Broadway shows have distinct seasons, with spring and fall openings and not much in between. Off-Broadway is a bit looser, with shows opening year-round with short runs that make them easy to miss. We mapped out the best shows debuting now through the fall. There’s a lot of star power here, from the directorial work of one of your favorite Friends to the first revival in almost a quarter of a century of a play by one of the stage’s most revered writers. Here are ten great shows to put on your to-do list.
Heathers: The Musical
Now playing through August 4
New World Stages
Yes, believe it or not, this is the musical version of the 1988 Winona Ryder/Christian Slater flick about two misfits striking back at the tyranny of their high school’s popular clique, the Heathers. Miraculously, 26 years later, outfitted with infectious bubbly tunes from Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde), Heathers has actually improved with age. The musical makeover tightens the original plot without destroying its outlaw spirit. And the high-energy, hilarious cast makes even the hysterical ‘80s costumes feel fresh. Barrett Wilbert Weed stars as Veronica Sawyer, the high school nerd who gets swept up by the mean girls who rule Westerberg High School. Uneasy with her precarious popularity, Veronica falls for bad-boy outsider J.D. (Ryan McCartan), who turns out to be, well, a little more dangerous than she’d anticipated. Though the show’s energy and scrappy spirit is definitely Off-Broadway, there’s a Broadway-worthy ambition and polish to its elaborate choreography, snappy one-liners (many of which you may recognize from the movie) and clever plot refitting that make this production well worth watching, even if you yourself were a Heather back in the day. Get tickets
Sex with Strangers
Performances begin July 8; closes August 24
Second Stage Theatre
Breaking Bad star Anna Gunn hasn’t been on the New York stage since her Broadway debut in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1996 production of The Rehearsal. But this summer you can see her up close and personal Off-Broadway in Sex with Strangers. In this racy drama by playwright and House of Cards staff writer Laura Eason, Ethan (Billy Magnussen, seen recently on Broadway in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) stars as a hot young blogger who chronicles his “sexcapades” online. He tracks down Olivia (Gunn), an unknown novelist whom he idolizes. She’s also a virtual recluse pushing 40, and their relationship quickly moves from sexual to complicated. Directed by David Schwimmer (Friends), this funny, thought-provoking drama examines how the intertwined puzzles of sex and ambition become even more problematic as the Internet makes everyone’s past almost effortlessly recoverable.
Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter
Performances begin July 28
Minetta Lane Theatre
There is a lot that’s unusual about this quirky musical project from Iceland, not just the title. The whimsical plot involves three brothers who live in harmony in Elbowville, a peaceful little community located at the appropriate joint within Ragnar Agnarsson’s body. But when the town’s thrown into crisis – ironically, due to the invention of a “prosperity machine” – the brothers’ way of life is threatened. It’s up to the sexy, and possibly slightly Satanic, Mayor Manuela (played by Tony winner Cady Huffman) to figure out what to do. The always enjoyable Huffman is supported by a bevy of other Broadway actors, including Kate Shindle (Cabaret, Legally Blonde) Michael Biren (Billy Elliot), Brad Nacht (Billy Elliot, The Addams Family), Josh Sassanella (Rock of Ages) and Jesse Wildman (Ghost), among others. There is also an 18-song concept album from songwriter Ívar Páll Jónsson that will be released along with the show.
The Wayside Motor Inn
Performances begin August; closes in September
The Signature Theatre
If motel walls could talk — the story they’d tell might well be this play by renowned American playwright A.R. Gurney. The revival is part of Signature Theatre’s Residency One program that selects a playwright to highlight throughout the season (this year they are focusing on two playwrights, Gurney and Naomi Wallace). Featuring the different relationships among ten people who find themselves in the titular motel outside Boston, The Wayside Motor Inn examines their various encounters — the lonely salesman looking for a one-night stand, the fatuous father and his simmering son en route to a Harvard interview, the two college kids who just want a night of passion, and more. Using a single motel room set, the play lets all the characters inhabit the same space, so their stories overlap and intermingle, even though many of them never meet.
The Money Shot
Performances begin September 3; closes October 12
Lucille Lortel Theatre (MCC)
The world premiere of controversial MCC playwright-in-residence Neil LaBute’s new comedy The Money Shot is sure to be a highlight of the fall season. Directed by Terry Kinney (who also directed LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty), the play features two movie stars named Karen and Steve on the verge of becoming has-beens — unless they can turn everything around. The pair is about to film their big scene in a hotshot European director’s film — and each is hoping to parlay it into a career comeback. The night before they’re scheduled to film the big scene, Karen talks to her partner Bev and Steve to his wannabe actress wife Missy to decide just how far each of the actors is prepared to go to hold on to a place in the sun just a little longer.
