Below is a day-by-day selection of the theater that is scheduled to open in October, organized by opening date*, including fifteen shows on Broadway, more than half of which are new, as well as much Off and Off Off Broadway. The new theater this month promises some laughs (Chicken & Biscuits, opening 10/10) and some chills (The Fever, 10/8), some pop thrills (Six, 10/3) and some blues (Lackawanna Blues, 10/7), some novel takes both on Shakespeare (Midsummer A Shakespearience 10/13; Fairycakes 10/24) and on classic Broadway ( Electric’s West Side Story 10/14 ) as well as some new avant-garde adventures (“Is This A Room” 10/11 and “Dana H,” 10/17 both bravely on Broadway, in repertory); a tale of capitalism (The Lehman Trilogy 10/14) and of socialist revolution (Brecht’s The Mother 10/12.) The month — like the season as a whole — is threaded with plays by Black artists about the African American experience. (Twilight Los Angeles, 10/12; Thoughts of a Colored Man, 10/31.)
October, in short, is a far busier month for New York theater than is usual. But nothing has been usual since COVID-19 shut down live, in person theater completely in March, 2020. The pandemic is not over. For all the boosterism about being back, there is still much uncertainty and caution. Broadway shows require that theatergoers provide proof of vaccination and wear face masks, and other theaters can be even more stringent. Several productions already have had to shift around their schedule because of positive tests for COVID among the company, or injuries that seem caused by the readjustment to performing after eighteen months of inactivity.
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
The Nosebleed (Japan Society)
In this autobiographical piece, playwright and director Aya Ogawa explores their fractured relationship with their long-deceased, enigmatic father, which prompts questions surrounding the playwright’s own present-day experience of parenthood.
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss;
Pop-concert musical featuring the six wives of Henry VIII. It was due to open on March 12, 2020 — the day that Broadway was shut down.
Opened December 13, 2018
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Director: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Jeff Daniels, Celia Keenan-Bolger,
Portia as Calpurnia, Hunter Parrish as Jem Finch, Michael Braugher as Tom Robinson, Russell Harvard as Link Deas, Neal Huff as Bob Ewell, Erin Wilhelmi as Mayella Ewell, Noah Robbins as Dill Harris, Zachary Booth as Horace Gilmer, Gordon Clapp as Judge John Taylor, Patricia Conolly as Mrs. Dubose, Christopher Innvar as Sheriff Heck Tate, Ted Koch as Mr. Cunningham, and Amelia McClain as Miss Stephanie, with Ian Bedford, Rosalyn Coleman, Anne-Marie Cusson, Michael Bryan French, Steven Lee Johnson, Tyler Lea, Mariah Lee, Geoffrey Allen Murphy, Luke Smith, Yaegel T. Welch, and William Youmans rounding out the ensemble.
Based on Harper Lee’s novel about a virtuous Southern lawyer at a time of racial bigotry. (My review of Aaron Sorkin’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”)
MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater
First preview: September 14
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. (The opening was moved from September, because Santiago-Hudson was injured.)
Freestyle Love Supreme
Opening: October 7
Closing: January 2, 2022
Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, and Anthony Veneziale
Directed by Thomas Kail
The hip-hop improv show returns to Broadway for a limited engagement. (My review of Freestyle Love Supreme)
In this play by Peter Oliver, the characters are actors in a bad play. Everybody knows it’s bad, but nobody is willing to say it. It’s the night before opening, everything is going wrong, and someone gets beaten half to death. Like a bottle of coke slowly being shaken, things are about to explode.
The Fever (The New Group at Minetta Lane)
Written by Wallace Shawn, directed by Scott Elliott, and starring Lili Taylor as a privileged American traveler visiting a war-torn country and pondering the disparity between her rarified world and the real world.
Autumn Royal (Irish Rep)
In this play by Kevin Barry, May and Timothy are looking after the father who has long since taken ill to bed. Their own lives are on hold and they’re not getting any younger. Should they stay and help? Or is it time for them to move on?
