Friday, June 25, 2010

What to See When You’re in New York? My Top Broadway and Off-Broadway Picks

So Many Shows; But We’re in the Know
By Lauren Yarger
So many of you ask me what you should see when you’re in the city, that I thought it probably was time, just before the summer vacation rush starts, to let you know!

I know you’re looking for quality programs that are appropriate for you and your family. Knowing that a show has won awards or has a Hollywood star in it might not be enough information for you to decide whether that’s the one you want to see, and with ticket prices what they are, you don’t want to leave it to chance. For the shows mentioned in this article, I’ve included the content issues to help you make an informed decision. Not every show is right for every person. For a full review of the show, click on the show’s underlined title (note: some of these longer-running shows opened before we started reviewing, so there isn’t additional information for those).

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to our reviews here at, the only source for a review with added information from a Christian perspective. You can see reviews for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as well as a list of all shows playing on Broadway and a schedule for touring shows by scrolling down at left or below, so take a look at all the site has to offer and tell your friends about it! Discounted tickets to friends of Masterwork Productions for many of the shows are available at

Now for my top picks:

There are some great newer shows that I highly recommend.

1. Memphis at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th St.

I really loved this musical (winner of the 2010 Tony award for Best Musical) and the performances of its two stars, Montego Glover and Chad Kimball. It’s the story of an interracial romance in 1950s Memphis at the start of rock & roll. The catchy score is by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. The story (book by Joe DiPietro) is full of heart, humor and heat (both the score and the book won Tonys too).
Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sex outside of marriage

2. Million Dollar Quartet at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St.

This jam session is more like a revue than a typical Broadway musical and features the music of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in the recreation of a real-life recording session with the four legends. Highlighting the show is Levi Kreis (2010 Tony award for featured actor in a musical) as Lewis who does some amazing gymnastics on the piano.
Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes

3. American Idiot at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St.

It’s Green Day’s multi-platinum album come to life. It’s cutting edge, full of punk music, great dancing, and all manner of objectionable stuff – and it’s really good. Emerging from a “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a terrific redeeming message. If “Jesus of Suburbia” is someone your kids know or can relate to, this show might be a great conversation starter.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language throughout
• Drug use depicted throughout
• US flag displayed upside down
• Sexually suggestive move
• Sexual activity
• Scantily clad actors
• Show posts a mature theme

4. Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St.

A musical about mental illness? The idea didn’t excite me, but all that changed with the first chord of Tom Kitt’s electrifying score (which won the 2009 Tony). He and lyricist Brian Yorkey won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for this stand-out musical about a family coping with the mother’s bi-polar depression. It really makes you think and feel while entertaining you.
Christians might also like to know:
• Show posts a Mature Advisory
• Language
• Suicide (act not show; blood after seen)
• Sex outside of marriage
• Show posts a Mature Advisory

5. Fences at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St.
This Pulitzer-Prize-winning segment of August Wilson’s 10-play cycle about the lives of African Americans in Pittsburgh is a winner (literally -- it won the 2010 Tony for best revival of a play and best acting trophies for its stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis). Tickets are hard to find for this sold-out show which end its run July 11, but if you can get them, go!
Christians might also like to know:
• Sexual dialogue
• God’s name taken in vain

I also get weekly (even daily) inquiries about shows that have been running a while. Here’s what I think of them:


Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st St.

I really loved this prequel to the story of "The Wizard of Oz." I hadn't read the book on which it is based, "The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," by Gregory Maguire, so I found this tale of the early friendship between Glenda and Elphaba, the young witches of the East and West. to be a fresh and clever twist on the traditional story. The music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell) are great and there are some terrific themes of forgiveness and revenge, of reaching out in kindness, friendship, loyalty and about the danger of jumping to Christians might also like to know:
•There is magic- the girls meet at a magic school, there is chanting of spells and the use of magic to transform people into other things.
•There's some intimacy between two characters outside of marriage-- you know it happens, but it's not played out in any detail.

Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th St.

Andrew Llyod-Weber’s beautiful score tells the tale of a young ingénue and her mysterious music teacher who lives in the labyrinth below the Paris Opera House. The special effects, sets, costumes and beautiful songs like “All I Ask of You,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “The Music of the Night” still delight even after 20 years on Broadway. A sequel to the story is set for Broadway next season.
Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes.

