Features Published 18 June 2019

Exeunt NYC Recommends: Summer 2019

Forget the beach! There’s plenty to see on and off Broadway this summer. Exeunt NYC’s critics clue you in on the hottest openings between now and the end of August.

Exeunt Staff

Don’t be fooled by the sweltering temps and the droves of people heading down the shore: the summer theater in New York still has a lot to offer! From Broadway to Encores to Shakespeare in the Park, our critics recommend the most exciting and interesting shows opening between now and the end of August

Karen Olivo in Moulin Rouge. (Photo: Matthew Murray)


Moulin Rouge (Al Hirschfeld Theatre) (open-ended run, previews begin June 28): I trekked up to Boston to see this musical during its out-of-town tryout. I’m not someone who thinks Alex Timbers can do no wrong (he’s done both right and wrong in my book). I was skeptical about it. It’s been a while since the movie came out. Was this a story we’d even care about anymore? Isn’t it a little cliché? More women suffering in musical theater, sigh. Had this show just missed its moment?  But it succeeds in spite of all my reservations. This pastiche-style musical works because it is excessive, anachronistic, and bursting with song and feeling. It does everything you expect classic musical theater to do, but thanks to contemporary music references, it lives in both worlds—the past and the present. The production is big, open-hearted, and stylish. The choreography by Sonya Tayeh and particularly performances by Danny Burstein, Sahr Ngaujah, and Aaron Tveit are stand-outs. I’m excited to see it again. (Nicole Serratore)

Sea Wall/A Life (Hudson Theater) (July 26 – Sept 29): I was deeply moved by this evening of two monologues at the Public Theater. The highlight by far is the second piece, Jack Thorne’s witty, devastating A Life, which Jake Gyllenhaal delivers with a wonderful gentleness. I was initially surprised by the news of this transfer, given how intimate and dark Carrie Cracknell’s production is. But at the relatively small Hudson, it just might work. (Joey Sims)

[Ed. Note: Click here to read Joey Sims’ review of the Off-Broadway production of Sea Wall/A Life from earlier this year.]

Tavi Gevinson in Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow. (Photo: Daniel Rader)


Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow (MCC Theater) (June 26-August 3): After viewing Aaron Posner’s Life Sucks at Theatre Row, I can’t seem to quit whacked-up reimaginations of Anton Chekhov’s Russian angst. Playwright Halley Feiffer’s Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow (say it quick!) is basically Chekhov’s drama Three Sisters but contemporary and injected with black comedy and millennial sensibilities. Under Trip Cullman’s direction, the angst of Olga, Masha, and Irina is still very much fresh to the modern audience. Like young Irina, we all lament for a Moscow, a pipe dream. (Caroline Cao)

Hannah Senesh (National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene) (July 24-August 18): I was late to the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s work, but now I’m keen to play catch up. As part of their season of spiritual resistance, they are reviving a 1984 play with the music based on the diary of a young Jewish woman who escaped the Nazis in Hungary and emigrated to Palestine—only to choose to parachute back into Europe to rescue other Jews. (Nicole Serratore)

No One is Forgotten (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) (July 8-27): Winter Miller draws on her experiences working as a reporter at The New York Times to imagine what it must be like to be kidnapped. Journalism is a dangerous craft, and many journalists are killed and captured every year. Miller asks, what if it happened to you? With Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder and the recent release of two Reuters journalists after being framed for trumped-up charges in Myanmar, now is a good time to think about the risks some people take to report the news. (Juliet Hindell)

David Cale in We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time comes to the Public this summer. (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time (Public Theater) (June 13-July 14): Award-winning writer and performer David Cale (Harry Clarke) returns to the Public with his musical memoir We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time. It takes on the topics of growing up, escaping his parents’ fraught marriage by singing in his bedroom, and tending to birds in his backyard animal hospital. Harry Clarke was one of the most gripping texts for a solo performer I’ve ever encountered. This show comes to New York after a successful run at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, which is saying a lot. (Ran Xia)

Make Believe (Second Stage Theatre) (July 30-September 15): I’ve been a fan of Bess Wohl’s plays for a while. She writes funny, heartbreaking characters and brings such care to their flaws and foibles. I somehow missed the announcement she had a play at Second Stage this summer, but I’m glad to get more work from her so soon after her climate change/movie-set comedy of sorts, Continuity. When this was staged in Hartford last year it involved child actors for the first half and then adult actors playing those children grown up in the second half. Looking at family, trauma, and ghosts, the cast in New York includes Susannah Flood and Brad Heberlee. (Nicole Serratore)

Coriolanus (Delacorte Theatre) (July 16-August 11): The summer Shakespeare in the Park season is always a must-see for me, but it was recently announced that Jonathan Cake will be taking the title role in this upcoming production, and that catapults it to the next level. Cake is one of the best Shakespearean actors currently working. His performance in Measure for Measure at Theatre for a New Audience in 2017 was thrillingly spoken and—it must be said—incredibly sexy. He interprets the language with an expressive emotional force that is unparalleled. Some of my other faves, Kate Burton, Louis Cancelmi, and Max Gordon Moore, join him in Daniel Sullivan’s production, the first time this play has been performed in the park since 1979. (Lane Williamson)