Chicken & Biscuits
Circle in the Square Theater
First preview: September 23, 2021
Closing: January 2, 2022
Written by Douglas Lyons
Directed by Zhailon Levingston
Cast: Norman Lewis, Michael Urie
The Jenkins family is coming together to celebrate the life of their father—hopefully without killing each other! But any hopes for a peaceful reunion unravel when a family secret shows up at the funeral…
1-2-3- Manhunt (Theater for the New City)
In this play by Tony DiMurro, tenement rooftop to set the stage for a smackdown between two vastly different natives of the Lower East Side – an old-school middle-aged Italian back in the neighborhood for his last hurrah and a Chinese American teenager whose dreams of playing major league baseball started to fade even before the pandemic turned his life upside down.
Back and Forth (Supersecret Arts in Central Park)
This new play written by Richard Hollman about two old friends (Hollman and Chris Roberti) reuniting after a long forced period of isolation to play catch. It will be performed in Central Park’s East Meadow, with audience members equipped with headphones.
Is This A Room
First preview: September 24, 2021
Closing: January 16, 2022
Director: Tina Satter
Cast: Emily Davis
A dramatization of the verbatim transcript of the interrogation by the FBI at her home of Reality Winner, the 25-year-old former Air Force linguist who was convicted of “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet” and incarcerated for more than five years, an unprecedented long sentence. (My review when the play was Off-Broadway at the Vineyard.) To be presented in repertory with Dana H.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (Signature)
The full, in-person staging of Anna Deavere Smith’s documentary theater exploring the L.A. riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, excerpts of which Signature smartly previewed online this summer. My review: I liked what I saw. (Update: Begins performances today. Officially opens on November 1.)
The Mother (Wooster Group at the Performing Garage)
A new production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play about a poor, uneducated Russian mother’s journey to revolutionary action
By Heart (BAM)
Tiago Rodrigues, newly appointed director of the Avignon Festival, invites 10 audience members to join him in a deeply personal poetic experiment. What appears as a relatively simple task—memorizing a poem—quickly unfolds into something more expansive, as improbable connections emerge between Boris Pasternak, Ray Bradbury, and a cook from the north of Portugal.
Letters of Suresh (Second Stage)
Playwright Rajiv Joseph reveals intimate mysteries through a series of letters between strangers, friends, daughters, and lovers — many with little in common but a hunger for human connection.
Girl From the North Country
Opened: March 5, 2020
Written and directed by Conor McPherson
Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan
Cast: Todd Almond, Jeannette Bayardelle, Jennifer Blood, Law Terrell Dunford, Matthew Frederick Harris, Caitlin Houlahan, Robert Joy, Marc Kudisch, Luba Mason, Ben Mayne, Matt McGrath, Tom Nelis, Jay O. Sanders, John Schiappa, Austin Scott, Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Rachel Stern, Chiara Trentalange, Bob Walton, Chelsea Lee Williams, and Mare Winningham. Colin Bates will replace Colton Ryan in the role of Gene Laine.
Set in 1934 at a guesthouse in the heartland of America, a group of travelers pass in and out of each other’s lives, and share stories that awaken each other with passion, fury and, beauty. This originated at the Public Theater. My review.
My review on Broadway
Thoughts of a Colored Man
First preview: October 1, 2021
Written by Keenan Scott II
Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III
Cast: Dyllón Burnside, Bryan Terrell Clark, Da’Vinchi, Luke James, Forrest McClendon, Tristan “Mack” Wilds and Keith David
As the sun rises on a single day in the pulsing heart of Brooklyn, seven Black men are about to discover the extraordinary – together. The play blends spoken word, slam poetry, rhythm, and humor. (The opening has been moved up from October 31)
The Lehman Trilogy
First preview: September 25, 2021
Closing: January 2, 2022
Written by Stefano Massini
Directed by Sam Mendes
Cast: Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, Adrian Lester
The history of the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers over 164 years, starting with the arrival of the three Lehman brothers from Bavaria in the mid nineteenth century. My review of The Lehman Trilogy when it was at the Park Avenue Armory in April, 2019. Adrian Lester is a replacement for the Broadway run.
Electric’s West Side Story (Theater for the New City)
William Electric Black’s solo show explores the Broadway musical in inventive ways, performing as array of characters from the original West Side Story, and passing out Twinkies and candy cigarettes “to get you in the 1950s mood.”
