You don’t have to navigate the crowds (and costs) of Times Square to find quality musicals and plays in New York City. There are many, many theaters operating downtown, offering a wide array of productions, from bawdy burlesque to new musicals (the kind that can’t always find the funding for Broadway, but are Broadway-caliber nonetheless). You might even pass some of these underground gems unknowingly every day. Here are just a few that we love — but be sure to check out and support the theaters in your own backyard.
Atlantic Theater Company
(336 W. 20th St.)
Based in Chelsea, the Atlantic Theater Company is both a space and a production company, widely acclaimed for such successes as “Spring Awakening.” It has two main stages and nine rehearsal studios. It also features the Atlantic Acting School, which coordinates with theater programs at New York University.
Lucille Lortel Theatre
(121 Christopher St.)
Over in the West Village, you can catch high-quality off-Broadway shows from companies like TheaterWorks and MCC (including this year's "The Village Bike," starring Greta Gerwig). The 200- to 300-seat space is also home to readings and benefit performances. Abutting Christopher Street, the Lucille Lortel Theatre offers a unique Playwrights Sidewalk with star plaques honoring esteemed writers whose work has been featured off-Broadway.
La MaMa Experimental Theater Club
(74 E. Fourth St.)
Known not only as an art space but also as a cultural institution, La MaMa is a safe space to explore experimental theater from around the world. That might include absurdist, political and expressionist pieces, as well as puppetry, movement and interpretive design. It’s a regular home to selections from the internationally acclaimed Under the Radar Festival.
UNDER St. Mark’s
(94 St. Mark’s Pl.)
You’ve passed this dozens of times while scouting the Lower East Side for your next cheap pitcher of PBR. As you might guess, it’s located in a basement. But it doesn’t need a blinding marquee to attract an audience; with exciting cabaret revues, burlesque shows and comedy acts, the variety of acts at this black box theater draws in arts-seekers. The venue also sells beer and wine.
The Public Theater
(425 Lafayette St.)
Probably the most recognized on this list, The Public Theater is dedicated to supporting new works and emerging artists, while keeping ticket costs low enough not to exclude any New Yorkers. In fact, they’re responsible for keeping the beloved Shakespeare in the Park program alive and free for all. This locale recently underwent a massive renovation and now offers drinks and shows at Joe’s Pub and dining at The Library, in addition to its two main stages and three black boxes.
(80 Greenwich St.)
Did you know that the Financial District —typically associated with suits and numbers — is home to an established theater? But it’s not just a theater: 3LD Art & Technology Center is best known for exploring the ways that media and technology can contribute to the way we display and consume the theatrical arts.
For more theater news and reviews, follow T. Michelle Murphy on Twitter: @TMichelleMurphy.