New musical theatre to see off Broadway this spring
Many new musicals that debut off Broadway go on to become Broadway hits.
Musicals are not just a Broadway thing. In fact, if you want to get on the ground floor of the hottest new musicals, you should go off Broadway. This is where the newest, weirdest, most-adventurous musicals come from. Hamilton, Hadestown, Rent, and Spring Awakening are just some beloved musicals that had buzzy runs off Broadway before debuting to a wider audience on Broadway. So if you want to be the first one to see the musical that everyone will be talking about a year from now, see an Off-Broadway show.
From an original script by Sarah Silverman to original music from Tariq Trotter of The Roots, to an all-female tale about the suffragists, here are the Off-Broadway musicals debuting this year that you will want to be first in line for.
Black No More
Black No More has a premise that can only be described in one word: bonkers. This new musical is based on George S. Schuyler’s Afrofuturist novel about a machine that turns Black people white. The concept might sound out there, but the people who have signed onto this musical make it a must-see: composer/lyricist Tariq Trotter (aka The Roots’s Black Thought), choreographer Bill T. Jones (Fela!), and actors Brandon Victor Dixon (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert), Ephraim Sykes (Ain’t Too Proud), and the legendary Lillias White (Chicago). The show may be set in the future, but the talent involved means all of us musical theatre lovers need to see this musical now before it ends its run on February 27.
Duncan Sheik is most well-known for writing Spring Awakening. His newest musical, Whisper House, is similarly dark and haunting. Literally. The whole thing’s narrated by ghosts. Kyle Jarrow (of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical) co-wrote this new musical about a boy who goes to live with his aunt and her Japanese companion in the middle of World War II. Not sure if you’ll like it? You can stream Sheik’s concept album, Whisper House. If you’re a fan of moody ballads and the supernatural, Whisper House will haunt you in the best ways. Whisper House is running at 59E59 Theaters until February 6.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage has been having a busy season. Her new play Clyde’s was just on Broadway, she wrote the book for MJ The Musical on Broadway, and she has a new opera at Lincoln Center Theater, Intimate Apparel, through March 6. The opera, with a libretto by Nottage and composed by Ricky Ian Garden, is based on her critically acclaimed play of the same name about a Black seamstress navigating New York City in 1905 (who’s actually based on Nottage’s great grandmother). Sure, this isn’t a musical, per se. But when it comes to Nottage, one of the greats of the American theatre, attention must always be paid.
“No history was changed by dogs,” sing the characters in Space Dogs. But dogs did inspire a musical. Here’s another show with an out-of-this-world concept: the true story of Laika, the first dog who was sent to space. The musical is written and performed by Van Hughes and Nick Blaemire, and is running at MCC Theater through March 6. How will these two actors portray a dog and a space crew, and make us think they’re going to the cosmos? Like putting a dog in orbit, it’s such a crazy idea that it just might work.
One of the most-buzzed-about musicals coming this spring is The Public Theater’s Suffs, about the suffragists who won women the right to vote. The all-female cast is a who’s who of musical theatre talent, including Phillipa Soo (Hamilton), Jenn Colella (Come From Away), and Nikki M. James (The Book of Mormon). Grace McLean (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) plays President Woodrow Wilson, which means Suffs might be like Hamilton in its irreverent treatment of history. Shaina Taub wrote the book, music, and lyrics. Considering Taub is also writing the The Devil Wears Prada musical, she is a major musical theatre talent to keep your eye on. Suffs is running from March 10 to April 24 — buy tickets for this one early, as the musical will sell out fast.
Penelope, or How the Odyssey Was Really Written
Everyone knows the story of The Odyssey. But what was Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, doing while her husband was away? Well, besides fending off a bevy of aggressive suitors, this new musical comedy from Peter Kellogg and Stephen Weiner gives another answer: Penelope was singing, as an acapella group was being formed at her house. If you’re a fan of Hadestown and modern reinventions of Greek classics, then set sail for Penelope at York Theatre Company from March 22 to April 24.
Did you know famed comedian Sarah Silverman loves musical theatre? Indeed so, as she’s co-written this new musical based on her memoir, where Silverman confesses to wetting her bed until she was 16. The Bedwetter also features original songs from Adam Schlesinger, who wrote every song for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. So The Bedwetter promises to be funny, touching, and not-at-all shaming. The Bedwetter was also Schlesinger’s final musical before he died from Covid-19, so Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fans, bring your tissues. Catch The Bedwetter at Atlantic Theater Company from April 30 to June 19.
Between the Lines
Bestselling author Jodi Picoult and her daughter, fellow author Samantha van Leer, are going from the page to the stage with an adaptation of their award-nominated young adult novel. The Between the Lines musical, which shares its name with the book, centers on a young, lonely girl whose closest friends are the characters in her favorite fantasy book (also called Between the Lines). One day, the prince from the book comes to life, and reality and fantasy blur. We won't make you read between the lines: this musical is playing at the Tony Kiser Theater from June 14 to October 2, and it's sure to be enchanting.
Barry Manilow writes the songs, and now he’s written a musical with the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Co-written with Bruce Sussman, this new musical is based on the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a musical group of six Jewish men who were world-famous until World War II split them up. You might think such a real-life tale would be a jukebox musical, but Manilow has written original songs for Harmony, which promises to be a passion project with catchy tunes. Take your Fanilows, or anyone in your life who is a music history buff. Harmony is running from March 23 to May 8.
You might think an opera about the death of Socrates would be a bummer. But when it’s by Taylor Mac, death is a queer celebration with over-the-top costumes and athletic singing. Mac co-wrote this musical with frequent collaborator Matt Ray and plays Socrates who, in his final hours before he is sentenced to death, invites his friends to, well, hang. Mac is a virtuosic, charismatic performer, and filled with stamina too, having once performed for 24 hours straight in the jaw-dropping 24 Decade History of Popular Music. The Hang is a much more manageable 105 minutes, and the opera invites all of us to approach death not with terror, but with laughter, and to enjoy each other’s company in the meantime. After the past two years, that’s a message worth singing about. The Hang is now running until March 6.
Top image credit: Kearstin Piper Brown and Justin Austin in Intimate Apparel. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)