The Play That Goes Wrong (New World Stages)
A silly slapstick backstage farce full of deliberately mixed-up lines, unheeded cues, misplaced props, and general mayhem, that improbably opened on Broadway, gained acclaim, and then moved Off-Broadway. As I wrote in my 2017 review, the real star of the show is the set, which malfunctions in wondrous ways.
Aint Too Proud
Opened: Mar 21, 2019
Book by Dominique Morisseau
Music by The Temptations
Director: Des McAnuff
Cast: Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks, Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin, etc.
This new musical helmed by the director of “Jersey Boys” follows The Temptations’ journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. My review
First preview: October 1, 2021
Opening: October 17, 2021
Closing: January 16, 2022
Writer: Lucas Hnath
Director: Les Waters
Cast: Deirdre O’Connell
Hnath reconstructs the story of his mother Dana Higginbotham’s abduction for five months in a series of Florida motels, adapted from interviews with Higginbotham conducted by Steve Cosson. Originated at the Vineyard Off-Broadway. To be presented in repertory with “Is This A Room”
Jane Anger (Play-PerView at Caveat)
The first-ever in person performance from the company that was born at the start of the pandemic, and has a made a name for itself with starry Zoom readings. (There’s just one in person performance, and four days of streaming.) This new play (with a very long subtitle) by Talene Monahon is set in 1606 “when William Shakespeare is stuck in quarantine with his unpaid apprentice, Francis. It would be a GREAT time to write King Lear…if he weren’t plagued with writer’s block. In through the window climbs Jane Anger, the Cunning Woman, with a large sack and a mind to change history forever.” This is an expansion of Monahon’s “Frankie and Will,” which was presented online last year. Its four-member cast includes the stars of that production, Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn.
Jagged Little Pill
Opened: December 5, 2019
Written by Diablo Cody
Director: Diane PaulusFirs
Cast: Elizabeth Stanley, Kathryn Gallagher, Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Sean Allan Krill, and Lauren Patten
Using the songs from the eponymous Alanis Morissette album (plus new material), this musical tells the story of a multi-generation, multiracial suburban family grappling with a series of distressing events. My review of A Jagged Little Pill
The musical won two Tony Awards last month, but has also been ensnared in a couple of controversies.
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 probably the most profitable.
Webber wrote a “sequel,” entitled “Love Never Dies,” which was set for Broadway in the 2010-2011 season, but, after scathing reviews in London, may never appear here.
Echoes in the Garden (American Bard at The Chain)
In Ross G. Hewett’s play, returning home can often be fraught with family drama. For Ruth Hemmerich, bringing her young son to meet her parents is marred with a dark history and racial tensions. Set in 1962 with flashbacks to the late 1920s, in the home of Marion and Henry Hemmerich, the family tries to navigate social and familial expectations in the wake of loss that echoes through the generations.
Lourdes, a woman of color aiming to get free, can rewind time—but only within the last five minutes. At a café, she meets Sheryl, a wealthy white woman with heartfelt yet deeply misguided intentions. As they talk, Lourdes keeps rewinding time in an attempt to have the ‘right’ conversation with Sheryl.
Fairycakes (Greenwich House Theater)
A cast of theatrical favorites (Ann Harada, Jackie Hoffman, Julie Halston, Jason Tam, etc.) comes together in this clash of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and old-world fairy tales from Douglas Carter Beane.
Trevor the Musical (Stage 42)
Based on the Oscar-winning film that inspired the creation of an organization that helps gay youth. It’s 1981 in America, and Trevor Nelson is navigating adolescence in suburbia when there’s an embarrassing incident at school.
The week-long festival — free and online — features 19 works-in-progress, including seven from other U.S. cities.
Caroline, or Change
Roundabout’s Studio 54
First preview: October 8, 2021
Book and lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Cast: Sharon D. Clarke
An import of a West End production of the 2003 musical about Caroline, an African-American maid whose world of 1963 Louisiana ripples with change both large and small.
Peter Gnit, a modern-day version by Will Eno of Ibsen’s heroic character Peer Gynt, is a carefree young man on a reckless search for Experience and the True Self.
*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 the 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. Still, I am trying to uphold tradition here, before it disappears entirely. I am not listing shows that begin in October, but officially open in November.