Why Manhattan Theatre Club's shows are ones to watch on and off Broadway

The nonprofit theatre company is known for producing new shows, many of which boast starry casts and award-winning writers, in its three theatres big and small.

Billy McEntee
Billy McEntee

Broadway plays do not appear out of thin air. Yes, they need financing, but just as vital for their development are artistic support and rehearsal spaces, which often comes from theatre institutions. That’s where New York’s adventurous nonprofits come in — such as Manhattan Theatre Club, which has been developing works and sending them to Broadway for decades.

“We are proud to support artists at all stages of their careers,” said MTC’s artistic director, Lynne Meadow. "We’ve produced some shows in our very small theatres that have gone onto robust future lives on Broadway, from Ain’t Misbehavin’ in 1978 to The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and Proof in 2000 to Doubt in 2005. The list is very long.”

And it keeps getting longer. This season, MTC brought three shows to Broadway. Jaja's African Hair Braiding by Jocelyn Bioh and Prayer for the French Republic by Joshua Harmon, which originated at MTC's Off-Broadway venue in 2022, ran earlier this season. Now, the company just launched its spring Broadway show: Mary Jane by Amy Herzog. Here's why Mary Jane and all of MTC's shows are ones to watch.

Manhattan Theatre Club's shows are critically acclaimed and star-studded.

Jaja and Prayer each received glowing reviews, and Mary Jane has its own it factor: Academy Award nominee Rachel McAdams stars in the title role.

Original plays can sometimes be a hard sell, but “you will often meet new talent at MTC in addition to seeing your favorite well-known artists,” Meadow said.

Leading the company for over 50 years — nearly since its founding in 1970 — Meadow has programmed dozens of seasons that have turned MTC into a versatile powerhouse. The company is both an incubator of new works and a producer of high-profile Broadway plays. How do unknown titles get into the latter category?

“As a not-for-profit producing organization, we exist to take risks,” Meadow said. Those risks have paid off: The company has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and 28 Tony Awards.

The accolades are nice, but “MTC’s priority has always been new work by living writers,” Meadow said. “We have a robust artistic development program that helps us cultivate relationships with writers through commissions, developmental readings, and workshops [...] among many other initiatives.”

MTC gives fresh, original theatre a major stage.

Sometimes, plays begin a life elsewhere before finding their way to MTC, which presents Broadway shows at its Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Mary Jane is playing there through June 2, but the show had an earlier life at downtown Off-Broadway heavyweight New York Theatre Workshop, where it starred Carrie Coon and earned rave reviews.

The play also fits MTC’s mission as it explores difficult themes — the title character is a single mother seeking support as she cares for her chronically ill child — while treating audiences to a performance by a major star.

Programming shows, and deciding which MTC theatre will house them, requires many decisions. Works may appear at MTC’s 300-seat Stage I or 150-seat Stage II, both located within New York City Center, or the 650-seat Friedman.

“We have no formula for what ‘belongs’ on or off Broadway — it’s a subjective, artistic, and producorial choice,” Meadow said.

MTC is a place to discover today's top theatre talent.

The theatre has long produced works by some of America’s most celebrated writers, and Mary Jane falls in line: Herzog is a Pulitzer Prize finalist whose recent works on Broadway, A Doll’s House starring Jessica Chastain and An Enemy of the People starring Jeremy Strong, reinvent classics. But Mary Jane tells a much more intimate story, giving audiences the first opportunity to see McAdams put her dramatic chops center stage for 95 minutes.

Performances began April 2, but for Meadow, a bigger day comes earlier.

“My joy is still attending the first rehearsal of a new show I’m directing or one our team is producing,” she said. “When I was a directing student at the Yale School of Drama — the only woman director in my class and in the school — I couldn’t have imagined having such a long and splendid career.”

After years of establishing MTC as a destination for both new play seekers and audiences who love seeing celebrities on stage, “I treasure all the memories and the fantastic relationships I’ve been so lucky to enjoy,” Meadow said.

Get Mary Jane tickets now.

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Discover more spring preview content on New York Theatre Guide and learn about all the Broadway shows this season.

Photo credit: Jaja's African Hair Braiding, Prayer for the French Republic, and Rachel McAdams. (Jaja photo by Matthew Murphy; Prayer photo by Jeremy Daniel; McAdams photo courtesy of production)

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