Even including the oddballs and one-offs, only 33 productions opened on Broadway this season. Fifty years ago the number was 73.
As if to compensate, Off Broadway theaters today offer hundreds of shows, and once the Tony Awards are handed out on June 10, some of them get to shine. Here are five — a classic tragedy, a curious musical and three new of-the-moment plays — worth checking out.
‘Dan Cody’s Yacht’
What is the value of an elite education? And what is the cost? Several plays this spring explored the issue but “Dan Cody’s Yacht,” by Anthony Giardina, dramatizes it in unusually concrete terms. The plot is set in motion when a rich parent in a Boston suburb makes a potentially life changing offer to a struggling young schoolteacher.
The play, a world premiere Manhattan Theater Club production, follows up on Mr. Giardina’s “The City of The Conversation,” which dealt with the decay of civility in Washington, D.C. after the rise of Reagan.
There may be a common theme here. There’s definitely a common director: Doug Hughes. And Kristen Bush, who glittered in “The City of Conversation” as a ruthless young schemer, now plays the idealist who has to decide how much her ideals are worth.
New York has enjoyed a few great Othellos recently, including John Douglas Thompson’s in 2009 and David Oyelowo’s in 2014. But since James Earl Jones took the role in 1964 and Raul Julia in 1979 and 1991, the play has been absent from the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
It’s a natural fit there, being the most intense of all the Shakespearean tragedies, shorn for the most part of subplots and diversions. So I am eager to see Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s production starring Chukwudi Iwuji, a recent Public Theater Hamlet and a standout in Bruce Norris’s “The Low Road” earlier this year. He is joined by Heather Lind as Desdemona and Corey Stoll as Iago.
Idina Menzel, the musical theater star best known for playing Elphaba in “Wicked” and last seen in New York in the time-twisting “If/Then,” returns to the stage neither singing nor, as far as I can tell, painted green.
Unless that green is envy: In Joshua Harmon’s new play “Skintight,” at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater, Ms. Menzel plays Jodi Isaac, bedeviled at the onset of middle age by the youth-obsessed culture around her. Her ex-husband is engaged to a much younger woman, her father has taken up with a 20-year-old (male) porn star and her son, also 20, is just starting out on his life as a gay man.
Mr. Harmon is in comfortable territory here; his plays “Bad Jews,” “Significant Other” and “Admissions” have all dealt satirically with the overblown discontents of privileged people. But Ms. Menzel is no satirist: Singing or not, she delivers full-throated feeling. I’m eager to see what she’ll do, under Daniel Aukin’s direction, with this story about the pitfalls of superficiality.
Jordan Harrison takes a long view. Just look at his two most recent plays: the sci-fi drama “Marjorie Prime,” set in 2062, and “The Amateurs,” about 14th-century actors outrunning the Black Plague. However distant the lens, his plays consider the mysteries of individual identity in a world that seems ready at every moment to wipe it out.
His new play, “Log Cabin,” at Playwrights Horizons, would seem on its surface to be less adventurous. It’s set in 2015 among a complacent group of married gays and lesbians — including, inevitably, Jesse Tyler Ferguson. But their newfound comfort as members of an enlarged American mainstream is brought into question by a transgender friend, still waiting for equality.
The story of squares shocked out of their smugness by an outlier is almost a genre by now — see Sarah Ruhl’s “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,” among others. But Mr. Harrison is a genre spoiler, and I suspect that in this new play, directed by Pam MacKinnon, the audience may be in for some shocks of their own: shocks of recognition.
One of the strangest and most fascinating artifacts of the Golden Age of musical theater is the all-black musical that Oscar Hammerstein II made from Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” by resetting it among World War II flyboys, jazz cats and parachute factory workers.
Retaining Bizet’s music, Hammerstein translated the French libretto into a Northern white man’s idea of Southern black patois. The toreador Escamillo becomes the boxer Husky Miller; the propulsive Seguidilla becomes “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum.”
How a gesture that was progressive — even perhaps radical — in its time will feel today is a question well worth asking. So John Doyle’s staging for Classic Stage Company — advertised as the first major production in New York since the Broadway premiere in 1943, the same years as “Oklahoma!” — is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of cultural representation in musicals.
Follow Jesse Green on Twitter: @JesseKGreen.