My eleventh annual theater gift guide below features links and information on shopping for
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.
The return of in-person theater is accompanied by new opportunities for theater-adjacent gift-giving. How about subsidizing a visit to the new Museum of Broadway? (my review: 10 things I learned, 11 rooms I liked.) You can browse the reopened Drama Book Shop, new co-owner Lin-Manuel Miranda (my visit) — or check out the store’s online shopping page.
Shows on Broadway Thanksgiving week
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.
Note that the coronavirus still hovers, but there is official optimism that it will prove less of a threat than it did during last year’s holiday season. One advantage of gift cards is that they are open-ended; people can wait to use them until they feel comfortable returning to the theater.
If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, or are willing to guess, you can buy tickets for them yourself directly from the show’s website or from the box office.
Broadway 2022-2023 Season Guide
I personally would not mind returning to see any of Broadway’s seven longest-running shows, and these may be the ideal gift for a budding theater lover who’s never been — or for the fan of Phantom, since it’s closing after thirty-five years in February, 2023.
Some non-profit theaters still offer subscriptions or “season packages.” Many have switched to memberships, or flex passes, or simply gift certificates. Whatever form it takes, this is a gift both to your theater lover and to the theater itself, providing much needed support.
Among the New York City theaters I’ve joined at one time or another, and that I can recommend because they continue to produce some great work and make the theatergoer feel welcome: Brooklyn Academy of Music, which makes it easy to buy a gift membership; Lincoln Center Theater; The Public Theater; Playwrights Horizons; Signature
Six albums have been nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album:
Caroline, or Change
Into the Woods (2022 Broadway Cast Recording)
MJ The Musical
Mr Saturday Night
Six: Live on Opening Night
A Strange Loop
Browse through the websites of the record labels that specialize in theater albums (offered in a range of formats):
Broadway Records (new cast recordings for recent Off-Broadway productions of “Assassins,” “Withering Heights,” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” as well as theater-adjacent albums “Randy Rainbow: A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and “Sondheim Unplugged, Volume 3” )
Ghostlight/Sh-k-Boom (“Between the Lines,” “Melissa Errico: The Songs of Michel Legrand)
Masterworks Broadway (the new cast recording of ”Funny Girl” starring Lea Michele, “Almost Famous the musical,” “Back to the Future the musical”)
PS Classics (“Steve Sondheim’s label of choice from 2004 to 2013, turning out a dozen cast albums during that time” and now “I Know Things Now,” Jeff Harnar’s selection from the Sondheim catalog shaped into a cohesive narrative.)
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.
BOOKS AND SCRIPTS
There are some wonderful evergreen collections of theater scripts. My favorites:
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
Scripts of plays currently (or just finished) on Broadway:
Cost of Living by Martyna Majok
Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Topdog Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks
The Piano Lesson by August Wilson
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. (They also offer a one-time collection of five scripts.)
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
Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind A Raisin in the Sun by Charles J. Shields
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)
Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers written with Jesse Green (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)
This books by and about Stephen Sondheim take on some poignance a year after his death.
Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim
The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia by Rick Pender
“Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created ‘Sunday in the Park with George’” by James Lapine (my review)
Some new visually appealing coffee table/design books
“The American Theatre 1962 to 2002 as seen by Hirschfeld“ (My review)
Designing Broadway: How Derek McLane and Other Acclaimed Set Designers Create the Visual World of Theatre by Derek McLane with Eila Mell (my review)
Transforming Space Over Time: Set Design and Visual Storytelling with Broadway’s Legendary Directors, by Beowulf Boritt
Queer Maximalism X Machine Dazzle, catalogue of the costume designer’s exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design (my review)
Also check out: 12 New Books* by Broadway Stars
THEATER ON SCREEN
Companies offering theater online to subscribers were already increasingly popular before “digital theater” became the only theater in town during the 17-month pandemic shutdown. So much innovative theater made its way into computer screens during that time; some of it still exists; digital programming has become a part of some theater companies’ regular offerings. But the theater on screen that you can purchase as gifts are the platforms that existed before the pandemic: BroadwayHD, Digital Theatre, and Marquee TV
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 sell DVDs of its productions, although you have to pay in pounds.
SOUVENIRS AND KNICK-KNACKS
Each Broadway show offers a range of merchandise: posters, calendars, t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, keychains, umbrellas etc — I’m partial to magnets (that’s my refrigerator above.) You can buy these baubles 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.
The Playbill site offers more generic theater baubles as well — its 2023 calendar is “celebrating Sondheim” (just Sondheim Playbill covers.) So do such sites as the National Theatre gift page, which again features “Lady Macbeth’s hand sanitizer,” although they seem to have dropped the face mask with “Loves Labours Lost” quote: “We shall everyone be mask’d.” Their Everybody Dies in Shakespeare tea towel is still for sale, but I’ve soured on it, although I am still thinking about getting the William Shakespeare Magnetic Finger Puppet.
The Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, online store this year (proceeds from which help the needy), is featuring Broadway legend Christmas ornaments of Billy Porter and Angela Lansbury and a flower bouquet made up of old Broadway playbills, always including “Wicked,” since Sasha Pensanti was working on that show, and watching the nightly tossing of playbills in the trash when she came up with a way to recycle them.
Broadway logos are always big: Etsy offers quilts and blankets and scarves made of them — and even a teddy bear.