Along with the array of Broadway hits that made their debut in 2018, this summer has brought a wealth of great entertainment beyond the big houses of the Great White Way in the Midtown-West Theater District. From imaginative and accessible re-envisionings of Shakespeare’s canon to a high-energy jukebox musical of mid-century chart-toppers, a story of teenage angst for our digital age, and an original lesson on the history of rum interspersed with sea shanties and sample cocktails, my top five picks, in alphabetical order, are all must-see productions to end the summer season and all are within easy walking distance of Times Square.
Be More Chill – Already sold out before its Off-Broadway opening and just extended for one additional week, the New Jersey-based cult hit considers the temptation of video-game geek Jeremy to cure his teenage angst about high-school popularity with a mysterious pill that implants itself in his brain. But is the so-called “Squip” worth taking, or will it lead to embedded problems that make his hope for a “perfect life” even more elusive? Inspired by the eponymous novel by Ned Vizzini, the digital-age retro-sci-fi musical, with a cast album that garnered over 100 million streams, mixes subversive comedy and futuristic technology with heartfelt emotion and psychological insight into the mind of a troubled adolescent. If you aren’t lucky enough to score a ticket for the current run, you can hope for last-minute cancellations, a winning entry in the TodayTix lottery, or an upcoming transfer or touring production of this viral sensation.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.
Be More Chill plays through Sunday, September 30, 2018, performing at The Pershing Square Signature Center, The Irene Diamond Stage – 480 West 42nd Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 279-4200, or purchase them online.
Desperate Measures – Following its extended sold-out engagement with the York Theatre Company, where it won awards from the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Off Broadway Alliance, the rip-roaring Wild-West adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure transferred to New World Stages this summer for an open-ended run. With its witty rhyming couplets, country-twanged show tunes, clever sight-gags, madcap physical humor, and a lively cast that executes it all with gusto, the hilarious musical comedy also makes a timely socio-political statement about disreputable government officials, the need for compassion in law enforcement, and the protracted justification for the current #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.
Macbeth – Not officially Off-Broadway, but part of its free annual outdoor Shakespeare series in Bryant Park, The Drilling Company (also known for its ongoing urban tradition of free “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot”) closes this year’s summer season of “Bryant Park Picnics” on the Upper Terrace (behind the New York Public Library), with a local take on the Bard’s ‘Scottish play.’ Set in New York in the mid-1800s, when turf wars among the population of early settlers raged in Lower Manhattan’s Five Points area, the relocated drama evokes the Gangs of New York while remaining true to Shakespeare’s universal themes and Elizabethan language. The show runs from 7-9 pm, but come early to get a good seat and to partake of the food, beverages, and souvenir items for sale at surrounding kiosks in the Park, or bring your own picnic and a welcome free-will donation for a terrific company that never fails to impress.
Running Time: Approximately two hours.
Macbeth plays on Fridays and Saturdays, August 24-September 8, 2018, performing at the Upper Terrace in Bryant Park – located between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Admission is free; no reservation or tickets are required.
Rum and Pirates – Back by popular demand, The Imbible offers a four-weekend return engagement of its signature brand of history, mixology, comedy, and song, in a high-spirited lesson on life aboard a pirate ship during the golden age of the rum trade. A funny, informative, and harmonious ensemble of singing buccaneers on the Pirate Ship Bumbo sets the mood and teaches you everything you need to know about the evolution of their favorite drink, while serving up three complimentary glasses of authentic old recipes and modern-day classics. If you can’t get enough of this summer-time celebration of corsair cocktails, you can extend the fun with an Optional First-Class Guided Rum Tasting immediately following the show.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes.
Rum and Pirates plays Friday, August 24-Saturday, September 15, 2018, performing at The Producers Club Theaters, Royal Theater – 358 West 44th Street, 2nd floor, NYC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe – You won’t believe the energy in the newly revamped Off-Broadway revival of Broadway’s longest-running musical revue from the 1990s! Featuring the vintage crossover songs of Leiber and Stoller, it’s 90 minutes of non-stop high-voltage entertainment by a red-hot cast and a rocking band. The killer vocals, dynamic choreography, good-natured kidding, and irresistible camaraderie will have you smiling, clapping, singing, and swaying to such unforgettable hits as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Poison Ivy,” “I’m A Woman,” “Searchin’,” “Love Potion #9,” Yakety Yak,” and, of course, “On Broadway” long after you’ve left the theater. This is a feel-good show you’ll want to revisit time and time again, so be sure not to miss it!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.