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New York theater events you must see this winter

Soak up some sizzle with this winter's hottest Broadway and Off Broadway events. We've gathered the best New York theater festivals, plays, musicals and operas to help you plan your calendar.

Photograph: Valerie Remise
Cirque Eloize: Cirkopolis

Opera glasses at the ready! The big freeze is the perfect time of year to get cozy at one of New York’s many theater productions, whether it's a Broadway blockbuster or an up-and-coming Off Broadway show. If you're looking for thrills and spills, Rocky the musical hits the stage, and there's even a Breaking Bad opera. Lovers of the Bard and other classic playwrights can rejoice with the opening of a new Shakespeare center in Brooklyn.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do in the winter in NYC

See <em>The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic</em> in one of the city's grandest venues

Legendary director Robert Wilson’s music-theater hybrid, which follows the life and work of avant-garde performance artist Marina Abramovic, will have its U.S. premiere in the Armory’s impressive 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall. The artist herself—who famously stared down gallerygoers at MoMA in 2010—stars in the production alongside actor Willem Dafoe. The piece covers Abramovic’s life from her Yugoslavian childhood through her rise to prominence in the American art world.

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Thu Dec 12 - Sat Dec 21

Escape dreary city life via transporting troupe Cirque Eloize

This contemporary-circus troupe from Montreal brings its latest show to NYC, performing classic acrobatics and tightly choreographed dance numbers against a backdrop of original video projections. Expect jugglers, contortionists and Cyr-wheel artists in pieces inspired by the struggle to escape a soul-crushing industrialized city. If that hits a little too close to home, rest assured: At least onstage, humanity wins in the end.

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Wed Dec 18 - Sun Jan 5

Catch an eyeful of experimental theater and dance at American Realness festival

This annual performance fest pushes the envelope of dance and contemporary performance. The fifth year’s adventurous lineup includes 13 Love Songs: dot dot dot, a criticism of cheesy pop music; Commentary=Not Thing, a dance play exploring the complexity of relationships through nude performers and repeated text; and myendlesslove, an examination of gay sex and queer grief. Wind down from the performances at the Lounge, a pop-up nightlife hub that American Realness will share with other festivals, housed in the Public Theater.

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Thu Jan 9 - Sun Jan 19

Explore the avant-garde at the 2014 Coil Festival

P.S. 122, in temporary exile from its home base on First Avenue, schools us all in this sampler of avant-garde subjects, including theater works by Mac Wellman, Tina Satter, Reid Farrington, Okwui Okpokwasili, Phil Soltanoff and Brokentalkers. The shows are spread out at various venues (the Kitchen, the New Ohio, etc.), so check out ps122.org for details and to buy tickets.

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Fri Jan 3 - Sun Jan 26

Support innovative new operas

Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now, an opera and musical-theater jubilee created in response to the sudden explosion of great new chamber works, stems from a collaboration between HERE Arts Center and Beth Morrison Projects. The second annual iteration features seven innovative events, including Paul’s Case, an opera based on a 1906 short story by Willa Cather; Have a Good Day!, a chamber piece about retail cashiers; and Thumbprint, about a Pakistani woman fighting back in the wake of a brutal rape. The untimely demise of New York City Opera was a blow to Gotham’s classical scene, but clearly it ain’t licked yet.

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Wed Jan 8 - Sun Jan 19

Cook up a batch of fun at the new <em>Breaking Bad</em> musical

Meth kingpin Walter White’s TV reign on Breaking Bad may be over, but his legacy continues beyond the annals of Netflix: One World Symphony maestro Sung Jin Hong has reimagined the dearly departed AMC series in his new mini opera, Breaking Bad–Ozymandias, combining it with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ode to impermanence, “Ozymandias.” And get ready for the opera’s pièce de résistance: the “Bitch Aria,” performed by—you guessed it—Jesse Pinkman. The two-night program also includes selections from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Berlioz’s “La Captive.”

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Sun Jan 26 - Mon Jan 27

See furious fists fly on stage at Kung Fu

Kung fu movies always seem to be just as much about ballet as they are about all-out melees, so it’s perhaps fitting that the story of Bruce Lee’s life is getting adapted into a multidisciplinary stage piece. Directed by Leigh Silverman and penned by noted Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang (The Dance and the Railroad), Kung Fu promises a mix of dance, martial arts and opera—and, presumably, lots of jump kicks. Onetime So You Think You Can Dance contestant Cole Horibe stars as the man himself.

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Tue Feb 4 - Sun Mar 16

See a celebrated playwright's newest work, <em>Outside Mullingar</em>

Brían F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing (Smash) headline this new dramedy by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt). They play lovelorn, fortyish singletons in rural Ireland, living next door to each other but separated by family feuds and romantic fears. Seasoned Shanley collaborator Doug Hughes directs.

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Fri Jan 3 - Sun Mar 16

Find out if Sly Stallone can produce a musical at <em>Rocky</em>

One of the latest films to get the Broadway treatment is this iconic portrait of a Philadelphia thug chasing his boxing dreams. The jury’s still out as to how well the story of a raw-egg-swilling palooka will translate to the stage, but the champ’s got a strong team behind him: golden-boy director Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher), Tony-winning songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), book writer Thomas Meehan (The Producers), and, cowriting and producing, original movie star and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone.

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Tue Feb 11 - Sun Nov 23