Theaters Just Off the Great White Way in Hell’s Kitchen
Hell’s Kitchen includes part of the Broadway Theater District, but the neighborhood is home to a wealth of more intimate, more experimental—and more affordable—theaters too. Ranging in size from 50 seats to just shy of 500, these theaters provide the opportunity to see productions before they hit Broadway, as well as to see productions too far from the mainstream to make it to the Great White Way.
511 West 54th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues)
Ars Nova is an arts incubator, offering up-and-coming performers, playwrights, and theater companies a place to hone their talents and showcase their work. Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame, “New Girl” creator Liz Meriwether, and Billy Eichner of “Billy on the Street” are among its alumni; “Natasha, Pierre , and the Great Comet of 1812” was developed and produced here prior to its Broadway run, which received 12 Tony Award nominations. Ars Nova is currently home to three companies: Hit the Lights!, which incorporates shadow puppetry into its productions; the Mad Ones, which offers a contemporary take on the recent past; and On the Rocks, inspired in large part by midcentury Americana. Its “One Night Stand” series hosts one-off performances by a broad range of talents; recent productions included “Happy and Grateful,” a solo show written and performed by Misha Brooks, and “Ready for Bed,” musings by comedian/writer Drew Anderson.
340 West 50th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues)
The “Stages” in this venue’s name is not a mistake. New World Stages is a five-theater complex, with the two largest theaters able to seat nearly 500 people and the smallest limited to 199 attendees. The Shubert Organization-owned venue’s productions include shows that rival many Broadway shows in terms of acclaim. In fact, two Tony-winning musicals, “Avenue Q” and “Jersey Boys,”and the Laurence Olivier Award-winning comedy “The Play That Goes Wrong” moved here following their Broadway runs and are still packing in audiences (though “Avenue Q” is scheduled to close at the end of May). Four nights a week, and on weekend afternoons, the theater is home to the Imbible, a company that produces musical comedies about alcoholic beverages, served up with complimentary cocktails (which means its productions are off-limits to those under the age of 21). Its flagship show, “A Spirited History of Drinking,” explores 10 millennia of alcohol production and consumption; “Day Drinking: The Brunch Musical” is appropriately performed during the weekend matinees. Also currently playing is “Gazillion Bubble Show,” a family-friendly extravaganza of soap-bubble wizardry, and “Puffs,” a musical about a group of outsiders at a famed fictional wizardry school that bears a striking similarity to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
480 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Designed by Frank Gehry Architects, this three-stage complex is the home of Signature Theatre Company, whose motto could be summed up as “the playwright’s the thing.” One of its core programs focuses on the works of a single writer each year; Anna Deavere Smith is spotlighted for the 2019-20 season, and her examination of the 1991 racial tensions in Crown Heights, “Fires in the Mirror,” will kick off her residency in October. Onstage now through May 26 is a revival of Sam Shepard’s “Curse of the Starving Class.” Also running now, through June 9, is the world premiere of “Octet” by Dave Malloy, a musical whose inspirations range from Sufi poetry to online comment boards.
416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Nurturing American playwrights, composers, and lyricists is the mission of this not-for-profit theater, which produced early productions of “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Grey Gardens,” “The Heidi Chronicles,” and “Sunday in the Park with George,” to name just a few that went on to garner awards and acclaim. Opening May 24 and running through July 7 is the final production of its 2018-19 season, “A Strange Loop,” a meta-musical by Michael R. Jackson about a gay African American writer struggling to complete a musical about a gay African American writer.
304 West 47th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues)
The sister theater of Pregones in the Bronx, PRTT was one of the country’s first bilingual theater companies when it was founded in 1967. Among the shows recently held at its 190-seat Manhattan venue was “Made in Puerto Rico,” a one-man show by attorney-turned-comedian Elizardi Castro.
308 West 46th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues)
This 174-seat theater is physically part of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, but do not expect productions of an ecclesiastic nature. Running on Sunday evenings through May 26 are “Geeks! The Musical!”, set at a comic-book convention, and “#Adulting,” comedy sketches set to opera music. “Pinkalicious the Musical,” an hour-long musical based on the children’s book about a pink-loving girl who overindulges in cupcakes, runs through the end of August. “Sistas: The Musical,” a look at the life of African American women through several generations, incorporates songs by Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, and others; it is performed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
422 West 42nd Street (at Dyer Avenue)
Like New Stages, Stage 42 is owned by the Broadway powerhouse Shubert Organization, and with 499 seats, it is nearly as large as a small Broadway theater. (In fact, if it added one more seat, it would meet the 500-seat minimum required to be an official Broadway theater, one whose productions are eligible to win Tonys rather than Obies.) Running through September 1 is “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish,” a production of the acclaimed musical directed by Tony- and Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey, translated into Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles.
410 West 42nd Street (between Ninth and Dyer Avenues)
The six theaters that make up Theatre Row (which is a single building rather than a row of attached theaters) range in capacity from 199 seats to just 50. An affiliate of the nonprofit Building for the Arts NY, Theatre Row is home to a half-dozen resident theater, music, and dance companies, including Mint Theater Company, which revives lost or neglected plays, and New York City Children’s Theater. Playing through June 29 in the largest of the six venues is “Sincerely, Oscar,” a musical celebration of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Another musical, “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” pays tribute to 1950s pop; it runs through May 26. “Addy & Uno,” billed as “the first family musical about disability” and featuring puppets, starts every Sunday at noon, while “NEWSical,” a satirical revue that is regularly updated to reflect the latest news, runs Saturday through Tuesday nights, and the self-explanatory “Naked Boys Singing!” also runs on Saturday evenings. Beginning May 25 and running through June 29 is “Public Servant,” a play about political idealism and disillusionment by Bekah Brunstetter, a writer/producer of the TV series “This Is Us.” Comedy-drama “In the Closet” begins a three-week run on May 29.
312 West 36th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues)
This not-for-profit theater was founded to help writers “workshop” their plays via readings and collaboration. The Sundays@Six reading series offers audiences a chance to become part of that process, by watching a free reading and then participating in a moderated critique. Works that are further along in the process are staged for complimentary concert readings. The theater also produces four-week, fully staged runs of completed works; these are your best chance of attending a show prior to its going on tour or even moving to Broadway.