Theatre expert, Luisa Tanno weighs in on where to see some of the best theatre in NYC!
For fresh, compelling theatre Off-Broadway is the place to be right now! Lately I’ve been craving theatre that takes me off the beaten path to someplace new. Good news for me, one need not look further than the plethora of non-profit Off-Broadway theatres that pepper NYC to see tremendous theatre!
Up Close and Personal.
As a reminder, it is the size of the theatre that designates it “Broadway” or “Off-Broadway.” Off Broadway theatres have 99-499 seats, which creates a more intimate setting. As a bonus, there are some of the best actors in the biz on those stages and you get a close-up view of their talents. In the last few months alone I’ve seen William Jackson Harper (The Good Place), Chris Perfetti (Abbott Elementary), Kelli O’Hara, Brian d’Arcy James, Jessica Hecht and many others whose names you may not know, but whose gifts are unmistakable.
Innovation in Progress.
One of the hallmarks of Off-Broadway institutions is that they often develop brand new plays. This means the play will go through countless transformations during the rehearsal process. There will be rewrites, the actors originating the roles will shape characters, the director will steer it through variations. It is exciting! It takes so much hard work and dedication to see through the vision of the playwright.
If you look at the list of current Tony nominees, MANY of them originated Off-Broadway. Including Best Play nominees Fat Ham (The Public), Between Riverside and Crazy (Atlantic Theatre Company), Ain’t No Mo’ (The Public), and Best Musical Winner Kimberly Akimbo (Atlantic Theatre Company). Same goes for those coming to Broadway soon like Harmony (National Yiddish Theatre), Here Lies Love (The Public), and Alex Edelman: Just For Us (Cherry Lane Theatre & Soho Rep).
Get Thee to the Room Where it Happens!
Most Off-Broadway theatres have seasons that run fall through spring, so there is a schedule of shows that are planned in advance and carefully curated. I tend to be a spontaneous theatregoer, choosing shows based on my mood. But each season I join at least one Off-Broadway theatre company as a member or subscriber. It is the BEST!
Here are four GREAT reasons to subscribe to an Off-Broadway theatre:
– Socializing! Join with a friend – it will give you solid plans with someone you enjoy spending time with. Add in lunch or dinner and it’s an event!
– Savings! It’s a good deal – there are member perks, you save on fees, and often the prices are discounted.
– Philanthropy! You will be supporting these non-profit theatres, and theatre artists, and they NEED your support!
– Enlightenment! This is my favorite: you will see theatre you may never have chosen on your own. In fact, it is a lot like being in a Book Club! Some you will love others you won’t, but your horizons will be expanded without a doubt and you will become a well-rounded theatre-lover (or reader)!
As the 22/23 season wraps up, theatres are starting to announce their 23/24 seasons! I’m keeping my eye out and making my lists to help me decided where to subscribe next season. (A gleeful activity!) Below is a partial list of Off-Broadway theatres that I know and love, plus some of my favorite shows that I’ve seen there. (Playwrights are in parenthesis because writers are rock stars at these theatres, which is another thing I love about them!)
Full disclosure: I work part time at Signature but my bias began before I worked there. It has long been a favorite because I LOVE their clear mission of supporting playwrights and giving them an artistic home, and I love their inclusive public lobby space! Favorites: Octet (Dave Malloy), Confederates (Domique Morisseau) and their current play The Comeuppance (Branden Jacobs-Jenkins)! That one is running through July 9th and it is fantastic so get your tickets!
Favorites: A Strange Loop (Michael R. Jackson), Regretfully, So the Birds Are (Julia Izumi), and Wish You Were Here (Sanaz Toossi). It will always hold a special place in my heart because Sondheim’s masterpiece Sunday in the Park with George began here.
Favorites: Hadestown (Anais Mitchell), Sanctuary City (Martyna Majok), On Sugarland (Aleshea Harris). This season it produced the celebrated revival of Merrily We Roll Along, which is headed to Broadway!
I am lumping these together because they have both Broadway and Off-Broadway Theatres so your subscription can include both!
Second Stage faves: Make Believe (Bess Wohl), We’re Gonna Die (Young Jean Lee) Roundabout Faves: Primary Trust (Eboni Booth) which is playing through July 2nd– go see it!!
Perhaps the best known and for good reason! It set the standard. Favorites: Fat Ham (James Ijames), Soft Power (David Henry Hwang & Jeanine Tesori) and last season’s Shakespeare in the Park adaptation of As You Like It (Shaina Taub/Laurie Woolery). Let us not forget that Hamilton started here!
My newest Off-Broadway crush! Favorites: Wolf Play (Hansol Jung), Which Way to the Stage (Anna Nogueira). Their annual gala Miscast is very popular as it features notable Broadway stars performing songs from roles that they wouldn’t likely be cast in.
I love them because they produce plays by Women+ artists, and they are in my Upper West Side neighborhood! This past season I really enjoyed their theme of siblings. Favorites: Sancocho (Christin Eve Cato), Porto (Kate Benson), Where We Stand (Donetta Lavinia Grays).
This is a partial list – there so many more and they are all worthy of your attention! I highly encourage you to seek out these theatres and cannot overstate how much your presence matters right now. Off Broadway is the heart of theatre in New York City and they are struggling even while they are producing GREAT work! You’ll be doing a good thing and you will be rewarded with theatrical memories for a lifetime!