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The Damned
Photograph: Courtesy Jan Versweyveld The Damned

The 15 best shows to see this summer on Broadway and beyond

Find the best summer theater events, including Broadway musicals, bold Off Broadway dramas and Shakespeare in the Park

By Adam Feldman
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New York theater slows down a bit to catch its breath after the hectic sprint of the busy spring season, but it never stops moving forward. There are many promising shows on the horizon this summer, from new Broadway musicals to international spectacles, bold new dramas and, of course, the cherished tradition of Shakespeare in Park and other free outdoor theater. Here are 15 of what could be the best summer shows, listed in order of when they start.

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Best shows on Broadway and beyond to see this summer

Tatiana Maslany
Photograph: Courtesy Angelo Sgambati

1. Mary Page Marlowe

Theater Drama

In the NYC premiere of this 2016 play by Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), multiple actors—Tatiana Maslany, Blair Brown, Susan Pourfar, Kellie Overbey, Emma Geer and Mia Sinclair Jenness—portray the same Ohio women at different stages in her life. Lila Neugebauer (The Wolves) directs for Second Stage.

Rebecca Naomi Jones
Photograph: Courtesy Noffar Gat

2. Fire in Dreamland

Theater Drama

Rebecca Naomi Jones plays a would-be do-gooder who, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, gets swept up in the charismatic rush of a European man who is making a film about a 1911 fire in Coney Island. Marissa Wolf directs the New York premiere of a play by Rinne Groff (The Ruby Sunrise); the case also includes Enver Gjokaj and Kyle Beltran.

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The Go-Gos
Photograph: Courtesy the Go-Gos

3. Head Over Heels

Theater Musicals

Broadway's latest jukebox musical pops songs by the Go-Go's—and some Belinda Carlisle solo singles—into an Elizabethan-style comic romp about a royal family trying to avert catastrophe. Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) directs a cast that includes Andrew Durand, Alexandra Socha, Jeremy Kushnier, Rachel York and RuPaul's Drag Race alumna Peppermint.

Becca Blackwell
Photograph: Courtesy Becca Blackwell

4. They, Themself and Schmerm

Theater Comedy

Becca Blackwell has been a forceful presence in many a downtown production in the past 10 years. Now the charismatic postgender performer takes center stage in an absorbing and funny solo work, directed by Ellie Heyman, that explores childhood abuse, self-discovery and filial ambivalence.

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Madame Lynch
Photograph: Courtesy David Pym

5. Ice Factory 2018

Theater Experimental

In the helter-skelter of summer theater festivals, the cool curatorial heads of Ice Factory always provide a welcome breeze. For the fest's 25th anniversary, New Ohio artistic director Robert Lyons has invited distinguished alums to serve as guest curators. The first of this year's seven featured shows, each of which runs for a single week, is One-Eighth Theater's Numbness (June 27–30), created by Daniel Irizarry and Laura Butler Rivera.

Armie Hammer
Photograph: Andy Parsons

6. Straight White Men

Theater Drama

Young Jean Lee, whose experimental work has delighted in metatheatrical mind games, shifts gears with this relatively straightforward American father-sons drama on themes of identity and privilege. Is naturalism the new subversion? Rewritten by the playwright since its premiere at the Public Theater in 2014, the play moves to Second Stage's new Broadway flagship with a cast that includes Tom Skerritt, Josh Charles and widespread internet crush object Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name). Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County) directs.

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Chilina Kennedy
Photograph: Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown

7. This Ain’t No Disco

Theater Musicals

Two of 1979 New York's definitive scenes—the glittery Studio 54 and the countercultural Mudd Club—are the poles of this new musical by Stephen Trask (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Rick Elise (Jersey Boys) and original Wallflowers drummer Peter Yanowitz. Darko Tresnjak direct the world premiere; the cast includes Chilina Kennedy, Theo Stockman, Will Connolly and Lulu Fall. 

Jackie Hoffman
Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Churchill Downes

8. Fiddler on the Roof

Theater Musicals

The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene presents a Yiddish-language production of Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's classic musical about a put-upon shtetl milkman coping with marriage-minded daughters and a narrow-minded tsar. Broadway eminence Joel Grey (Cabaret) directs a cast led by Steven Skybell, Mary Illes and—in the season's best casting—kvetch queen Jackie Hoffman as the matchmaker, Yente. (Subtitles are in English and Russian.)

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Trainspotting Live
Photograph: Courtesy Geraint Lewis

9. Trainspotting Live

Theater

After a cult-hit run at the Vaults in London, this intensely immersive production—adapted by Harry Gibson from Irvine Welshs 1993 novel—throws audiences into the harrowing world of Scottish junkies in the 1980s. Prepare for a close encounter with violence, nudity, drug use, filthy toilets and other potentially distressing things.

Michael Friedman
Photograph: Courtesy Craig Schwartz

10. Gone Missing

Theater Musicals

The centerpiece of the 2018 season of Encores! Off-Center is a concert staging of the Civilians' brilliant 2003 docutheater vaudeville, an interview-based collection of monologues and songs about loss. The score is by the hugely gifted Civilians composer and Off-Center artistic director Michael Friedman, whose shocking death last year (at the age of 41) shook the local theater world to the core. The cast includes John Behlmann, Susan Blackwell, Aysan Celik, Deborah S. Craig and Taylor Mac.

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The Damned
Photograph: Courtesy Jan Versweyveld

11. The Damned

Theater Experimental

The celebrated expressionist-minimalist director Ivo van Hove joins forces with the mighty Comédie-Française for this pitch-black immorality tale, adapted from Luchino Visconti's 1969 film about a wealthy German family that tears itself apart at the dawn of the Nazi era. Expect a production that makes the most of Park Avenue Armory's massive playing space.

Twelfth Night Public Works
Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

12. Twelfth Night

Theater Shakespeare

This musical adaptation of Shakespeare's ever-popular comedy began in 2016 as a one-weekend run under the auspices of the Public Works program, which collaborates with New York communities to create large-scale theater. Director Kwame Kwei-Armah is joined by Public leader Oskar Eustis to helm the production's return engagement; Nikki M. James, Andrew Kober, Jacob Ming-Trent, Ato Blankson-Wood and Shaina Taub (who also wrote the songs) star alongside less seasoned actors and residents of all five boroughs.

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Gettin' the Band Back Together
Photograph: Courtesy Robert Ascroft

13. Gettin’ the Band Back Together

Theater Musicals Open run

In this original musical, a 40-year-old unemployed banker must reassmble his old rock group to save his mom's home from foreclosure. The songs are by Mark Allen; the book is by producer Ken Davenport and a group of improv collaborators. John Rando directs a cast led by Mitchell Jarvis and Marilu Henner.

Pretty Woman World Premiere Engagement at Broadway in Chicago’s Oriental Theatre
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

14. Pretty Woman

Theater Musicals

Broadway's love affair with prostitutes continues with this stage adaptation of the hit 1990 romantic comedy about a hooker with a heart of gold and a john with hair of grey and a wallet of green. Samantha Barks and Andy Karl play the lead roles, directed by Jerry Mitchell; the original score is by craggy Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime songwriting partner Jim Vallance.

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Janet McTeer
Photograph: Courtesy Shane Nelson

15. Bernhardt/Hamlet

Theater Shakespeare

The estimable Janet McTeer plays the Divine Sarah in a comedy by Teresa Rebeck, set in 1899 as the most celebrated actress of her day prepares to take on the most famous role in theater. Moritz von Stuelnagel directs the world premiere for Roundabout Theatre Company.

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