Why Leopoldstadt is one of the hottest plays on Broadway right now

Tom Stoppard's family drama is playing through July 2023.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

“Here’s a couple waving goodbye, but who are they? It’s like a second death, to lose your name in a family photo album.” A woman makes that haunting observation in Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, a drama that follows multiple generations of a Viennese Jewish family over half a century beginning in 1899.

A tragic number of family members’ lives are indeed lost during those stormy 50 years scarred by two world wars and the Holocaust, and life-changing familial connections are found, if not recovered.

Since its official opening on October 2 at the Longacre Theatre, the play has received widespread acclaim and and grossed over $1 million most weeks at the box office. Tony Award winner Stoppard, 85, now finds himself in an enviable position in the theatre business: Leopoldstadt is one of the hottest plays on Broadway, and it's just been extended through July 2023. Here are 10 compelling reasons not to miss it.

Leopoldstadt is by Tom Stoppard.

Sir Tom Stoppard, that is. The British playwright, whose Broadway credits span 55 years and 19 productions, has a career that’s unmatched. His best-known shows include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Coast of Utopia, The Real Thing, and Travesties, all of which have won major awards and received multiple productions around the world.

Bottom line, Stoppard, a four-time Best Play Tony Award winner, is one of the greatest living playwrights — and for good reason.

The play was an award-winning hit before it even arrived on Broadway.

Leopoldstadt opened in January 2020 in London’s West End to critical raves, declaring it the author’s “new masterwork” and “momentous.” London Theatre’s five-star review hails it “a powerful, important new play.”

After a Covid-19 pause, the drama reopened in 2021. Both runs were sold out. The play won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020, and all that acclaim powered its move across the pond.

The play got rave Broadway reviews.

Not every successful show in London is a hit when it transfers to New York, but this one is. Broadway critics were near-unanimous in their raves. New York Theatre Guide’s five-star Leopoldstadt review declares that Stoppard tells the story in “first-rate, epic, and urgent fashion.” Deadline’s verdict: “a late-career masterpiece.”

Tom Stoppard, at his most accessible, invites new audiences.

Stoppard is known for brainy, intellectually rigorous plays. Arcadia, on Broadway in 1995 and 2011, brings up chaos theory and iterated algorithms. Betrayal, about a marriage upended by a nasty affair, unfolds in reverse order.

While Leopoldstadt has a huge cast of 38 and includes talk about math and political history, the story progresses in straightforward, chronological fashion in five scenes set in 1899, 1900, 1924, 1938, and 1955. Leopoldstadt invites theatregoers who might not typically see a Stoppard play.

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It’s a rare chance to see the playwright get personal.

Stoppard isn’t exactly telling his own story in Leopoldstadt, but the family based in the Jewish quarter of Vienna is informed by his own. When he was in his 50s, the playwright learned from a relative that he was fully Jewish and had lost many family members in the Holocaust. On stage, there’s a breathtaking moment when the character standing in for the playwright embraces his history. It’s Stoppard’s personal reckoning viewed through the veil of art.

The play says a lot in two hours.

Anyone who’s seen The Coast of Utopia, Stoppard’s 2006 trilogy about Russian intellectuals, knows Stoppard has a lot on his mind and a lot to say. We’re living in an age of short attention spans, and that applies even for Stoppard fans. Leopoldstadt distills five decades of drama into a story that runs just over two fast-paced hours.

The play looks and sounds beautiful.

Director Patrick Marber’s production moves in a smooth, near-cinematic fashion as scenes transition from one period to another. In addition to its sleek scenery, rich period costumes, and dramatic lighting, the evocative score deeply enhances the tense mood.

The playwright leaves room for humor and light.

The story of a family decimated by the Holocaust is, of course, a serious one. But Stoppard makes room for laughter amid the darkness. Did you hear the one about the circumciser and the cigar cutter? Stoppard goes there in one scene to lighten the mood. At other points, the children’s game cat’s cradle, becomes a playful, easily understandable gateway to mathematical concepts.

Leopoldstadt may be Stoppard’s last new work.

Stoppard has said that Leopoldstadt is likely to be his final play. For completists, the play is automatically a must-see. The notion of the show being a “last call” is also a compelling reason to catch this Stoppard play if you’ve never seen one before.

The play appeals to the heart and the head.

People crave experiences over things these days. Stoppard’s story of a family – a universally relatable subject – becomes an experience with an emotional payoff as you watch its members fall apart and back together. A friend echoed what others have said and called the show “devastating” – and offered advice to bring tissues.

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