Now is the time when interest in Broadway is at its peak, piqued by the three-hour TV commercial for Broadway known as the 2019 Tony Awards.
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 (plus several “bonus” selections.)
THREE NEW PLAYS
Bernard B. Jacobs Theater (242 W 45th Street New York, NY 10036)
Opened: October 21, 2018
Theatergoers have only until July 7, 2019 to see this feast of Irish storytelling in a breathtaking mix of genres – from suspenseful thriller to family saga to ghost story to history lesson to morality tale. Now with an American cast, this play by Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes tells the story of Quinn Carney (Brian d’Arcy James) who was once a member of the Irish Republican Army but is now a farmer with a sprawling brood — but on this day of the annual Harvest, his past comes back to threaten him.
To Kill A Mockingbird
Shubert Theater (225 W 44th Street, New York, NY 10036)
Opened: December 13, 2018
Aaron Sorkin has adapted Harper Lee’s beloved novel to focus more on the murder trial of an unjustly accused black man who is defended by Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels.) But Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), her brother Jem (Will Pulled) and her friend Dill (Gideon Glick) still feature in the show, all played by adults.
What The Constitution Means To Me
Helen Hayes Theater
Opened: March 31, 2019
Fifteen-year-old Heidi Schreck earned enough money for her college tuition by winning Constitutional debate competitions across the United States. Now she re-creates one such competition, portraying herself, as a way to explore the relationship between the document and four generations of women in her own family — and by extension all women. This smart, informative, funny and moving play has engendered an almost cult-like devotion, serving as a kind of communal salve for the politically shell-shocked and disaffected. It ends on Broadway on August 24, 2019.
Opened last season:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Lyric Theater (213 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036)
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 NEW MUSICALS
Walter Kerr (219 W 48th Street, New York, NY 10036)
Opened: April 17, 2019
This sung-through musical taking place in Hell adapts the Greek myth of retrieving his wife Eurydice from the Underworld. Anaïs Mitchell’s score features sweet and sexy folk music, rocking jazz, and down-home blues.
Circle in the Square Theater (235 W 50th Street NYC)
Opened: April 07, 2019
This is of course not a “new” musical, but this fifth Broadway revival of the landmark musical, directed by Daniel Fish, offers such a different interpretation that it feels like new. It’s a darker take, and the music is countrified, with a small on-stage band (and some of the performers) playing fiddle, accordion, banjo guitar.
Ain’t Too Proud The Life and Times of The Temptations
Imperial Theater (249 West 45th St. NYC)
Opened: Mar 21, 2019
Fans of 1960’s Motown are in for a treat in this musical whose performers can sing and dance as well as the Temptations — and act too.
Opened in previous seasons:
My Fair Lady
Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont (150 W. 65th St)
Opened April 19, 2018
If you haven’t seen Laura Benanti in this fourth Broadway revival of the Lerner and Lowe musical, you have only until July 7th to do so.
Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th St.)
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.)
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.