New York is the undisputed theater capital of the world. Whatever kind of theater you like, you’re going to find it here. Broadway, of course, sits at the center of it all, both literally and figuratively.
The Theater District runs from 40th Street to 54th Street and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth. It is the home of Times Square and the bright Red Stairs where visitors can sit and survey the whole scene. Right below the Stairs is the TKTS booth where you can buy discount tickets for that day’s performances of nearly all the big Broadway shows and those by such powerhouse off-Broadway companies as the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and Second Stage Theatre.
Along the side streets are the grand old theater houses, many of them named for legendary Broadway talents over the years like actress Helen Hayes, composer Stephen Sondheim and playwright August Wilson; and the theater hangouts, from the legendary Sardi’s Restaurant to the venerable Joe Allen’s and relative newcomers Angus McIndoe and Bar Centrale, where the stars you’ve seen on stage often go for a bite after the show. The New Victory Theater, built in 1900 and refurbished in 1995, specializes in smart shows for kids at family-friendly prices.
Nearby is Theatre Row, the stretch of 42nd Street between Ninth and Eleventh Avenues that is home to a number of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatres including Playwrights Horizons, where such Pulitzer Prize-winning shows as Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy and Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George got their starts; and Signature Theatre, which each year dedicates an entire season to the works of one of the country’s greatest playwrights.
But pick just about any neighborhood in Manhattan and you’ll find theater worth seeing there. The theater district used to be located around Union Square at the turn of the last century and in recent years, a number of off-Broadway theaters have again taken up residence there. Among them are Classic Stage Company, which, as its name suggests, specializes in works by the greats like Chekhov, Shakespeare and the Greeks; the Vineyard Theatre, which specializes in ambitious new plays and musicals; the Union Square Theater, which provides a home to smaller shows; and for the past few years the Daryl Roth Theatre, a renovated bank with towering ceilings has hosted offbeat high-energy shows like Fuerzabruta that have been attended by celebrities ranging from Kanye West to Jude Law.
But the downtown theater scene is dominated by the Public Theater, founded by the legendary producer Joe Papp, who oversaw the original productions of such game-changing shows as Hair, A Chorus Line and Sam Shepard’s True West. It continues the tradition with more recent works like Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. Across the street at the Astor Place Theatre, the multimedia, indigo-hued Blue Man Group has been entertaining kids of all ages for the past 20 years. Other neighbors within walking distance of the Public include New York Theatre Workshop, where the musical Rent got its start and PS 122 and La MaMa, which both specializes in all kinds of experimental and avant-garde works.
On the other side of town, SoHo is home to the Soho Playhouse, the Culture Project, which prides itself on edgy shows about contemporary political events, and The Flea, a tiny theater that produces provocative works featuring a mix of promising young talent and famous name like Sigourney Weaver, whose husband is the artistic director. Meanwhile, in the West Village are the Lucille Lortel Theatre, currently home to MCC Theater, another incubator of smart new works; and Barrow Street Theatre, a venerable old house that hosts an eclectic menu of shows.
But I said you can find theater in just about any neighborhood and I meant it. Lincoln Center Theater, which offers a mix of revivals and daring new works, is on the Upper West Side and its newest neighborhood is Ars Nova, a theater space on the far western reaches of 54th Street that attracts a younger crowd with works by emerging artists and free wine at its performances.
Chelsea is home to The Irish Repertory Theatre, which celebrates Irish and Irish-American playwrights from George Bernard Shaw to Frank McCourt; and Atlantic Theater Company, co-founded by playwright David Mamet, is dedicated to showcasing thought-provoking playwrights. The East Side holds its own with the York Theatre Company, which specializes in original musicals, and 59E59 Theaters, a complex of theaters that provides a home for the many festivals that come through the city and for Primary Stages, which showcases new plays.
And, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, right across the Brooklyn Bridge are BAM and St. Ann’s Warehouse, both of which import innovative productions from Britain and the rest of Europe.
To sum it up, the entire city is a stage in New York. So enjoy.
Janice C. Simpson writes the theater blog “Broadway & Me,” which can be found at www.broadwayandme.blogspot.com.