All the world isn’t really a stage, no matter what William Shakespeare wrote. But for groups visiting the Big Apple, it just might seem like there is a theater on every corner.
New York City is the performing arts capital of the United States, boasting 41 Broadway venues, which are loosely defined as auditoriums seating 500 or more, not necessarily located on the Great White Way. And then there are the dozens of off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway stages, as well as legendary palaces like Lincoln Center, home to companies such as the New York City Ballet.
“We always say that you can’t come to New York without seeing a Broadway show,” said Todd Rappaport, director of marketing for Broadway Inbound, which connects groups with discounted tickets and theatrically themed experiences. “Theater performing arts is really the calling card of the city, so entertainment is one of the most popular activities for visitors. And there’s really nothing else like it. There are so many fun things to do in New York, but only one of them gives you that special shared experience of being in a theater with other people and seeing some of the world’s greatest live entertainment.”
Classics Old and New
It’s never a bad idea to begin time in New York by catching a beloved Broadway classic like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” which opened in 1988, making it the first production in history to reach three decades on Broadway. Other long-running Broadway musicals include “Chicago,” which has played to more than 9,600 audiences and shows no signs of slowing, and “The Lion King.” Based on the 1994 Disney film, with lyrics by Elton John, it’s been seen by more than 70 million people on stages all around the world.
More recent hit musicals continue to pack the houses, too, like “Dear Evan Hansen.” Winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, it’s the story of a lonely boy who invents a relationship with a deceased classmate so he can form a bond with his family. “Come From Away,” about the Newfoundland town that took in airline passengers stranded in the wake of 9/11, is another affecting musical still going strong. But fans of the rollicking “Beetlejuice,” which is based on the 1988 Tim Burton movie, should make tracks to see it pronto. Despite catering to sold-out crowds, it’s closing in June.
“And then there is a bunch of really exciting new musical content coming to Broadway this season or already playing,” Rappaport said. “‘Moulin Rouge,’ based on the 2001 movie, is an incredibly energetic musical with a lot of fun current pop music in it. There’s also ‘Jagged Little Pill,’ the new musical based on the Alanis Morissette album. It takes her songs and sets them in sort of a typical suburban family where not everything is what it seems on the surface. It’s really, really creative and a really great show.”
Broadway Behind the Scenes
For groups that would like to go behind the scenes, in addition to facilitating ticket sales, Broadway Inbound also offers more than two dozen tours and workshops. The former include tours like Behind the Emerald Curtain, which affords groups the chance to explore “Wicked,” with cast members leading the fun. The latter connect participants with established theater artists who tutor them in acting, singing, dance, makeup and more.
“The workshops can be customized to any size group, age or skill level,” Rappaport said. “There are a lot of special experiences we can do that can even be tailored to the show that they’re seeing. For example, we have one called the Broadway Rehearsal, and it’s where a Broadway performer actually teaches a group a musical number from a current Broadway show. It’s done in a real Broadway rehearsal studio, and they rehearse vocals and/or choreography and go through it with them. It’s a really interesting way to not only get groups excited about the show they’re going to see, but to allow them to really dig into it and see how it’s made. And it’s all within the theater district area, so it’s convenient to the show.”
Of course, there’s a lot more to New York’s live entertainment scene than just Broadway, as brightly as it shines. Perched on the Upper West Side, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is the world’s largest performing-arts center, with 30 indoor and outdoor facilities and 11 resident arts organizations. The New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic all are headquartered in the 16-acres-plus complex and perform throughout the year there. Meanwhile, Jazz at Lincoln Center offers a world-class jazz orchestra led by artistic director Wynton Marsalis as well as concerts from visiting luminaries at its off-campus venues in Columbus Circle.
Off-Broadway theaters, which seat from 99 to 499 people and are mostly located on the West Side and in Greenwich Village, present plenty of crowd-pleasers, too — after all, “Hamilton” premiered in one. “The Blue Man Group,” a funky collective that merges music and visual art, has been delighting downtown audiences for nearly 30 years. And “Stomp,” the high-energy, wordless percussion and dance show, opened off-Broadway more than a quarter-century ago.
Looking ahead, the future of theater in New York appears just as dazzling as its present, with a wealth of guaranteed hits on the horizon.
“Revivals of ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Company’ and ‘The Music Man’ will be hot sellers,” said Chris Heywood, executive vice president of Global Communications at NYC and Company, “so travel professionals are advised to book in advance. A few highly anticipated, original musicals in the pipelines for Broadway include ‘Six,’ ‘Diana’ and ‘The Girl From the North Country’; the latter is set to songs by Bob Dylan and got its start off-Broadway. Speaking of off-Broadway, consider upcoming productions like ‘The Visitor,’ ‘Between the Lines’ and ‘Perry Street,’ among other exciting group diversions for 2020.”