Below is a selection of the abundant New York theater openings in September, organized chronologically by opening date*, which for the first time in eighteen months includes a full schedule of live, in-person theater, among these a dozen on Broadway — 10 of which are reopening, having been shut down in March, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.** But there just as many Off-Broadway opening or reopening, plus tantalizing Off-Off fare (a month-long avant-garde puppet festival!) and even a couple of new digital only offerings..
This month effectively marks the launch of the most unusual, most exciting and most nerve-wracking New York theater season in memory — perhaps in history. For a look at the entire season, check out my Broadway 2021-2022 Season Preview Guide and my Off Broadway 2021-2022 Season Preview Guide
Each title below is linked to a relevant website. Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Black or Blue.. Off Off Broadway: Green. Theater festival: Orange. Immersive: Magenta. Puppetry-Brown, Online only-grey
I will use a symbol – ☥ – in front of shows that are opening for the first time (rather than reopening)
Originally Opened: Apr 17, 2019
Author: Anais Mitchell
Director: Rachel Chavkin
Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s musical, widely acclaimed at New York Theatre Workshop (my review), follows two intertwining love stories — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of king Hades and his wife Persephone — as it invites audiences on an epic journey to the underworld and back. My review on Broadway
Ethel Barrymore Theater
Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. Book by Jessie Nelson.
Directed by Diane Paulus. Choreographed by Lorin Latarro.
Originally opened: April 24, 2016
Closing: January 9, 2022
Cast: Sara Bareilles
Based on the 2007 movie written by Adrienne Shelly, the musical focuses on Jenna , a waitress and expert pie maker, who is stuck in a small town and a loveless marriage… until a baking content in a nearby county and the town’s handsome new doctor .My review and photographs of Waitress
Blue Man Group (Astor Place Theater)
In this long-running show, hard to describe, actors painted blue give nonverbal, colorful and sometimes humorous performances.
☥What Happened? The Michaels Abroad (Frederick Loewe Theatre at Hunter College)
The twelfth and final play in what’s now being called the Rhinebeck Panorama, plays written and directed by Richard Nelson in which the members of a family (there have been three different ones over the years, although they’re portrayed by the same core group of actors) sit around a kitchen table in Rhinebeck, N.Y. eventually talking about the issues of the day, set on the very day that they open. In this final play, it is September 8th, 2021, and the Michaels, a family of dancers, are in Angers, France, to attend a student dance festival
☥Our Domestic Resurrection Circus (Bread & Puppet Theater at Old Stone House)
Stilt dancers, paper maché beasts of all sizes and a Bread & Puppet’s Fight-Against-The-End-Of-The-World Brass Band contribute this company’s half century tradition of using puppetry and spectacle to draw attention to the urgent issues of the day.
In this play by Ngozi Anyanwu, “two people contemplate the thing they love the most
and whether to stick it out or to leave it behind” Anyanwu stars opposites Daniel J. Watts as two lovers in these poem-like monologues.
☥My Mother’s Severed Head (Theatre Row)
In this play by Charles Cissel, “mourning a matriarch is hard enough without her head sitting on the kitchen table talking to you every day.”
Originally opened: November 14, 1996
Cast: Ana Villafañe as Roxie Hart, Bianca Marroquín as Velma Kelly, Lillias White as Matron Mama Morton.
A chorus girl in 1920′s Chicago murders her lover and becomes a star. This cynical, tuneful 1975 musical adaptation by John Kander and Fred Ebb (“Cabaret” team) of a 1926 play was revived to great acclaim by director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking in homage to original choreographer Bob Fosse. But it has gone through many, many cast changes since then. Some say this is the production that invented the modern Broadway practice of “stunt casting.”
Beginning in November, 2014, it became the second-longest running musical on Broadway.
Richard Rodgers Theater
Originally opened: August 6, 2015
The story of the first Secretary of the Treasury, told as a rap opera, is groundbreaking and breathtaking. It has become a phenomenon on Broadway — and elsewhere! I’ve seen it four times, and have written about it so many times that years ago I put together a post called Everything Hamilton, (now outdated; My review of the 2019 Broadway cast)
Originally 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, and 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 — and worthwhile for any theatergoer no matter how experienced.
Originally opened: October 30, 2003
Cast: Lindsay Pearce as Elphaba, Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda, Alexandra Billings as Madame Morrible (Kathy Fitzgerald will play the role from 9/14 through 9/26), Michael McCormick as The Wizard, Sam Gravitte as Fiyero, Riley Costello as Boq, Mili Diaz as Nessarose, and Michael X. Martin as Doctor Dillamond. The standbys are Jennifer DiNoia (Elphaba) and Brittney Johnson (Glinda).
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.
Sun & Sea
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Using twenty-five tons of sand to transform the theater into a lively beach, sunbathing characters (portrayed by 13 vocalists and 25 local community members) offer up a range of seductive harmonies and melodic stories that glide between the mundane, the sinister, and the surreal. From the sprawling narrative of their lives emerges a piercing exploration of climate change.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)
Mile Square Theater at Sinatra Park
Three actors stumble through all 37 of The Bard’s plays in 90 minutes. The show is in Hoboken, but it’s free, and on the waterfront across from the Manhattan skyline..
First preview: February 13, 2020
Resuming: September 17, 2021 (Official reopening October 3, 2021)
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss;
Pop-concert musical featuring the six wives of Henry VIII. This show was in previews in March 2020, shut down on the night it was due to open.
