack Viertel, who is both an executive at Jujamcyn Theaters (owners of five Broadway houses) and the artistic director of New York City Center Encores! series that attempts to gain new reputations for old musicals, He knows his musicals, and his is invaluable in its summaries and discussions of specific shows we might not know (or not remember well) but should. And he includes a final chapter with his recommendations for the best recordings of the 37 musicals he has analyzed, and for 20 more musicals “that can’t be ignored even though they are not quoted in the book.”
The downside of many of these books is not their size or their price — it’s that anybody who would die to get one of these as gifts may well already own it.
Three other books I read this year, one a terrific history book, mostly of 1970s Broadway by Michael Riedel, the other two of them memoirs (most suited for their fans)
My suggestion if you wish to select as a gift a script or a theater or entertainment book 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.
Another excellent place for scripts 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.
For what it’s worth: the top ten best-selling TCG books for October 2016
1. Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry
2. The Humans (Revised Edition) by Stephen Karam
3. John by Annie Baker
4. The Flick by Annie Baker
5. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner
6. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen/Adapted by Thornton Wilder
7. Doubt by John Patrick Shanley
8. Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes
9. The Clean House and Other Plays by Sarah Ruhl
10. The Vermont Plays by Annie Baker
You also might want to consider one (or a bunch) of the 50 Best Plays of the Last 100 Years according to Entertainment Weekly.
Broadway Records offers the Broadway cast recording of Matilda, Side Show, and this year the Fiddler on the Roof revival, 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.)
Ghostlight/Shk Boom — New include the original cast (not Broadway) recording of The Great Comet, and the revival of She Loves Me. Their releases run the gamut, Aladdin, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, Bridges of Madison County, Daddy Long Legs, First Daughter Suite, Fortress of Solitude, Something Rotten, The Last Five Years (available as original cast album, 2013 Off-Broadway cast album, and movie soundtrack)
Masterworks Broadway, a division of Sony Classics, offer 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, including the A-list album An American in Paris, and this year’s Hairspray Live on NBC, and The Essential Sondheim, featuring songs from 16 of his musicals, and one movie score.
For an extravagant gift, they sell Broadway in a Box – The Essential Broadway Musicals Collection — 25 (!) CDs of original cast recordings, from Annie to West Side Story.
Atlantic Records, not normally in the original cast album business, is the company that put out the best-selling ‘Hamilton” album, now reaching double platinum status.
Also available from Atlantic
— posters, calendars, t-shirts and knick-knacks (magnets, mugs, keychains, umbrellas etc)
Each Broadway show offers a range of merchandise that you can buy at the theater itself and in gift shops in the theater district, and online at each show’s website, as well as on a variety of other sites, for example at the Playbill.com store.
A good place to purchase some of these is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which has an online store using the logos and/or 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.
One gift that BC/EFA is offering for sale this year is a collection of 12-cd cast recordings from the 2015-16 Broadway musical season.
I don’t think I’ll get the On Broadway 2017 calendar (I didn’t last year either.) Oly one of the Playbills they feature is of a currently running show (Hamilton.)
This year, Hamilton is offering its own calendar.
And why limit to American musicals? The Royal Shakespeare Company is selling a calendar this year, as it did last year, with photographs from its performances.
They also offer a set of “insult badges” taken directly from the works of William Shakespeare.
(This is exactly the sort of gewgaws you can find at the Drama Book Shop)
The full quote from King Lear is actually :Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.” But I suppose that’s too long for a button.
Playbill binder, to put your programs in. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get one of these, instead of putting my tangible evidence of evanescent experience in old boxes.