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Mark Shenton’s 6 favourite New York theatres beyond Broadway

New York Public Theater. Photo: Elisa Rolle
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A theatre visit to New York shouldn’t begin and end on Broadway. Although it is still the shining beacon of commercial achievement – and where the big bucks are both spent and made – in American theatre, there’s plenty of great (and more affordable) theatre beyond Broadway’s bright lights. You don’t even have to venture beyond Manhattan for many of them. Here are the six places where I always check what is playing whenever I’m in NYC.

1. New York Public Theater, Manhattan

There is probably no more important force in American theatre today than the Public Theater, a complex of theatres and a cabaret space called Joe’s Pub (named after founder Joseph Papp), in a grand former library building in the East Village. It was here that two imminent London transfers originated: Hamilton (now the biggest hit currently playing on Broadway, heading to the Victoria Palace in December) and Fun Home (due at the Young Vic next June). The Public also runs an annual summer season of free outdoor theatre at Central Park’s Delacorte. This week I saw the premiere of Richard Nelson’s Illyria there, a new play about Joe Papp and how he established the theatre.

2. St Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn

This week I visited St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to see the New York transfer of the National Theatre/Headlong production of People, Places and Things with Denise Gough reprising her amazing award-winning performance. This fantastic theatre space, converted from a former tobacco warehouse, is programmed with an eclectic mix of theatre and music events; last year I also spent a full 24 hours here when I saw Taylor Mac’s thrilling A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.  As I wrote here at the time: “By the time it ended, the previous 24 hours seemed a happy, hazy blur: like the jet lag you experience after a flight to Australia that takes almost as long, but with much more stimulation – and good music – along the way.”

Taylor Mac at St Ann’s Warehouse, New York. Photo: Mark Shenton

3. Atlantic Theater, Manhattan

Another tremendous incubator of new shows is Atlantic Theater Company in Chelsea. It’s where both Spring Awakening and The Band’s Visit (currently previewing on Broadway, before an official opening on November 9) originated. Last summer I also saw Derren Brown make his low-key American debut here and it was amazing to see him at such close quarters again now that he plays far larger spaces at home.

4. Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey

Crossing the river to New Jersey has been a regular ritual for me over the years, where Paper Mill regularly offers splashy revivals of big Broadway hits (and sometimes misses) that I want to see again; I’ll never forget their wonderful revivals of Funny Girl or Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. But in the past few years it has emerged as a major contender for pre-Broadway try-outs: the current Broadway show A Bronx Tale originated there, and so did Disney’s Newsies, Honeymoon in Vegas and Bandstand. This week I saw a new stage adaptation of The Honeymooners there.

Misha Osherovich in A Clockwork Orange. Photo: Caitlin McNaney
Misha Osherovich in A Clockwork Orange. Photo: Caitlin McNaney

5. New World Stages, Manhattan

There isn’t a commercial theatrical hypermarket anywhere I know quite like New World Stages, a subterranean complex of theatres converted out of a former cinema multiplex in midtown Manhattan, just off Eighth Avenue. It has lately carved out a unique niche as a place where one-time Broadway hits downsize themselves to continue to have a New York presence – Avenue Q has become a long-time tenant, and now Jersey Boys is soon to join it. But you can also see original work here, too, or work that is new to New York, such as the current transfer of the UK-originated production of A Clockwork Orange.

6. Classic Stage Company, Manhattan

This Off-Broadway institution was founded in 1967 and is therefore 50 years old now. It is currently run by veteran British director John Doyle; when I interviewed him here in 2016 just before he took over, he said: “It’s a smaller theatre than I’ve ever run before and I didn’t think I’d do it again, but I felt that I had a legacy I could pass on.” I’m glad he is.

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