My sixth annual Broadway gift guide below includes links and information on shopping for
play scripts, librettos and new and cherished books about the theater
– and a new category, theater on screen!
I also suggest some souvenirs and knick-knacks 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.)
If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, or are willing to guess, 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.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Music Box Theater
Opened: December 4, 2016
Twitter feed: @DearEvanHansen
Winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, this original story by songwriting team Pasek and Paul (“A Christmas Story,” Oscar winners for the lyrics on “La-La Land”) and playwright Steven Levenson is about an anxious outcast high school student who, through a well-meaning lie, is thought to have been best friends with a classmate who commits suicide. The lie gets way out of control. Its intelligent commentary on several pressing current issues, its tuneful and moving songs and its compelling performances made this a cult favorite, but the cult now could hardly be wider. The original Evan Hansen, Ben Platt, has departed.
The Richard Rodgers
Opened: August 6, 2015
Twitter feed: @HamiltonMusical
When Hamilton opened Off-Broadway in 2016, 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. (All the original principals have left, but the replacement cast are worthy heirs.)
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.
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 Shows So Far This Season
This wonderful musical adaptation of an off-beat Israeli film, about an Egyptian police orchestra that gets lost and winds up in a dinky desert town in Israel, features David Yazbek’s exquisite Middle Eastern score and delicious lyrics, a spot-on cast led by the incomparable Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk, and a story adapted by Itamar Moses that’s both doleful and droll. Click on the My review link to watch a video excerpt of “Welcome to Nowhere.”
LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS
John Leguizamo’s sixth solo show offers the anarchic comic spirit and extraordinary mimicry with which his fans are familiar, but goes in a promising new direction. The show is a combination of fascinating nuggets of actual history mixed with political commentary, eclectic comic shtick, and a funny, tender story of the performer’s efforts to connect with his family.
Impossible to get (or at least to afford) Broadway shows
(Bette Midler leaves January 14, 2018, to be replaced by Bernadette Peters)
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 that have been generating some buzz.
Angels in America
Frozen The Musical
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
For details, check out the
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.
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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.
Here are a sampling, 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 ON SCREEN
There are an increasing number of companies that offer online screening of what could be called theater-on demand.
BroadwayHD. ($8.99 a month or $99.99 a year) offer dozens of shows that were recorded live, most memorably the Broadway productions of “She Loves Me” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” but also a good number of shows Off-Broadway, and the offerings from the American Film Theater from the 1970s, such as “The Maids” starring Glenda Jackson and Susannah York and “Rhinoceros” with Zero Mostel.
Other theater-on demand online services include Cennarium ($9.97 a month; $95.64 a year), which focuses on offerings outside the United States, and Shakespeare’s Globe (Available worldwide, 3.99 to 5.99 pounds to rent, 5.99 to 11.99 pounds to buy).
One has to hunt for “theater” on film on Kanopy, which mostly has art films and documentaries; on the other hand, if you have a library card, it’s free (although you are limited to 10 films a month.) It would be a good gift just to tell your theater lover about Kanopy.
Similarly, Great Performances from PBS streams theater mostly for free, although some require a membership in the local PBS station. That would be a great gift!
Throughout the year, the National Theatre Live broadcasts its productions in movie theaters throughout the United States. The 2015 production of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, will return starting in March; it’s not too early to buy tickets.
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.”
There are three recent lavish coffee table books that offer behind-the-scenes looks at favorite musicals, and include the entire script, annotated.
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 Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway“(Sterling Publishing, 2016, 2012 pages) traces the improbable evolution of a musical that began with an unknown cast in tiny, experimental Ars Nova, an 87-seat Off-Off Broadway house, and wound up at Broadway’s 1,200-seat Imperial Theater, starring Josh Groban. The show closed (notoriously) shortly after Groban left, which makes this book even more interesting in a way, with its full libretto of the musical, annotated by Malloy; some full-page, full-color photographic spreads; and 18 chapters, each written by a different key player in the show – author, director, producers, designers, stars. As an extra treat and inducement, a CD with five of the songs is placed snugly in a pocket in the inside back cover.
“Dear Evan Hansen: Through The Window” is an elaborate souvenir book with lots of photographs, individual profiles of each member of the cast and creative team and a tinge of self-congratulations. (It is also printed on paper dyed blue or black, which is dramatic and keeping with the the musical’s color scheme, but makes the words less easy to read.) But the book also offers intriguing details of the years-long process of putting together a musical from scratch, without even, say, American history or a famous novel to guide its creators.
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.
Other books, recently published, of interest (Click on links to learn more about them or to purchase them):
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 scripts for July 2017
1. Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul (just the libretto)
2. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner
3. Sweat by Lynn Nottage
4. Oslo by J. T. Rogers
5. Ruined by Lynn Nottage
6. Speech & Debate by Stephen Karam
7. The Flick by Annie Baker
8. Molière, or The Cabal of Hypocrites and Don Quixote by Mikhail Bulgakov/Translated by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky
9. The Actor and the Target by Declan Donnellan
10. ATempest by Aimé Césaire
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 sells gift cards, and a special treat — a limited number of CDs signed by the casts or individual perfomers. Their digital offerings include current and recent Broadway musicals Anastasia, Bandstand, The Color Purple, Groundhog Day, as well as the first ever Tony Award® Season compilation album, They also offer 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/Sh-k-Boom — New include The Band’s Visit (“coming soon”), A Bronx Tale, Falsettos and War Paint. Their bestseller is Lin-Manuel Mirand’s In The Heights. 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 SpongeBob Squarepants, and Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler (as well as the cast recordings of four other productions of Hello, Dolly.) Also: Kinky Boots, The King and I with Yul Brynner, 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 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.
Playbill covers are plastered over all sorts of items — posters, mugs, magnets, Christmas tree ornaments, and the 2018 On Broadway Wall Calendar
The more artistically inclined might want to hire Stephen Winterhalter, proprietor of The Art of Broadway etsy store to turn their Playbill(s) into a frame collage.
While you’re on etsy, you can also check out the Broadway Collection of Clive Richards, who does something similar with quotations from individual Broadway shows.
A good place to purchase theater knick-knacks 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. Proceeds from their products help the needy.
This year as usual, BC/EFA is offering the cast recordings for the 2016-2017 Broadway season — 14 cds, for a whopping $270. (but remember you’re contributing to a good cause.)
Theater-related calendars strike me as a good gift — they last all year. In the past, I’ve gotten the Hamilton wall calendar (the Hamilton 2018 Wall Calendar features the new cast, although they give Lin-Manuel Miranda December) and theRoyal Shakespeare Company – Angus McBean Wall Calendar 2018 (the 2018 edition features dramatic photographs from the 1930s and 40s by Angus McBean.) This year there is also
Hamilton 2018 Day-to-Day Calendar – which features page for each day of the year, filled with historical facts, excerpts from Hamilton’s own writings, or lyrics from the score. It seems ideal for either Hamilton or American history buffs.
Those who don’t want to feel forced to discard their theater images at the end of next year can opt instead for theater posters, past, present and future. Many are available at Triton Gallery (which has an online store and a brick and mortar one in the theater district), but be aware that many are reproductions (and identified as such) yet can still be as pricey as a ticket to a Broadway show.
Still, it’s worth browsing in either store, as it is in the several gift shops in the theater district and the many theater websites. I’m personally partial to Cafe Press, whose Broadway pages are bursting with individual entrepreneurial spirit, if not consistent wit or sense of design. But where else could I find a “Vintage Hamlet Laptop skin” and 76 Hamlet-themed shower curtains?