ATL in NYC: Six must-see Broadway shows for your holiday travels

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Broadway is in full swing. As Atlantans ready for winter travel, many will be heading to New York City for the holidays. Some will go for vacation. Others are among the thousands who migrated to Atlanta from the Big Apple over the last two years. Whatever the reason, there’s a bit of Atlanta everywhere, including on Broadway. Here is a handful of must-see shows.

Director Kenny Leon is at the helm of two shows this Broadway season: Topdog/Underdog and The Ohio State Murders. Leon is the former artistic director of the Alliance Theatre and the founder of True Colors Theatre, both in Atlanta. “Topdog/Underdog” is a two-hander by Suzan-Lori Parks about two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, who are hustling to make it in a world that would rather see them dead. Corey Hawkins (”In the Heights” and “Straight Outta Compton”) as Lincoln dons whiteface and plays Abraham Lincoln for arcade visitors who want their chance at pretend-killing the former president. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (”Watchmen” and “The Get Down”) as Booth boosts clothing and swindles tourists in a game of three-card Monte. Booth resents Lincoln for allowing White people to shoot a fake gun at him, and Lincoln is weary that Booth’s hustle will be his demise. Beneath this surface is a story about how racism cracks a family. For fans of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” or “Waiting for Godot,” this absurd tragi-comedy is for you.

A few blocks away, at the newly renamed James Earl Jones Theatre, Audra McDonald stars in “The Ohio State Murders,” a play decades in the making. The drama by lauded playwright and poet Adrienne Kennedy was first produced in 1992. The play is about a woman, Suzanne Alexander, who returns to her alma mater as a guest speaker years after being one of a few African American students to integrate the university in the 1940s. The script is semi-autobiographical since Kennedy graduated from The Ohio State University; however, she adds a twist as this hour-long mystery unfolds.

Credit: Marc J. Franklin

Credit: Marc J. Franklin

For those in need of a belly laugh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “A Strange Loop” is guaranteed to bring the funny. The script follows a queer, Black man named Usher who is an usher at “The Lion King” and an aspiring musical theater writer. The musical is a wild ride through Usher’s mind, addressing everything from his relationship with his parents to sex and sexuality. Over the course of this 90-minute musical, librettist Michael R. Jackson shows the importance of empathy, compassion and self-love through an unlikely protagonist. Those who saw “Nick’s Flamingo Grill” at the Alliance a few years ago may also see a familiar face in Thought 6, played by Antwayn Hopper. Closes January 15, 2023.

MJ: The Musical” might just be the jukebox musical that unites the world. Sitting in the audience, the King of Pop’s influence from generation to generation is hard to ignore — everyone from ages 9 to 92 is in the audience. The musical is set in 1992, when Michael Jackson is getting ready for his “Dangerous” world tour and an MTV video crew is documenting his professional highs and personal lows throughout the process. Myles Frost is impeccable as Jackson, and the choreography and musical direction are close to flawless. “Dancing Machine” and “Smooth Criminal” are standouts. Look for Atlanta native and recent Florida State University graduate Ramone Nelson, who is a swing in the production. He portrayed Tito Jackson, Quincy Jones and Jackie Wilson in the performance I saw.

Credit: Courtesy of "MJ: The Musical"

Credit: Courtesy of "MJ: The Musical"

Up-and-coming director Ibi Owolabi has been slowly making her way through the Atlanta theater scene, transfixing audiences with her unique vision in “The Bluest Eye” at Synchronicity Theatre and “Intimate Apparel” at Actor’s Express. This year, Owolabi received a Drama League Stage Directing Fellowship and is making her Broadway debut as assistant director of “Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok. The 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is about two caregivers who find their lives intertwined. Bring tissues.

Remixing the classics is Broadway’s sweet spot, and the latest revival of “Death of a Salesman” features a cast of stage favorites, including Wendell Pierce (”The Wire” and “Treme”) as Willy Loman and Sharon D. Clarke (”Caroline, Or Change”) as his wife, Linda. This time, the story of a 1950s salesman seeing the American Dream slip through his fingers is told from the perspective of an African American family. Atlanta native McKinley Belcher III (”Ozark,” “We Own This City” and “The Good Lord Bird”) rounds out the cast as one of their sons, Happy Loman. Belcher graduated from Campbell High School in Smyrna before earning his bachelor’s degree from Belmont University and master of fine arts from the University of Southern California. Closes January 15, 2023.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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