So you are FINALLY planning a long-awaited trip to New York, but the Broadway shows you really want to see are sold out (ahem, Hamilton) and the rest you’ve either seen or you know they’re terrible (ahem, Aladdin). Please DON’T go see whatever is at the TKTS booth just because you feel obligated to see Broadway. This is NEW YORK! There is so much more once you break out of the Broadway Bubble.
Before I go too far, I want you to know I am a 100%, hardcore, from-birth theater geek. I spent most of my 20s working in theater, I have a theater degree, I could tell you every lyric to The Fiddler on the Roof before I was 12. There is a big ole’ chamber of my heart reserved just for magical, visceral, exciting theater.
But I am also 100% AGAINST doing something just because it is what people do. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be going to the tiny off-off-off Bway production of Waiting for Godot, staged in some alley in the West Village by a handful of deeply-angsty NYU students.
I am saying that if you are going to spend $150 for a night out, make it worth it (although often, these alternatives are much less).
There are a number of amazing Off-Broadway theaters with stellar line-ups all year round and I’ll follow up with a post highlighting those later. For this round-up, I’m focusing on experiences and events other than “traditional” theater.
1) Visit the MCKITTRICK HOTEL for a show, concert, dance party, or dinner
530 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
First off – it’s not a real hotel. Get wasted on champers and G&T’s while you listen to a 20’s jazz band, and you’ll have to drag yourself home. There is no bed for you here.
In fact, the McKittrick is deceiving on many levels. On a given night, this building, actually a series of conjoined Chelsea warehouses, may morph into any number of surreal landscapes and immersive experiences. It’s like walking into an adult choose-your-own-adventure, except way more beautiful and haunting.
The granddaddy immersive show housed here is SLEEP NO MORE, which was once a viral hit and insanely hard-to-get ticket. Now, it has settled in as a NYC institution (I think that became official when it was featured on Gossip Girl) and tickets are fairly easy to score throughout the year. I won’t explain the entire premise, as a quick Google search will uncover a million different recaps of the experience. However, I will say, if you go in with an open mind and willing imagination, you will be utterly transported.
As I’ve written about in the past, the team behind The McKittrick Hotel also regularly hosts massive dance parties with complex, incredibly well-executed themes. These tend to draw a younger crowd than Sleep No More, although there are always a fair number of older folks who go all out, often with the best costumes.
Some of the parties are centered around holidays – Halloween, New Years, and Valentine’s Day always have massive productions. Others are part of their SuperCinema monthly series, which uses films as inspiration for each month’s theme. Past parties have included Goldeneye, The Great Gatsby, Wizard of Oz, Clue, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Finally, you can also EAT & DRINK at the McKittrick. They have a rooftop bar and restaurant, Gallow Green, which feels transported from the 1920’s. They also have full restaurant inside, The Heath, which is more 1940’s jazz club-inspired and often a setting for other shows and immersive experiences. Both restaurants have solid food and service, although you’ll definitely be paying a premium for the experience elements.
If you’ve already seen Sleep No More, check out Third Rail Projects in Brooklyn, another young, innovative company creating gorgeous immersive theater experiences. The production values are lower than Sleep No More, but in some ways the experience is even more fun. One of my besties came back from a night at The Grand Paradise and said it was one of the most invigorating, creative, and sexy nights of his life.
2) Take a trip to the PARK AVENUE ARMORY for theater, experiences, installations, and tours
643 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065
Someone, at some point in the Park Avenue Armory’s history, decided that their organization was not going to play it safe. Instead of just another off-Broadway theater, this breathtaking, historic building has been turned into a multigenerational cultural institution, with challenging and innovative programming.
They have an incredible space to work with and they take full advantage. It has been meticulously restored, with a number of smaller, gorgeous, wood-paneled rooms in addition to the massive armory hall. This means they can host very different types of events, from intimate concerts to huge immersive audio-visual experiences.
Looking at their schedule for next year, I’m most excited about seeing the video installation Manifesto, starring Cate Blanchett (December 7 – January 8, 2017), as well as the production of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape, starring Bobby Canavale (March 25 – April 22, 2017).
Also, praise be to the art gods for bringing us Hansel & Gretel, a collaboration between Jacques Herzog, Pierre De Meuron, and Ai Weiwei (June 7 – August 6, 2017). What’s it going to entail? No clue!! But with those names attached, and the Armory’s awesome track record – I’m 100% sold.
3) Check the schedule for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s APPEL ROOM
10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019
Jazz at Lincoln Center operates out of a few venues, all pretty fantastic. However, as a special treat for people visiting New York, there is nothing like seeing a show at the Appel Room (formerly known as the Allen Room).
This relatively small venue is housed in the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle. While the building is basically a glorified mall, the Appel Room sits several floors up with a perfect view of the circle and Central Park.
The stage is situated in front of a giant 50’ x 90’ bank of floor-to-ceiling windows. While this could be distracting for other types of shows, the swirl of light and city blends perfectly with the jazz, blues, Americana, and other elements of their musical lineup.
A good friend brought me here six years ago for a night out and five years ago I moved to NYC. Coincidence? Hardly. It was absolute magic.