Scenes from a Marriage
Performances begin September 3; closes October 19 (but may extend)
New York Theatre Workshop
The claustrophobically intimate film on which this new play was based was condemned for supposedly causing the Scandinavian divorce rate to double the year after it was released — but don’t let that stop you from seeing the NYTW’s new production. Adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1974 film of the same name, this new play is proof that the film has inspired more than just breakups. The show uses discrete episodes to trace the course of the problematic marriage between lawyer Marianne and professor Johan from youth through middle age and into their later years. Though casting hasn’t been announced yet, this world premiere is set to be helmed by Flemish director Ivo van Hove, in his seventh collaboration with the NYTW: Previous ones include The Little Foxes, A Streetcar Named Desire and Hedda Gabler. And a final word to the wise: NYTW has been the original producer of several shows that later became Broadway hits, including, in recent years, Peter and the Starcatcher and Once, so it’s worth catching this one before it has a chance to move uptown.
Performances begin September 4
Laura Pels Theatre (Roundabout Theatre Company)
Did she or didn’t she? The unknowable woman at the heart of Indian Ink is rumored to have posed in the nude for a portrait — and to have had a scandalous love affair with the artist. But is there any way to find out the truth after she’s dead? Roundabout Theatre Company is set to unveil the Off-Broadway premiere of Tom Stoppard’s impassioned play about Flora Crewe, an adventurous English poetess in 1930s India whose relationship with an Indian artist sparks controversy. Set against the growing move toward Indian independence, her story alternates with events that take place 50 years later, after her death. In the 1980s, Crewe’s straitlaced younger sister, Eleanor Swain, is visited by both Crewe’s biographer, searching for clues about her life in India, and the artist’s now grown son, who wants to find out what really happened between the poet and his father. Rosemary Harris (The Road to Mecca, The Royal Family) is slated to star as Swain, who tries to keep her sister’s place in history intact by sharing what she knows selectively with her guests, leaving the audience to piece together the puzzle. Harris has received many Tony nods over the years, including Best Actress in a Play in 1966, for playing another Eleanor, that time in The Lion in Winter. Get tickets
While I Yet Live
Performances begin in September; closes in November
The Duke on 42nd Street (Primary Stages)
You may know Billy Porter from his standout Broadway performance as the flamboyant Lola in Kinky Boots. After all, that’s the role for which he won last year’s Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. But much like Lola, Porter’s far more than just a high-kicker in stilettos. He’s also a writer, as he proved in 2005 in his exuberant one-man autobiographical show Ghetto Superstar: The Man That I Am, which told the story of his journey from his Pittsburgh childhood to superstardom in New York City largely through show-stopping covers and original songs. This fall will mark the world premiere of a very different autobiographical work by the artist. While I Yet Live focuses Porter’s coming of age in Pittsburgh, spanning 1994 through 2008.The kitchen-sink drama, which is set to be directed by Porter’s friend Sheryl Kaller (Mothers and Sons), includes the slew of fierce, fabulous women who helped Porter grow up.
The Fortress of Solitude
Performances begin September 30; closes November 2
The Public Theater
Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel about coming of age in late 20th-century Brooklyn may seem like an unlikely candidate for musicalization. But after an acclaimed run at the Dallas Theater Center this spring, the show is coming to New York. Like the book, the musical follows the fraught friendship between two Brooklyn boys: Dylan Ebdus, the son of a white avant garde artist who moves his family to Brooklyn’s mostly African-American Dean Street in the 1970s, and Mingus Rude, the son of an African-American soul singer with a cocaine problem, who moves into the hood shortly after Dylan. The two boys, both obsessed with superheroes, find a ring that they believe has magical powers…but just how much will they stake on it? And can their friendship withstand the differences that divide them? Along the way, the issues of racial tension, gentrification, and cultural identity are explored — and how they get played out through pop culture, real life and, most of all, music. The Fortress of Solitude is the creation of composer /lyricist Michael Friedman (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and written by Itanar Moses.
Lips Together, Teeth Apart
Performances begin October 7
Second Stage Theatre
This work by acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally centers on two heterosexual couples who find themselves staying at a home on the gay enclave of Fire Island during Fourth of July weekend. Sally, one of the wives, has come into possession of the house after the death of her brother from AIDS. The four weekenders are forced to confront their own prejudices as the days pass, as well as their feeling of isolation among their partying neighbors. America Ferrera will star as Sally, along with Michael Chernus, Tracee Chimo and Austin Lysy. The show will be directed by Peter DuBois, who helmed Off-Broadway productions of Modern Terrorism and Rapture, Blister, Burn, among others.