Holiday Gifts for Theater Lovers 2021

My tenth annual theater gift guide below includes links and information on shopping for

theater tickets,
theater subscriptions,
cast recordings,
play scripts and books about the theater
and theater on screen 
I also suggest some souvenirs and knick-knacks intended as tangible reminders of an evanescent experience.

Broadway is back, the Drama Book Shop has reopened in a beautiful new space under new management (including Lin-Manuel Miranda!),  and, for those who are still hesitant about returning to live, in-person entertainment, several Off-Broadway theaters (New York Theatre Workshop, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) and even some Broadway shows (Clyde’s) have gone hybrid — offering both in-person and live-streaming versions of their productions.  All might not be right with the world, but we’re a lot closer than last year.

THEATER TICKETS

Gift cards:  Telecharge gift cards , Today Tix gift cards and  TKTS gift certificates (the last of which help support a worthy organization) 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.)

Some suggest it’s better to give a gift card from Visa or Mastercard,because the theater-specific gift cards charge fees for each show.

A note here: No theatergoer will be admitted to any show in New York City unless they show proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and commit to wearing a face mask during the entire performance.

If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, or are willing to guess — AND you know what date(s) they can attend — you can buy tickets for them yourself directly from the show’s website or from the box office. Here is a list of Broadway shows that have already opened or reopened, and those that are scheduled to do so in the remainder of the 2021-2022 season, with links to each show’s website and to my review.

There are many terrific shows Off-Broadway too — my Off-Broadway 2021-2022 season preview guide — although their generally shorter runs can be problematic when looking for a gift. (You might consider getting a gift of a theater subscription instead; see below.)

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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THEATER SUBSCRIPTIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

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 might already be 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.

Classic Stage Company

Lincoln Center Theater

MCC Theater

New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater

Playwrights Horizons

Roundabout Theater Company

Vineyard Theater

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CAST RECORDINGS

Six albums have been nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album:

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” [3 LP]
Some Lovers (World Premiere Recording)
Girl From The North Country Original Broadway Cast Recording
Les Misérables: The Staged Concert (The Sensational 2020 Live Recording) [Live from the Gielgud Theatre, London]
Stephen Schwartz’s Snapshots – Musical Scrapbook (World Premiere Rec.)  
The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical

Browse through the websites of the record labels that specialize in theater albums:
Broadway Records (new recordings include “Caroline, or Change” and “Freedom Riders, The Civil Rights Musical”)
Ghostlight/Sh-k-Boom   (“Little Shop of Horrors,” starring Jeremy Jordan)
Masterworks Broadway (all the songs from Apple TV musical spoof”Schmigadoon..” the soundtrack from the Netflix adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s “tick, tick… BOOM!”)
PS Classics (“all the girls,” a two-woman show co-starring the late Rebecca Luke

An extravagant evergreen gift for the theater lover who still plays CDs:

Broadway in a Box – The Essential Broadway Musicals Collection — 25 (!) CDs of original cast recordings, from Annie to West Side Story. 

THEATER BOOKS AND SCRIPTS

There are some wonderful evergreen collections of theater scripts. My favorites:

August Wilson Century Cycle

Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim

The Collected Plays of Arthur Miller (Library of America)

American Musicals: The Complete Books and Lyrics of 16 Broadway Classics, 1927-1969 (Library of America)

You also might want to consider one (or a bunch) of the 50 Best Plays of the Last 100 Years

There is also a gift subscription to the Dramatists Play Service Book Club, which sends seven plays (a mix of new and back catalogue Acting Edition scripts) every three months.

I love the following memoirs, histories and books of criticism or analysis, some of them going back decades, some published this year.

Act One: An Autobiography by Moss Hart

The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built by Jack Viertel

Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway by Michael Riedel

Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way by Stewart F. Lane

Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Burger

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future  by James Shapiro (my review)

This Is Not My Memoir by André Gregory (my review)

Lot Six: A Memoir by David Adjmi (my review)

Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris (my review)

 

Two new theater books I recommend for the Sondheimite in your life:

The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia by Rick Pender

“Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created ‘Sunday in the Park with George’” 

(my review)

THEATER ON SCREEN 

Companies offering theater online to subscribers were already increasingly popular before “digital theater” became the only theater in town during the year and a half that live in-person theater was shut down. The ongoing commercial subscription services that specialize in theater — BroadwayHD,  Cennarium, Digital Theatre, Marquee TV — have now been supplemented by new start-ups that double as fundraisers for theater organizations and others in need.

Throughout the year, the National Theatre Live broadcasts its productions in movie theaters throughout the United States.

For those who would prefer something more old-fashioned, both the National Theatre and  the Royal Shakespeare Company sells DVDs of its productions, although you have to pay in pounds.

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BROADWAY BAUBLES

Each Broadway show offers a range of merchandise (posters, calendars, t-shirts,magnets, mugs, keychains, umbrellas, you name it!) that you can buy at the theater itself and in gift shops in the theater district, and online at each show’s website (Here again is my calendar of the Broadway season, with a link to each show’s website.), as well as on a variety of other sites, for example at the Playbill.com store. More generic theater baubles are available on such sites as the National Theatre gift page, to which I’m partial this year. In keeping with the era, they are selling Lady Macbeth’s hand sanitizer and a face mask with a quote from Shakespeare’s “Loves Labours Lost”: “We shall everyone be mask’d” (which was decidedly uttered in a different era. They are also selling an Oscar Wilde magnetic finger puppet, a Shakespeare insults mug, a poster that begins “Theatre Isn’t Just About Acting,” a tea towel (what is that exactly?) that enumerates every death in Shakespeare’s plays, which I suspect will not sell so well this year.

At the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, online store this year (proceeds from which help the needy), their latest Broadway legend Christmas ornament is Audra McDonald costumed as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. They are also selling a 2022 Broadway wall calendar with lyrics from Broadway shows. Theater-themed calendars strike me as an appropriate gift, even if, like this Wall Calendar 2022 of Vintage Musical Movies Poster it’s not exactly theater. But as I’ve been saying since last year: Close enough.

Author: New York Theaterh

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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