Some of the hottest shows New York City has to offer are steps away from Broadway. They’re at Theatre Row, The Pershing Square Signature Center, The Public Theater, New World Stages, 59E59 Theaters, Ars Nova, Classic Stage Company, Atlantic Theater Company, the Irish Repertory Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, Second Stage Theatre, MCC Theater, and so many more Off-Broadway houses around Manhattan.
Before they become the next big hits on Broadway or their cast recordings become cult favorites in the musical theater catalogue, catch celebrated plays and musicals off Broadway. Here are 9 reasons why you should explore the Off-Broadway circuit.
1. Some of Broadway’s best shows started there (or stopped along the way).
Have you heard of “Hamilton”? That Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning hit musical was birthed at off Broadway at The Public Theater, where audiences got to experience its theatrical magic before it began playing sold-out houses at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers. Other Broadway favorites that started a few blocks away from the Theater District (or made a pit stop off Broadway en route to the Great White Way) include “Rent,” “A Chorus Line,” “Spring Awakening,” “In the Heights,” “Next to Normal,” “Natasha Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” “Fun Home,” “The Boys in the Band,” “The Normal Heart,” “Doubt,” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”
2. Some cult-favorite shows never transferred — so catch them while you can.
Although some amazing plays and musicals made the leap from Off-Broadway to on, others didn’t — and, if you missed out, you may have regretted it. Shows like “bare: A Pop Opera,” “Bat Boy,” “Heathers,” “The Wild Party,” “See What I Wanna See,” “Ordinary Days,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” “subUrbia,” “Dogfight,” “The Last Five Years,” “The Vagina Monologues,” “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” and many more later turned into fan favorites after their Off-Broadway run.
3. Superstars have cut their teeth off Broadway.
Theatergoers who frequent Off-Broadway may have seen the debuts of select superstars. Meryl Streep made her Off-Broadway debut in 1976, playing Katharine in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” at the Delacorte. A 16-year-old Barbra Streisand and then-unknown Joan Rivers were among the cast of “Driftwood” at the now-defunct Garret Theatre in 1959. Bruce Willis was in the original 1983 production of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” Off-Broadway paved the way for these stars and many more.
4. You get to be part of the action.
Off-Broadway is a great place to catch immersive theater. Shows like “Sleep No More” (which is still running at The McKittrick Hotel) and “Queen of the Night” (which ran at the Paramount Hotel) are more conducive to a non-traditional house, as the action happens all around you and sometimes even includes you. You won’t be able to find shows like these on the Great White Way.
5. You’ll support the arts.
Programs such as Roundabout Underground, which gives emerging playwrights the opportunity to debut their productions in an intimate setting, have paved the way for productions like Stephen Karam’s “The Humans,” Steven Levenson’s “If I Forget,” and Joshua Harmon’s “Significant Other” and “Skintight.” Many more Off-Broadway programs support, take a chance on and debut new work.
6. Beat the hustle and bustle of Times Square.
Broadway shows are in the heart of all the action, which includes tourists and traffic. If you want to escape New York City’s busy epicenter, venture to an Off-Broadway house. Some are downtown in the village. Some are on the outskirts of Times Square at Theatre Row, and some are up by Lincoln Center. These areas are a change of pace from the hectic streets of Midtown.
7. Get intimate with the actors.
Broadway theaters seat 500 or more theatergoers, while Off-Broadway theatres are more intimate houses with capacities ranging from 100-499. Get closer to your favorite stars and avoid large stage-door crowds in these smaller settings.
8. Observe the obscure.
Broadway is packed with shows that cater to mass audiences and have greater commercial appeal, while Off-Broadway is a great place for risk-taking theater. You can find a play or musical for any taste, including more obscure choices such as “Blue Man Group,” “Gazillion Bubble Show,” “Naked Boys Singing!,” “Stomp,” “That Physics Show,” and more.
9. Eat and/or drink while watching.
Some Off-Broadway shows take place in unconventional settings where food and drinks are served. Your premium ticket to “Sweeney Todd” at the Barrow Street Theatre comes complete with a pie. Craft cocktails can be purchased during “Drunk Shakespeare” at The Lounge. And there are many more shows offering theatergoers snacks or drinks as part of the story. Do you remember when “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812″ handed out Russian dumplings, bread, and vodka to the entire audience when it started at Ars Nova and opened its own pop-up space in the Meatpacking District?