When it comes to New York City’s Off-Broadway scene, big things come in small packages—or at least in small theaters. Great theater happens in Off-Broadway venues, which hold between 100 and 499 audience members (Broadway theaters hold 500 or more). They have launched major premieres, celebrity debuts and memorable moments in theater history. Read up on a few noteworthy spots, and then book your own tickets to see history being made with the latest crop of shows.
Along Lafayette Street’s landmarked Colonnade Row stands this historic theater, built as a home for the elite Astor and Vanderbilt families in 1831. After the building was converted into a theater in 1965, its inaugural production, The Indian Wants the Bronx, featured the NYC stage debut of a young Al Pacino.
Now playing: In 1991, three bald, blue men took up residence at the theater and have been performing their vibrant Blue Man Group extravaganza ever since.
The land once home to a 19th-century farm silo (and later a building that served variously as a brewery, tobacco warehouse and box factory) now holds the Cherry Lane, Off-Broadway’s oldest continually operating theater. Since the theater’s establishment in 1924, A-listers to cross its historic stage include Gene Hackman, Bea Arthur, James Earl Jones and a former stage hand named Barbra Streisand.
Now playing: The latest show to run at this West Village house is A Walk With Mr. Heifetz. The new play recounts the story of a conversation between famed Russian violinist Jascha Heifetz and composer Yehuda Sharett (brother to the future Israeli prime minister), which would have an effect on the leader some 20 years later.
Shakespeare, Eugene O’Neill, Langston Hughes and Kurt Vonnegut are just a few of the celebrated writers whose work has been performed at this West Village playhouse, around since 1955. The theater is home to the Playwrights’ Sidewalk, a walk of fame outside the theater’s entrance and the City’s only permanent monument to theater writers.
Now playing: The Lucille Lortel Theatre will host the world premiere of Relevance, J. C. Lee’s of-the-moment play that dives into a fierce online exchange between an emerging cultural critic and a veteran feminist author.
With five substantial theaters under one roof, New World Stages has room for original Off-Broadway productions, like 2017’s A Clockwork Orange, as well as notable revivals that find new life post-Broadway.
This East Village venue is an influential launching pad for adventurous new theater. Past openings here, including Jonathan Larson’s Rent and Claudia Shear’s Dirty Blonde, have led to subsequent success on Broadway and beyond.
Now playing: NYTW’s current season includes the promising work of young playwright Hammaad Chaudry. An Ordinary Muslim follows a Pakistani couple living in the UK as they struggle to reconcile their Muslim heritage with their Western upbringing.
Before becoming a permanent theater home for the trash-can-banging sensation Stomp, the Orpheum presented Off-Broadway premieres for celebrated shows like Little Shop of Horrors and David Mamet’s Oleanna.
Now playing: After 20 years and 10,000 performances, Stomp continues to drum, sweep and hammer away in the East Village.
This Union Square theater specializes in producing boundary-pushing, original shows, many of which—including Avenue Q, Three Tall Women and, most recently, Indecent—went on to successful runs on Broadway.
Now playing: Pulitzer Prize finalist and Orange Is the New Black screenwriter Jordan Harrison brings his inventive comedy, The Amateurs, to the stage this season. The play follows a ragtag group of pageant players as they attempt to outrun the Black Death in 14th-century Europe.
During NYC Off-Broadway Week, February 12–25, tickets for these shows and more are 2-for-1.