West Side Story at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway

Catch the revival on Broadway (or the upcoming tour) directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book. The choreography is terrific, as is the score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Attempted rape
• Sex outside of marriage (although they perform their own ceremony…)
• One of the characters cross dresses
• Suggestive dancing

Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd St.

This is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons featuring many of their most popular tunes. This Tony-Award-winning musical has been packing them in on Broadway, as well as tours across the country on tour. It’s better than the average “jukebox musical” because of the really good book written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, direction by Des McAnuff and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language – LOTS and LOTS of it
• Scantily clad actresses
• Sexually suggestive situations

Billy Elliot at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street

The story of striking coal miners and the son of one who struggles to fit in while pursuing his love of ballet taken from the movie of the same name. The dancing in this 2009 Tony award Winner is terrific, but the story contains some elements that would make me hesitate about taking kids younger than high school age (and maybe not under 16) even though it doesn't post a Mature Advisory.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sexual terms
• Mom is a ghost
• An added personal note: I was distressed by 10 and 11 year olds (and younger) using explicit sexual terms, foul language and cross dressing.


Don’t forget that some of the best theater New York has to offer takes place Off-Broadway (and the tickets are a lot cheaper).

Here are my top recommendations:

1. Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St. (Off 7th Avenue South)

If you have to pick just one show to see, make this it one. Never have I been so transported (thanks to the masterful direction by David Cromer) by a theatrical experience. I’m not in love with this classic three-act by Thornton Wilder – maybe because it’s produced so often and so badly – so I waited a while before venturing down to the Village to see it. I was blown away. This is the production by which all others should be measured. Unbelievably moving and satisfying with a terrific message about not taking any minute of your life for granted.
Christians might also like to know:
•No notes

2. Zero Hour at the Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th St., between 8th and 9th avenues

Jim Brochu’s stunning portrayal of actor Zero Mostel. I'm not a fan of most one-man shows, but this one is different. A fabulous performance and fascinating information about the life of the actor who brought Fiddler on the Roof to Life.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sexual dialogue

3. The 39 Steps at New World Stages, Stage 1, 340 West 50th St. between 8th and 9th avenues
A recreation of the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie by the same name. While the film was all espionage thriller, this show is mostly parody and slapstick comedy. All of the famous elements of the film, including the chase on top of a speeding train are in there, as well as references to Hitchcock’s other famous movies and a trademark cameo appearance by the director. I saw this show on Broadway before its transfer Off-Broadway and before I was reviewing, so I don’t have notes about specific content issues, but I don’t remember any. I just remember thinking it was one of the most delightful things I’d seen on stage in a long time.

4. The Screwtape Letters at the Westside Theatre (Upstairs), 407 West 43rd St.

Max McLean stars as Screwtape, a demon who gives instructions in spiritual warfare to his nephew, Wormwood, through a series of letters he dictates to a helper demon, Toadpipe. This adaptation (by McLean and director Jeffrey Fiske) captures the heart and wit of author C.S. Lewis in an entertaining, yet thought-provoking performance. McLean is a recipient of the 2010 Masterwork productions, Inc. “The Lights Are Bright on Broadway” award given to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through their faith for this performance.
Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes

5. The Fantasticks at the Snapple Theater Center/ The Jerry Orbach Theater, 210 West 50th St. at Broadway

This revival, directed by Tom Jones, who wrote the original book and lyrics (score is by Harvey Schmidt), is another “how-it-should-be-done” production. Its simplicity is endearing, as are the classic tunes “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You,” among others accompanied only on piano and harp. A sweet tale of a girl and a boy in love.
Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain.

6. Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park at 80th Street

Don’t miss a chance to see some great FREE theater through Aug. 1. The Public Theatre presents two works in repertory this year: The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino (possibly headed to Broadway). For information on the schedule and tickets, visit


Janine said...

Are off broadway tickets cheaper then broadway tickets?

LaurenYarger said...

Usually, yes.

GingerLand said...

It's nice to see the "Christians might like to know" portion. Incidentally, I am a Christian, but in addtion, I'm just a person who appreciates knowing that there are still standards of what is considered proper and not.

I can often handle seeing something I deem as "wrong," just so long as I'm aware, and understand that it's justified in the context. After all, the Bible would probably be rated R.

Just found your blog today, but I'll definitely be subscribing and checking back often.
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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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