There are worthy plays – new ones and revivals – on Broadway this season. “Junk” is a first-rate play about greed on Wall Street that is dazzlingly acted and directed, and “M. Butterfly,” a revival of a 1988 hit play, opened to a number of good reviews. (This show runs only until Jan. 14, 2018). There are also the sheer entertainment blockbusters such as “Hello Dolly!” and “Aladdin,” sometimes propelled by name actors including Bette Midler. But other new and recent musicals have become modern Broadway icons. They are holding a mirror up to the America of today with a promise of inclusiveness and brotherly love.
My personal picks for the best current Broadway shows include the following:
1. “Come From Away”: Based on the true story of airline passengers diverted to Gander Airport on the Canadian island of Newfoundland on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the musical is unusually inspiring and upbeat, leaving audiences filled with hope and goodwill. It is my personal favorite currently on Broadway. The book, music, and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It is directed by Christopher Ashley. Newsweek magazine simply and aptly said, “It takes you to a place you never want to leave.” I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience the night I saw it.
2. “Dear Evan Hansen”: This is an emotionally charged musical about a young man struggling to fit in with family, friends, and everyone else. The songs were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who won an Oscar for “La La Land,” and this musical won the 2017 Tony Award for best musical. In a revealing number called “Waving Through a Window,” Evan Hansen sings, “I try to speak but nobody can hear.”
3. “A Bronx Tale”: Based on Chazz Palminteri’s hit play of the same name, this musical tells the story of a young man torn between his father’s love and a mob boss he idolizes. Like “Dear Evan Hansen,” this is a powerful, heartfelt show that underscores the importance of strong family values. It has a doo-wop score akin to that of the long-running “Jersey Boys.” Codirected by Robert De Niro and veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks, it takes place in New York’s turbulent crime-ridden borough of the Bronx in the 1960s.
4. “The Band’s Visit”: This musical is built around the story of an Egyptian band that lands in a remote Israeli village by mistake. It’s based on a 2007 movie of the same name, and in the past several weeks it has become a huge artistic and commercial hit. The show’s message of goodwill is reinforced by lilting music and eloquent lyrics. The understated theme of the musical, that Arabs and Jews can not only get along but love each other, is captured sensitively in the love between Dana, an Israeli cafe owner, and Egyptian band leader Tewfiq.
5. “Hamilton”: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical centers around George Washington’s chief lieutenant, Alexander Hamilton, and other Founding Fathers who drafted the Declaration of Independence. But its unusual casting and dynamic, cutting-edge score, with explosive hip-hop and other standout music, has created an artistic and economic revolution itself, starring a diverse cast of actors in the roles of America’s Founding Fathers.
The demand for seats for “Hamilton” has been so great that there are now two road companies touring the United States. There is also a spoof of the musical called “Spamilton” off-Broadway, conceived by Gerard Alessandrini, who created the long-running “Forbidden Broadway” off-Broadway. One critic called “Spamilton” “the next best thing to seeing ‘Hamilton.’ ”
But tickets for the biggest hits are not easy to get, and certainly not inexpensive. Orchestra seats for “Hamilton” have been selling for more than $1,000 each. Yet some people I’ve talked to have purchased tickets for just under $200 each by getting them several months or more in advance.
If you want to see other Broadway shows more economically I suggest going to the TKTS booth at 47th Street and Broadway for tickets as much as 50 percent off. TKTS opens at 3 p.m., but you don’t need to stand in line for hours for an evening performance. Shows send unsold seats to TKTS an hour or so before showtimes and many Broadway theaters are only a few minutes walk from TKTS. You can also get tickets for a number of hits at their box offices or online – provided you are willing to wait several months to see them.
Ward Morehouse III occasionally covered Broadway when he was a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor. He has a website called Broadwayafterdark.org.