The Great Novel (The Flea Theater) (June 7-29): Amina Henry’s work has been popping up here and there for the past few years, and if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, this seems like the perfect opportunity. Edgy, strange, and totally unique, she now takes on a Jamaican housekeeper’s attempt at writing The Great American Novel. (Dan O’Neil)

Hercules (Delacorte Theater) (August 31-September 8): Sure, Disney’s been going a bit crazy with the live-action remakes lately, diving back into its catalog to bank off the popularity of its 1990s bangers. That said, Hercules is my jam (despite it’s not-super-accurate, Disneyfied mythology), and Alan Menken and David Zippel’s soundtrack from the 1997 animated film, which jumped from appropriately heroic ballads like “Go the Distance” to feisty gospel hits like “Zero to Hero,” cannot be slept on. Lucky then that this musical stage adaptation will include those songs and more, along with an adapted book by Kristoffer Diaz. (Maya Phillips)

News of the Strange (Target Margin Theater) (June 20-23): Summer is a great time to go to Sunset Park. You can take the ferry there, have very authentic tacos, and enjoy the work of Moe Yousuf, who is also the associate artistic director at Target Margin. The first line of the show description is as follows: “A Medieval Arab fantasy suite in the western disco era cookout tradition.” How can you go wrong? (Dan O’Neil)

The Bacchae (Classical Theatre of Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park) (July 6-28): Avoid the crush for Shakespeare in the Park and check out Classical Theatre of Harlem’s new production instead. This new version of Euripides’ famous play—in which Dionysus, god of wine, wreaks havoc in Thebes—is sure to send shivers down your spine on a warm summer night. (Juliet Hindell)

Stephen Schwartz’s Working: A Musical opens the Encores Off-Center season at City Center.


Working: A Musical (Encores Off-Center) (June 26-29): Those who know Stephen Schwartz as the blockbuster composer of Wicked and Pippin might be surprised to learn her also wrote Working, a tender tapestry that celebrates the indomitable spirit of the American labor force. Adapted from an anthology by historian and journalist Studs Terkel, its original 1978 Broadway production flopped quickly (but featured then-unknowns Patti LuPone, Joe Mantagna, and Lynne Thigpen, among others). But many of its two-dozen songs—including “It’s An Art,” “Just a Housewife,” and “Cleaning Women”—are among the composer’s best. Encores Off-Center has assembled an intriguing cast that includes Javier Muñoz, Tracie Thoms, Andrea Burns, Christopher Jackson, and—in what seems to be her musical debut—Helen Hunt. (Cameron Kelsall)

Promenade (Encores Off-Center) (July 10-11): Wait, Maria Irene Fornes wrote a musical? Fefu and Her Friends Maria Irene Fornes? A musical comedy? An absurdist musical comedy that also deals with the gap between the rich and poor in America, an issue that’s grown only more pressing since it premiered in 1965? Oh, well, that last part sounds about right. Fornes, who died last year, was one of the writers whose influence on, well, everyone who came after her is perhaps far greater than her fame outside theater circles. Fefu and Her Friends blew my mind as an undergraduate feminist theater nerd, and although Promenade may prove no more than a curiosity, I’m betting there’s something interesting and worthwhile in it. (Loren Noveck)

Road Show (Encores Off-Center) (July 24-July 27): The last new Stephen Sondheim musical to premiere (we’re waiting for you, Buñuel), Road Show is, inarguably, a lesser work than the majority of the master’s canon. But this show about a pair of brothers who strike it rich in the gold rush is just weird enough to make it interesting. It’s had a bumpy road and never reached Broadway, but I’m always interested to see how each (mostly regional) production tries to make it work. This is the only Sondheim musical with openly gay characters (until Marianne Elliot’s Company transfers) and their duet, “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened”, is the show’s highlight. The Encores! production will be directed by Will Davis, who helmed Men on Boats, so that adds to the excitement. (Lane Williamson)


A Human Being, of a Sort (Williamstown Theatre Festival) (June 26–July 7): The Williamstown Theatre Festival has been a reliable incubator of excellent new American plays in recent years, shepherding shows like Cost of LivingActually, and the forthcoming Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow prior to New York. This summer, the fest boasts five world premieres, including the already Broadway-bound Grand Horizons, but the title that grabs my attention is Jonathan Payne’s A Human Being, of a Sort. Set in 1906, it draws from the real-life experiences of an African American prison inmate hired to guard an unusual exhibit at the Bronx Zoo: a captured Congolese tribesman. Payne impressed me mightily last fall with The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll’d, and the cast includes the always wonderful André Braugher returning to the stage for the first time in nearly a decade. It should be worth the scenic trip up to the Berkshires. (Cameron Kelsall)

Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine


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