9 Shows You Need to See in New York This Fall
Our critic lists the highlights of the upcoming season.
I love autumn in New York. As the air becomes cooler and crisper, you can almost feel the anticipation, as if something remarkable is about to begin. For we TheaterManiacs, that is mostly about the upcoming theater season. Here are the 9 shows I'm most looking forward to seeing:
1. Leopoldstadt (performances begin September 14)
Tom Stoppard's latest Broadway play revolves around the prosperous Merz family. Of Jewish descent, they have thoroughly assimilated into fin-de-siècle Viennese society — but will that be enough to spare them from the anti-Semitic horrors of the early 20th century? This most personal play from a most cerebral playwright is partly inspired by Stoppard's own family history. Set in late Habsburg Austria, a multiethnic empire struggling to maintain social harmony in a time of surging nationalism, Leopoldstadt might just have something to say to Americans today. At very least, you won't want to miss what is likely to be the final new drama on Broadway by one of our great living dramatists.
2. Only Gold (performances begin October 5)
This world premiere musical at MCC is about a royal family's arrival in Paris and the chain reaction it sets off. Vague? Yes. But when the creative team includes composer Kate Nash (Glow) and director Andy Blankenbuehler, you know you're in good hands. Blankenbuehler is one of the great director-choreographers working today: As a choreographer, he gave Hamilton its seamless flow; he added "director" to his title for the underrated Bandstand; and now he is doing both of those jobs and co-writing the book (with Ted Malawer) for Only Gold. I can't wait to see what he's done with this brand-new (and somewhat mysterious) musical.
3. A Man of No Importance (performances begin October 11)
Based on the 1994 film, this musical tells the story of an Oscar Wilde-obsessed bus conductor who attempts to stage Salomé in a Dublin church hall. It's from Terrence McNally (book), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), and Stephen Flaherty (music), the team behind Ragtime. Of course, this sophomore collaboration of the trio is not nearly as celebrated: TheaterMania's review of the original production at Lincoln Center called it "incomplete, flat, often dismal." But could a revival production starring Jim Parsons, A.J. Shively, Mare Winningham, and other stage superstars make us reconsider? A Man of No Importance will be the swan song of outgoing Classic Stage Company artistic director John Doyle. Over the years, Doyle's productions at CSC have been both electrifying and dreadful – but they are never forgettable. You can always count on Doyle to bring a strong vision to the stage, as he certainly will with this musical in need of a second chance.
4. Kimberly Akimbo (performances begin October 12)
Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home) and David Lindsay-Abaire turned Lindsay-Abaire's 2001 play (about a teenager with a rare genetic disorder that makes her appear much older) into last season's most delightful new musical. For its run at Atlantic Theater Company, Kimberly Akimbo snagged the Best Musical prize from the Lortel Awards, New York Drama Critics' Circle, Outer Critics Circle, and the Drama Desk — which makes it a strong contender for the Tony when it moves to Broadway this season. Victoria Clark, Bonnie Milligan, and charming newcomer Justin Cooley will reprise their roles in this musical that challenges audiences to go after what they want in life now, and not wait a moment. In the years following the Covid shutdown, that message might be just what the doctor ordered.
5. KPOP (performances begin October 13)
One of the most innovative new musicals of the last decade, KPOP took audiences through a Korean pop music factory in its 2017 off-Broadway run. A much-revised version of that musical by Jason Kim, Helen Park, and Max Vernon (originally conceived by Woodshed Collective) will play Broadway's Circle in the Square starring a bevy of actual Korean pop stars. It promises to be unlike any other musical of the upcoming season, so theatergoers looking for a unique experience that expands the definition of Broadway are likely to find a winner in KPOP.
6. Straight Line Crazy (performances begin October 18)
Few individuals have had more influence over the shape of New York City (its bridges, tunnels, parks, and public housing) than Robert Moses, master builder (and some might say, arch villain) of New York in the 20th century. Tony winner Ralph Fiennes stars as Moses in this new drama by David Hare (Stuff Happens), which focuses on two key moments in the urban planner's long career: His crusade to make accessible the beaches and parks of Long Island, and his ill-fated mission to build a highway through Greenwich Village. Writing about the play's London debut earlier this year, WhatsOnStage critic Sarah Crompton called it "stirring, engrossing stuff." If you're curious about how New York City became the way it is, but you're not prepared to trudge through 1,200 pages of The Power Broker, this two-act play might just be for you.
7. Becky Nurse of Salem (performances begin October 27)
Rebecca Nurse of Salem was accused of witchcraft and executed in 1692. Her descendent, Becky Nurse, lives in Salem and works at the local witch museum — although her employment seems to be in jeopardy following a series of off-script diatribes about the obscured history of the witch trials. That's the basic setup of Sarah Ruhl's new comedy at Lincoln Center Theater, which stars Tony Award winner Deirdre O'Connell (Dana H.) in the title role. Ruhl is the author of In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) and For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday. Her sensitive eye for human behavior and historical themes makes Ruhl an ideal dramatist for this play about lingering Puritan mores in contemporary American life.
8. Ain't No Mo (performances begin November 3)
Playwright and drag performer Jordan E. Cooper imagines a scenario in which all Black Americans are offered airfare to immigrate to Africa. Through sketch comedy and biting satire, Cooper does something very rare in contemporary discussions about race: He makes us laugh. The 2019 off-Broadway run of this play at the Public Theater still haunts me, especially one very specific sound cue that I suspect is engineered to raise the hairs of the arms of every gay man in the audience. I'm looking forward to seeing it (and laughing along with it) after three years of intense, often fraught discussions about race in America.
9. Merrily We Roll Along (performances begin November 21)
Just in time for Thanksgiving comes the most highly anticipated production of the fall: New York Theatre Workshop is mounting a revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's musical about a group of young creative friends trying to make their way in New York City. Daniel Radcliffe will star as lyricist Charley Kringas opposite Jonathan Groff as his writing partner, composer Franklin Shepard. Tony winner Lindsay Mendez will play journalist Mary Flynn. Told in reverse chronology, Merrily is infamously difficult to direct (Maria Friedman helms this production) and is widely considered one of Sondheim's great flops. Will this revival with an all-star cast be the one to break the spell? Demand for tickets is so high, I've heard rumors that the producers are already planning a move to Broadway — so you'll want to see it at off-Broadway prices while you still can.