See these historical Broadway shows for back-to-school season
Get schooled by these Broadway musicals and plays about real-life people, which are much more entertaining than a history lecture.
Summer is now winding to a close, and it’s almost time for kids to go back to school. But just because school is starting up again doesn’t mean you can’t still take them to the theatre. This fall, there are plenty of shows that aren’t just entertaining, but educational. They will teach you and your youngsters a thing or two about real-life historical figures, and with electrifying performances and catchy songs, students won't feel like they're sitting through yet another long lecture.
From colonial history in Hamilton and 1776 to the Civil Rights Movement in Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge, history is indeed happening in Manhattan and beyond. Get schooled on these Broadway and Off-Broadway shows about history, and get tickets to them now for less than class tuition.
Any student learning about European history will no doubt hear about British King Henry VIII, the father of Queen Elizabeth I who had six wives. The musical Six is about those wives, who each sing energetic pop songs about their lives and what it was like to be married to a king (hint: it’s not all gowns and giant ruffles). Besides telling you about their relationships with Henry, though, they also share what their lives were like beyond him. You will leave humming the songs, and you won't even need that "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" rhyme to remember which wife is which.
Alexander Hamilton is one of those founding fathers whose name you may know since he is on the $10 bill, but whose life you might not otherwise know about, aside from how he died in a duel. Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton, you will learn all about his poor boyhood in the Caribbean, how he was a powerful member of George Washington’s cabinet, and his friendships and rivalries with other Revolution-era figures. This whole story is told with rap and hip-hop music and a diverse cast of actors, so Hamilton will help you see American history through fresh, modern eyes.
It’s common knowledge that the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, and it began the Revolutionary War. But it was not easy to convince all 13 of America’s colonies to go to war with England. The Tony Award-winning 1776 sees the delegates from each colony gathered in Philadelphia, and it musicalizes the angry debates and weary compromises that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, showing how difficult it is to make history. 1776 features singing founding fathers (such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson), but in this revival, they're all played by female, transgender, and non-binary actors. If you're a Hamilton fan, you'll love this show — learn why.
Audrey: The New Musical
You might know Audrey Hepburn as the woman in the little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But the new Off-Broadway musical Audrey offers a deep dive into the tumultuous life of this 20th-century actress, from her childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland to her rise as a fashion icon and activist. And did you know she was also a spy? Watching Audrey will give you a deeper appreciation for Audrey Hepburn’s films and for the trailblazing woman herself.
Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge
In 1965, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, two public intellectuals, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr., faced off in a debate called “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” This important debate is dramatized in a new play, Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge, which uses the actual text from the event. The restaging of this debate is a snapshot of America’s race relations in 1965, but it’s also an enlightening look at how much further America still have to go in the fight for true equality.
When you think of modern art, the names Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat probably come to mind. But did you know that, for a few years, they were close friends who created numerous paintings together? Get a new appreciation for visual art in The Collaboration, a new play by Oscar winner Anthony McCarten. The show imagines the conversations about art, commercialism, and more that these two wildly different artists had while in the studio. Paul Bettany (Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) stars as Warhol alongside two-time Tony Award nominee Jeremy Pope (Choir Boy, Ain’t Too Proud) as Basquiat.
Straight Line Crazy
Robert Moses has been called “the most powerful man in New York” and “the man who built modern New York.” But if you’re not a New York history buff, you might now know who he is. Straight Line Crazy will set you straight. It’s a new play by David Hare, starring Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) as Moses, a public official who worked from from 1924 to 1960. In that time, he was responsible for the construction of many of NYC’s highways, bridges, and public parks. Considering Straight Line Crazy first played in London to acclaim, this should be an exciting history lesson for New Yorkers and tourists alike.