Fall New York Theater Preview: 10 that are “can’t miss” (though not yet “must see”)

A new Sondheim musical, posthumously produced; a new Annie Baker play; the return to Broadway of Leslie Odom Jr. and Sarah Paulson. Below are ten shows opening in the Fall – three of which I’ve seen in previous productions or venues and greatly enjoyed. The rest excite me enough, or at least make me curious enough, that I don’t want to miss them, for reasons I enumerate below. This doesn’t mean I will wind up liking them all. I won’t know if these are “must see” shows until I see them.

The shows are listed chronologically by opening date; the titles are linked to the show’s website.

Check out my Broadway 2023-2024 season preview guide, as well as my current monthly calendar of New York theater openings

Infinite Life

What: Five women in Northern California sit outside on chaise lounges and philosophize about the complexity of suffering, and what it means to have desire while your body is failing you
Where: Atlantic Theater Company
When: Running now through October 8. Opens Sept 12
Why: This new play by Annie Baker (award-winning playwright who wrote Circle Mirror Transformation, for which I will always feel grateful, and The Flick) stars some of the most consistently watchable Grand Dames of the theater, including Marylouise Burke, Mia Katigbak, Kristine Nielsen and Brenda Pressley 

Purlie Victorious

What: A Revival of Ossie Davis’ 1961 play, subtitled “A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch,” about a preacher outwitting a racist in the Jim Crow South. 
Where: Broadway’s Music Box Theater
When:  Begins September 7. Opens September 27
Why: Leslie Odom Jr.’s return to Broadway for the first time since his Tony-winning role as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” with some co-stars who have stood out in every show I’ve seen them in,  including Kara Young, Jay O. Sanders and Noah Robbins. I’m curious about this play by Ossie Davis, much better known as an actor, and am drawn to any show directed by Kenny Leon, and designed by Derek McLane (sets) and Emilio Sosa (costumes.)

All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain
What: In this solo show, Patrick Page unfolds the Bard’s “two decade exploration of evil,” going more or less chronologically through his characters: Richard III, Aaron the Moor, Shylock with Antonio, Sir John Falstaff with Hal, Malvolio, Claudius, Iago with Othello, Macbeth (and separately Lady Macbeth), Prospero with Ariel.
Where: DR2 Theater
When: September 29 to January 7. Opens October 16.
Why:  I saw this wonderful production online during the pandemic. It’s not traditional theater, but Page performs the soliloquies of these various characters  with passion and precision; it’s not a traditional lecture, but his commentary is illuminating.

Here We Are
What: Stephen Sondheim’s new musical, written with playwright David Ives, is inspired by two Luis Buñuel’s films – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel – with Act I following a group of people searching for dinner amidst surreal encounters, while the second act traps them in their chosen dining spot.
Where: The Shed
When: September 28 – January 7. Opens October 22.
Why: This show defines the phrase “can’t miss.” It was the musical that Stephen Sondheim had been working on for many years with David Ives when he died. (Read Frank Rich’s New York Magazine article: “The Final Sondheim: The complete, from-beginning-to-end story of how Stephen Sondheim, David Ives, and Joe Mantello created the musical Here We Are.”)
It features an astonishing cast of some of the most exciting actors performing on the New York stage: Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos.

Poor Yella Rednecks
What: A young Vietnamese family attempts to put down roots in Arkansas, a place as different from home as it gets, as old flings threaten to pull Mom and Dad apart
Where: Manhattan Theater Club at New York City Center
When: Begins October 10. Opens November 1.
Why: The play is a kind of sequel to Qui Nguyen’s memorable 2016 play about his parents, “Vietgone,” which managed to be both as puckish as a comic book and as poignant as a family tragedy. Nguyen, who has since become a Hollywood screenwriter and director (The Disney animated films “Strange World” and “Raya and the Last Dragon”) reunites with director May Adrales and some of the same  terrific cast members (Jon Hoche, Samantha Quan, Paco Tolson)  as well as with Jared Mezzocchi, who has since become a foremost digital theater evangelist, but first made his name with his dazzling projection designs.  

I Need That
What:  Sam receives a notice from the government that he must clean up his property or face eviction, forcing him to reckon with what’s trash, what’s treasure, and whether we can ever know the difference.
Where: Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater on Broadway.
When: October 13 – December 23. Opens November 2.
Why: It’s about hoarders, a subject (too) close to home, it’s written by Theresa Rebeck, an uneven playwright but her best plays are clever and hilarious. It stars both Danny DeVito and Lucy DeVito, his daughter, making her Broadway debut.

What: The Comedian Harmonists, the singing group whose story is told in Barry Manilow’s long-gestating musical, were as popular as the Beatles in their time and place. But their time and place was Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, so the group, made up of three Jews and three Gentiles, had some harrowing experiences.
Where: Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theater
When: Begins October 18. Opens November 13
Why: I found this a moving story and a crowd-pleasing entertainment when I saw it last year produced by National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
I also have a personal interest in the story, having interviewed the last surviving member of the group not long before he died at the age of 97.

Scene from “Manahatta” by Mary Kathryn Nagle, at OSF 2018.

What: Two parallel stories on the same strip of land called Manhattan: Jane Snake, a brilliant young Native American woman with a Stanford MBA, moves to her ancestral Lenape homeland for a banking job just before the 2008 financial meltdown. Centuries before, the people of the Delaware Nation are expelled from their land. 
Where: Public Theater
When: November 16 – December 17. Opens December 5
Why: I saw a production of Mary Kathryn Nagle‘s play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which may be ironic, because it’s a quintessential New York play. I found it eerie, engaging and enlightening.

Watch Night
What: In this “immersive exploration of justice and forgiveness in the face of deadly rage,” a reporter visits the site of an unspeakable tragedy in search of a story ready made for Hollywood – only to find that history repeats itself.
Where: The Perelman Performing Arts Center (aka PAC NYC or The PAC)
When: November 3 – 18. Opens November 8.
Why: This multidisciplinary show – part theater, part opera, part dance – is co-conceived, directed, and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, the always-challenging, always-rewarding boundary-pushing dancer, choreographer and director whose Broadway credits include Fela and Spring Awakening. But the main reason why I don’t want to miss this show is because it’s part of the inaugural season of the new performing arts center at the World Trade Center, and among the season’s offerings, “Watch Night” looks to be the first fully realized original work of theater. (There are earlier theater-adjacent events in the Fall, such as solo concerts with LaChanze, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Ben Platt, but most of the new works of theater at The PAC are in the Spring.)

What: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ 2013 play about the dysfunctional Lafayette family whose members have returned to their late patriarch’s Arkansas home to deal with the remains of his estate – and discover their liberal lawyer father was a closet racist.
Where:  Second Stage’s Hayes Theater on Broadway.
When: November 29 – February 11, 2024. Opens December 18. 
Why: Sarah Paulson is returning to Broadway after thirteen years. “Appropriate,” simultaneously a mordant comedy and in-your-face drama, won an Obie in 2014, but it only now marks the Broadway debut of its author Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a much-acclaimed 38-year-old playwright who makes the audience work harder than we’re used to, in plays like Everybody and The Comeuppance — but also offers jolts that can be dramatically, politically and philosophically  satisfying, such as in The Octoroon and Gloria.

Author: New York Theater

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

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