Below is a day-by-day selection of theater openings scheduled for February organized by opening date*, featuring two big Broadway musicals – MJ the Musical and The Music Man – and a busy month Off-Broadway, including some exciting new works during Black History Month: The new musical by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, “Black No More”; new plays by Aleshea Harris, Dave Harris and Charly Evan Simpson; an Encores! revival of the Tap Dance Kid; and the great African-American classical actor John Douglas Thompson as Shylock. Off-Off Broadway weighs in with a return of The Flea, and a Black History Trilogy — solo shows about Jimi Hendrix, Bert Williams and the Black Church, will be presented at Flushing Town Hall, and (reflecting our new era) streamed for free online.
We must consider this calendar tentative, because while the havoc wreaked by the Omicron variant has diminished in New York lately, and all theaters require proof of vaccination and the wearing of masks (and some are now requiring proof of booster shots and negative COVID tests), the pandemic is ongoing and unpredictable.
MJ The Musical
Theater: Neil Simon
First Preview: December 6, 2021
Opening: February 1, 2022
Book by Lynn Nottage, music by Michael Jackson
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.
Cast: Myles Frost
The story of Michael Jackson’s life, with a score made up of his songs, among the most popular in history.
This play by Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews, Significant Others), directed by David Cromer, looks at antisemitism through the story of one Jewish family, whose ancestors have lived in France for hundreds of years, including during World War II, but in 2017, decide they need to get out.
An Encores! concert version over a long weekend of the 1983 acclaimed Broadway musical about a concert about a ten-year-old boy who dreams of being a tap dancer (Alexander Bello), much to the irritation of his father – in this production portray by Joshua Henry. With new choreography by Jared Grimes
Two characters are trapped in a minstrel show, in this play by Dave Harris
The clown duo Acrobuffos combine circus and science
*The Music Man
First preview: December 20, 2021
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster
The fourth Broadway production of Meredith Wilson’s musical about “Professor” Harold Hill, the con man posing as a traveling salesman,
A starry live reading from Walt Whitman’s poem about the poet’s experience caring for Civil War veterans, as a catalyst for a powerful, guided discussion. (One night only)
Ed Kleban, lyricist of A Chorus Line who died at the age of 48, is imagined returning to his own memorial service to set the record straight.
Based on a true story, an American podcaster travels to Ireland to learn more about 15-year-old Ann, who decades earlier was found dead with her newborn baby in Our Lady’s Grotto at the edge of a small town.
Arden: But, Not Without You (The Flea)
The first major work in two years at this Off-Off Broadway theater that all but collapsed from internal criticism, and returns now with this work “led by Black, Gay, Queer, Korean-American, Priestexxy, Femme and Shamanic artists…about grace, love, and the bravery it takes to find each other again after periods of darkness and indifference.” (Previews begin February 6.)
Third Stone from the Sun: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (Flushing Town Hall)
In the first of the venue’s Black History Trilogy, a three-part series of solo tributes to influential African-Americans, Jimy Bleu portrays the rock guitar legend.
Space Dogs (MCC)
This new musical Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire tells the true story of a stray dog and the top secret Russian scientist who sent her to space during the Cold War.
In this play by Hansol Jung ( Wild Goose Dreams), a young South Korean boy (represented onstage as a puppet) is “re-homed” by brand-new parents — a professional boxer and his wife. (Previews begin February 2)
Max Disher (Brandon Victor Dixon) is eager to try the mysterious machine invented by Dr. Junius Crookman (Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter) that guarantees to “solve the American race problem” —by turning Black people white, in this starry new musical with a book by John Ridley (Oscar winner for 12 Years a Slave); lyrics and music co-written by Trotter, and choreography by Bill T. Jones.
John Douglas Thompson takes on the role of Shylock in a production directed by Arin Arbus that promises to explore the “racism, misogyny, classism and homophobia” (and I hope antisemitism) of Venetian society. (Previews begin February 5)
Puppet Lab (St Ann’s Warehouse)
This annual festival of new puppetry returns after a two year hiatus. (only through Feb 20)
The innovative company reprises its new production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play about a poor, uneducated Russian mother’s journey to revolutionary action
A music-theater work by Theodora Skipitares about Frederick Douglass’s obsession with photography and its power to ‘tell the truth’ about the humanity of African-Americans during slavery.
The Black King of Vaudeville – Remembering Bert Williams in Song (Flushing Town Hall)
Larry Marshall portrays Bert Williams (1874-1922, who) became a major act on the vaudeville circuit, one of the first African-American recording artists, and a huge star on Broadway, a veteran of 18 shows on the Great White Way; he was even the first known African-American film actor.
Michael Urie stars as William Shakespeare in an expansion of Talene Monahon’s play imagining the Bard stuck in quarantine with his unpaid apprentice during the Plague, and plagued by writer’s block – when in through the window climbs the cunning woman of the title. The first in-person production by the company that emerged from the pandemic and excelled at digital theater.
In Sanaz Toossi’s New York playwriting debut, four adult students in Iran are preparing for the TOEFL (the Test of English as a Foreign Language) chasing fluency through a maze of word games, listening exercises, and show-and-tell sessions in the hopes that English will one day make them whole. (Previews begin February 4)
The Daughters-in-Law (Mint Theater)
D.H. Lawrence’s first play, written in 1913 but unproduced until 1967, focuses on a young miner in Great Britain and the tensions with his wife on the eve of a national coal strike . (Previews begin February 8)
Nobody understands why Jamie wants to leave his cushy law office to work for a non-profit.
This new play by Aleshea Harris (Is God Is and What to Send Up When It Goes Down), takes place in a community in the South comprised of three mobile homes in a cul-de-sac festooned with decorative folk art, and a cast of 14 portraying Sugarland’s denizens both grieving the past, and mining it for the truth. Choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly. (Previews begin February 3.)
A revival of the 1980 Broadway comedy that pairs two one-act musicals — the first, a salute to the Golden Age of film musicals; the second, a Marx Brothers farce.
Written by Claude Solnick, the play explores the relationship among Arthur Miller, his wife Marilyn Monroe and his director Elia Kazan, framed by Miller’s testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.
The Power & The Glory (Flushing Town Hall)
Broadway veteran Tina Fabrique pays homage to Gospel in this last of the Black History Trilogy.
In this play by Charly Evan Simpson, Angela (Brittany Bellizeare) and Odessa (Marinda Anderson) are on a sandy search for something that might not be real but they are determined to make a way out of no way. When they stumble upon ADAH (Rolanda Watts), a Celebrity-turned-Wellness-Maven, they decide to follow her lead. (Previews begin February 6.)
*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.) There are exceptions: Most shows appearing in short runs at theater festivals don’t have a preview period, so the first night and opening night are one and the same. But in any case, the term is increasingly meaningless (for one thing, most critics these days don’t even get invited until after “opening night.”) Still, I’ve been trying to uphold tradition here, but have given in a little this month, listing the date when previews begin in several cases.
Maybe worth noting: Opening night has been re-redefined: “In a break with Broadway custom of recent decades, producers of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster are not inviting critics to pre-opening night previews.Instead, critics are being invited to the revival’s Feb. 10 opening night at the Winter Garden Theatre, with reviews embargoed until thereafter.” (Deadline)