Broadway and Off Broadway productions get most of the attention, but to get a true sense of the range and diversity of New York theater, you need to look to the smaller productions collectively known as Off-Off Broadway. There are about 200 Off-Off Broadway spaces in New York, mostly with fewer than 99 seats. Experimental plays thrive in New York's best Off-Off Broadway venues; that's where you'll find many of the city's most challenging and original works. But Off-Off is more than just the weird stuff: It also includes everything from magic shows to revivals of rarely seen classics, and it's a good place to get early looks at major rising talents. What's more, it tends to be affordable; while cheap Broadway tickets can be hard to find, most Off-Off Broadway shows are in the $15–$25 range. Here are some of the current shows that hold the most promise.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Off Broadway shows in NYC
Off-Off Broadway shows in NYC
Tom and Betsy Salamon’s unique adventure—part interactive theater, part scavenger hunt, part walking tour—draws participants into an amusing web of puzzles and intrigue. You can choose between the three-hour New York tour, which takes participants through various neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, or the two-hour Village tour, which travels through quirky Greenwich Village. Groups of as many as 11 are booked every half hour.
The meteorically rising auteur Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play) examines artistic self-exposure, vulnerability and exhibitionism in a new choreopoem presented by the Bushwick Starr and the indie film studio Makeready. (Harris's identity as the playwright was initially hidden behind the pseudonym @GaryXXXFisher.) Machel Ross directs the premiere, in which Harris also stars as an actor.
Writer Sara Farrington and director Reid Farrington collaborate on a multimedia dance-theater work that draws from Noh theater, the films of Marlon Brando and a 1957 New Yorker interview with the actor by Truman Capote, as well as Capote's true-crime thriller In Cold Blood.
Devin Burnham's immersive play takes place at a clandestine meeting in the year 2520, when public gatherings have been outlawed. Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy directs the premiere for Sea Dog Theater. (Audiences meet at an appointed time and place and then proceed to the secret location of this site-specific production.)
After more than 15 years at the Waldorf Astoria, Steve Cohen, billed as the Millionaires’ Magician, now conjures his high-class parlor magic in the marble-columned Madison Room at the swank Lotte New York Palace. Audiences must dress to be impressed (cocktail attire is required); tickets start at $100, with an option to pay more for meet-and-greet time and extra tricks with Cohen after the show. But if you've come to see a classic-style magic act, you get what you pay for. Sporting a tuxedo and bright rust hair, the magician delivers routines that he has buffed to a patent-leather gleam: In addition to his signature act—"Think-a-Drink," involving a kettle that pours liquids by request—highlights include a lulu of levitation trick and a card-trick finale that leaves you feeling like, well, a million bucks.
Eric Schaeffer pays homage to a gentle holiday classic with a family-oriented stage adaptation of the 1965 Peanuts television special. Directed by Joy Donze, the show is accompanied by a jazz trio playing the Vince Guaraldi score, while the actors try to match the voices and physicality of the cartoon characters.
After many years at the Brooklyn Lyceum, Pig Brooch Theatre Company's annual Christmas show has spent the last several yuletides roving among different venues in Gowanus. This year the scrappy show plants its Peanuts at ShapeShifter Lab, with a live jazz trio playing Vince Guaraldi's beloved music.
No.11 Productions throws a holiday bash in the form of an immersive, interactive retelling of Charles Dickens's haunted Christmas fable, ditrected by Ryan Emmons. Forest VanDyke stars as Scrooge, and audience volunteers are recruited to fill in two dozen smaller roles. A merry dance party follows the show, featuring music by the Nat Osborn Band.
Musically Human Theatre Productions adds another stage version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol to the annual glut. (Companies love miserliness!) This one features the expert Austin Pendleton as Scrooge. Click here for details.
The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre strings together its own take on Charles Dickens's tremendously adaptable yuletide fable, this one incorporating elements from many other holiday traditions as well as songs in various languages.
Writer-director Rory McGregor takes a fictionalized look at British con artist Alan Conway, who successfully passed himself off as the reclusive film director Stanley Kubrick for several years in the 1990s.
Waterwell travels to various locations in the city with a dramatic reenactment of real-life deportation proceedings, built from court-transcript texts assembled by Arian Moayed. The company's artistic director, Lee Sunday Evans (Dance Nation), directs a rotating cast of actors.
In this original musical, Iris Beaumier plays Josephine Baker, who escaped the limitations of the United States in the 1920s to become an exotic jazz sensation in Paris. The score is by Mario E. Sprouse; the book is by Glynn Borders, who also directs the world premiere.
The Night Shift hosts this inebriated monthly reading of Shakespearean monologues. Want to see if you can recite Hamlet’s soliloquy after a few brews? Step up to the mic—or just sit back and soak in the iambs. (Sign-up begins at 7:30pm for the 8pm event.)
A troubled young man copes with grief at the disappearance of his older brother with help from a would-be art-therapist in this bittersweet comedy by Stephen Brown. New Light Theater Project's Sarah Norris directs the local premiere.
A pet-shop owner buys and cages a young woman whose body is covered in fur, and hires another woman to hunt for food, in Migdalia Cruz's absurdist, postapocalyptic tale of bestial desire. Elena Araoz directs the local premiere.
