Now is the time when interest in Broadway is at its peak, piqued by the annual three-hour TV commercial for Broadway known as the Tony Awards broadcast.
I regularly get asked for recommendations, especially from out-of-towners planning a trip to New York. When I try to explore the person’s tastes, they typically say to me “I just want you to pick the shows for me.” So here are ten, listed alphabetically within each category.
ANGELS IN AMERICA
Neil Simon Theater (250 W. 52nd St., New York, NY)
Opened March 25, 2018
Closing: July 15, 2018
There is little time left to see one of the great American plays of the 20th century, in its first ever Broadway revival, starring Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane. The production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, the most nominated play in Broadway history.
It is very funny and moving and smart. It is also overwhelming and sprawling – telling three separate but interrelated stories over more than seven hours, spread out over two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika.
In an era when AIDS is no longer a death sentence and a different Kushner is often in the news, Angels in America is nevertheless in some ways surprisingly timely too. Subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” the play refers to such now-urgent issues as immigration, climate change, race relations, political corruption, LGBT discrimination, and, especially, to the inequity of health care.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD
243 W. 47th St., New York, NY
Opened: April 22, 2018
This continuation of the saga of the boy wizard is really for (the legions of) Potter fans, but the special effects are awe-inspiring:
THREE TALL WOMEN
John Golden Theater (252 W. 45th St., New York, NY)
Opened: March 29, 2018
Closing: June 24, 2018
Glenda Jackson is returning to Broadway after an absence of three decades to star as the monstrous, regal old dying lady in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer winning drama., which also stars Laurie Metcalfe and Alison Pill.
THE BAND’S VISIT
Ethel Barrymore Theater (243 W. 47th St., New York, NY)
Opened: November 9, 2017
This is a lovely, low-key musical based on an offbeat Israeli film about an Egyptian police band that, invited to give a concert at an Israeli cultural center, mistakenly travels to a two-bit town in the middle of the desert. It features David Yazbek’s exquisite Middle Eastern score and delicious lyrics, and a spot-on cast, featuring Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk.. It is an amusing show full of eccentric characters, but beneath all its whimsy and the engaging peculiarities of its individual characters is the aching story of the universal yearning and (not always successful) struggle for communication and connection
DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Stree
Opened: December 04, 2016
Evan Hansen is an anxious high school student with no real friends who becomes the center of attention when a classmate he barely knew commits suicide and, through a misunderstanding, people think that Evan was his best friend. Evan turns that misunderstanding into a lie, and the lie gets out of hand. The musical offers insights into an array of issues, from adolescent insecurity to the downside of social media, while keeping us emotionally engaged with the characters. The songs by Pasek and Paul are tuneful and deeply felt.
Richard Rodgers (226 W. 46th St., New York, NY)
Opened: August 6, 2015
There IS a daily lottery online where you can try your luck at snagging one of the tickets for only $10 (because Hamilton’s face is on the ten-dollar bill.)
(THREE MUSICAL REVIVALSS)
I put these three in parentheses because, while all three are lavish productions with tuneful scores rendered by talented casts, all three are also problematic choices to revive in our current cultural moment for their depiction of the main women characters.
FOUR LONG-TIME HIT MUSICALS
These musicals have proven to be audience favorites, but a caveat: The original casts have long since moved on.
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” and “Frozen” (music and lyrics) is about the founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and his 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
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, and the most profitable. I find this show too loud and overwrought for my taste, but it is the one exception I’m making to the list of recommendations based on my personal taste, because it’s a tourist favorite, and admittedly visually stunning – people still ooh at the falling chandelier.
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.
ON A LIMITED BUDGET?
There ARE ways to get affordable tickets to Broadway shows, especially if you are willing to 1. Wait until the day of the performance, and 2. Live with uncertainty. Getting tickets to a hit Broadway show for as little as $10 (and no more than $80) takes time, luck, knowledge and/or ingenuity. Most shows now have digital lotteries and “rush” tickets. For a show-by-show breakdown on the discounts available, check out Broadway for Broke People
DON’T FORGET OFF-BROADWAY
Some of the best shows on Broadway began Off-Broadway. Off-Broadway shows tend to be more adventurous and less expensive. But they also tend to have more limited runs, and be less publicized. Off-Broadway shows don’t get the attention they deserve. A willingness to hunt a little will pay off in a satisfying discovery, and bragging rights possibly for years to come.
LOOK OUT FOR THE NEXT HIT
Check out my latest monthly calendar of openings to what’s newly available on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.