St. James Theater
Opened: October 20, 2019. Closed: Feb 16, 2020
Reopening: September 17, 2021. Closing: Jan 16, 2022
Director: Alex Timbers
A stage adaptation of David Byrne’s 2018 album. This show had closed before the pandemic, and was planning a second Broadway run. (My review of the show on HBO)
A free three-day outdoor festival in Times Square beginning at noon today, featuring a series of concerts, panel discussions and singalongs
Reading Festival of Expand the Canon
Over nine days, Hedgepig Ensemble Theater will be presenting readings of four plays, in partnership with Ma-Yi Theatre Company, Classical Theatre of Harlem, and The Sol Project, that they feel should be part of the canon (hence Expand the Canon.) But they won’t reveal what the plays are until a September 13th event (which is when they are revealing the entire 2021 Expand the Canon list of plays.)
A concert finale, culminating the three-day festival, featuring performers from Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations, Aladdin, Caroline, or Change, Chicago, Come From Away, Company, Dear Evan Hansen, Diana the Musical, Girl from the North County, Hadestown, Jagged Little Pill, The Lion King, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Phantom of the Opera, Six, Tina- The Tina Turner Musical, Waitress, Wicked and the following plays: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Lackawanna Blues, Pass Over, Thoughts of a Colored Man and To Kill A Mockingbird.
Originally opened: March 12, 2017
Book, music and lyrics by the Canadian husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Chad Kimball, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks and Caesar Samayoa.
The musical explores the connection forged between a group of travelers whose planes were diverted to a small Newfoundland town on Sept. 11, 2001. (My review)
☥Sanctuary City (NYTW at Lortel)
A new play by Martyna Majok (Pulitzer winner for Cost of Living.). “DREAMers. Love(r)s. Life-long friends. Negotiating the promise of safety and the weight of responsibility, they’ll fight like hell to establish a place for themselves and each other in America.”
Little Shop of Horrors (Westside Theater)
Tammy Blanchard, Jeremy Jordan and Christian Borle in this revival of the musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken about a plant, which a flower shop assistant names Audrey II, that gets out of hand (by eating the hands that water it.)
☥Only An Octave Apart (St Ann’s Warehouse)
Whether invoking mythology or nature, romance or radical compassion, Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo carve new pathways between opera and politically subversive cabaret — two art forms that, as Bond puts it, “have been kept alive for generations by queens.”
Theater: Al Hirschfeld
Originally opened: July 25, 2019
Reopening: September 24, 2021
Book by John Logan
Director: Alex Timbers
Cast: Aaron Tveit, Natalie Mendoza,Danny Burstein, Sahr Ngaujah,Tam Mutu, Ricky Rojas, Robyn Hurder
Stage adaptation of Baz Luhrman’s 2001 Oscar-nominated movie musical about a poet entranced by a cabaret singer in turn of the century Paris. My review of Moulin Rouge
What To Send Up When It Goes Down (Playwrights Horizons)
Aleshea Harris’s play Is also a ritual, and a home-going celebration that bears witness to the physical and spiritual deaths of Black people as a result of racist violence, setting out to disrupt the pervasiveness of anti-blackness and acknowledge the resilience of Black people throughout history
☥The Wayward Daughter of Judah Prince (Theater for the New City)
In this play by Douglas Lackey that takes place 1800 years ago, the learned daughter of the compiler of the Mishnah, is caught in the embrace of Sarah, her slave girl. “What develops is a sort of Thelma and Louise in the Roman Empire, in which Hannah measures herself against the conflicting philosophies of the period.” (I haven’t seen Thelma and Louise for a while, but I don’t remember much philosophizing.)
74th annual Tony Awards, celebrating the 2019-2020 Broadway season. (List of nominations.)
This musical is written by Alex Wyse and Ben Frankhause, who also star as two frustrated songwriters, who currently make a living writing jingle, plucked out of obscurity by a world-famous pop star. She was them to write an anthem…for her perfume.
MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater
First preview: September 14
Opening: September 28
Written, performed and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Santiago-Hudson performs more than 20 characters in his celebration of the big-hearted woman who raised him, Miss Rachel, in a 1950s boarding house outside Buffalo. The play is accompanied by live music written by Bill Sims, Jr. and performed by Blues Hall of Fame guitarist Junior Mack.
Update: The opening of Lackawanna Blues has been pushed to October, due to an injury Santiago-Hudson sustained.
Originally opened: March 20,2014
Based on the 1992 Disney animated movie, Aladdin tell the story of a poor street kid who falls in love with a princess, is imprisoned but discovers the secrets of a magic lamp. My Review of Aladdin: A Genie Works His Magic on Broadway
Dance theater and art installation inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
☥Persuasion (Bedlam at the Connelly Theater)
A stage adaptation by Sarah Rose Kearns of Jane Austin’s 1818 novel. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, a shy English spinster seeks to win back the love of the man she jilted eight years before.
Ninth Annual Puppet Festival
La MaMa ETC
The theater’s 60th anniversary season kicks off with this month-long series of new contemporary puppet theater.
Online only: Playwright Dan O’Brien’s parents and siblings cut him off years ago. Leading him to investigate his own family’s particular unhappiness in search of why
Worlds Fair Inn
Written by Axis artistic director Randy Sharp, the play presents three men in bowler hats who decide to open up a hotel to serve the nearby Worlds Fair. Their aim is not hospitality but homicide, a deadly science project. My review when it debuted in June — a time when the return to live indoor theater was a welcome, if nerve-inducing, novelty
*Opening night is usually not the same as first performance (there is usually a preview period, where the creative team tries out the show before an audience, and opening night is when the reviews appear), but there term is increasingly meaningless (most critics these days don’t even get invited until after “opening night”), and it’s especially meaningless this year, when the shows reopening have no preview period.
**The pandemic is not over. Broadway shows require that theatergoers provide proof of vaccination and wear face masks, and other theaters can be even more stringent (requiring, for example, that you fill out a contact tracing form.)