After more than a decade performing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, an ever-changing collection of 30 two-minutes plays, the New York Neo-Futurists had to change course when piece's author pulled the rights abruptly in 2016. Now the troupe performs an entirely different ever-changing collection of two-minute plays called The Infinite Wrench. Click here for our full write-up.
The 20th season of this Obie-winning series of new performance continues with original work by William Burke, Lisa Clair, Eugene Ma, Deepali Gupta, Joey Hauk Weiss and Jordan J. Baum.
Thrice a week, after closing time, 20 people crowd into the city’s oldest magic shop, Tannen’s, for a cozy evening of prestidigitation by the young and engaging Noah Levine. The shelves are crammed with quirky devices; there's a file cabinet behind the counter, a mock elephant in the corner and bins of individual trick instructions in plastic covers, like comic books or sheet music. The charm of Levine's show is in how well it fits the environment of this magic-geek chamber of secrets. As he maneuvers cards, eggs, cups and balls with aplomb, he talks shop, larding his patter with tributes to routines like the Stencel Aces and the Vernon Boat Trick—heirlooms of his trade that he gently polishes and displays for our amazement.
Broadway bombshell Cady Huffman won a Tony as Ulla in The Producers (and was nominated as Ziegfeld’s Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies). Now she plays an entirely different sort of woman—17th-century nun Marguerite Bourgeoys, who moved to New France in 1653 and later became Canada's first female saint—in a solo musical by Anton Dudley and Michael Cooper. Dev Bondarin directs the NYC premiere for Astoria Performing Arts Center.
For more than two decades, this proudly old-school series has offered a different lineup of professional magicians every week: opening acts, a headliner and a host, plus two or three close-up magicians to wow the audience at intermission. Housed since 2011 at the unprepossessing Players Theatre, it is an heir to the vaudeville tradition. Many of the acts incorporate comedic elements, and audience participation is common. (If you have children, bring them; they make especially adorable assistants.) Shows cost just $42.50 in advance and typically last well over two hours, so you get a lot of value and variety for your magic dollar. In contrast to some fancier magic shows, this one feels like comfort food: an all-you-can eat buffet to which you’re encouraged to return until you’re as stuffed as a hat full of rabbits. For a full schedule, visit the MNM website.
In this immersive, site-specific monthly show, the audience is thrust into 10 all new mini-plays unfolding all around them at an Irish bar. A new slate of mostly comic scenes is prepared for each edition.
A white, recently widowed book editor has an affair with a younger black writer, who threatens to upend her life in the morning, in a new drama by James Sheldon. Michele Shay—a 1996 Tony nominee for her performance in August Wilson's Seven Guitars—directs the play, which serves as the centerpiece of the Billie Holiday Theatre's New Windows Festival.
Theater review by Helen Shaw When you walk into Say Something Bunny!, you enter another time. You might not notice that at first, because the brick office space where it takes place is so determinedly ordinary-looking. The small audience sits around a doughnut-shaped conference table, and as Alison S.M. Kobayashi begins her multimedia docuplay, some spectators are already paging through the scripts that have been placed in front of each chair. The text turns out to be the full transcript of a real, unlabeled 65-year-old recording that Kobayashi found hidden in an antique wire recorder: the audio relic of a teenage boy in Woodmere, Queens, enthusiastically taping two dozen family members and neighbors. Kobayashi has listened to the recording hundreds of times and has a seemingly boundless interest in the people whose voices it preserves, including amateur recordist David, mother Juliette and neighbor Bunny. She conducts us through a pair of after-dinner conversations, the first in 1952—she deduced the date from song lyrics mentioned on the wire—and the second in 1954. Aided by coauthor Christopher Allen, she pursues hints and half-heard jokes to determine who these people were and what befell them; she shows us the census records she used to find their old houses. The play unspools unhurriedly, leaving space for Kobayashi to make jokes, play short films and highlight points of historical interest. It takes a while for it to sink in that—of course—many of these vibrant people
Randy Sharp directs the annual Axis production of this fairy-tale piece for children, in which a boy gets an unjustly fearsome reputation after swatting flies. (An onscreen cameo by Deborah Harry adds to the buzz.)
The creators of Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, Kendrell Bowman and Anthony Wayne, reunite for this retro holiday revue of classic R&B grooves, set at the taping of a 1970s Soul Train–style TV show called Groovy Wonderland. Expect songs by the Supremes, the Jackson 5, the Temptatations and other favorites.
Jeffrey Solomon performs a 10th-anniversary revision of his 2009 solo Santa Claus Is Coming Out, a multicharacter, faux-documentary dissection of the media frenzy that ensues when St. Nick reveals his true sexuality. Joe Brancato directs the show, which has been updated to reflect changes in LGBTQ issues.
Prepare for the arrival of this summer's Broadway megamusical Moulin Rouge with this smaller-scale look at the decadent art scene of the Belle Époque. This immersive play, written and directed by Mara Lieberman for Bated Breath Theatre Company, focuses on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the short-lived artist whose depictions of the Parisian demimonde have helped shape our collective vision of the period.
Director Maggie Cino's adaptation of the Scottish play is set in a postapocalyptic world that has returned to medieval-style life, and none of the actors play characters who share their gender identification. Moira Stone and Mick O'Brien portray the ambitious, red-handed thane and his wife.
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