Spin-Off-Broadway: Critic's Picks for December 2023

Before the holidays hit mega momentum, I’ve been traveling the Off-Broadway circuit, checking out several shows that differ in content and audience appeal. Here are my picks from the current lineup. And if one or more should catch your eye, don’t delay reserving tickets, as all of them are slated to end their runs in the not-too-distant future. With this in mind, I’ve listed them in Final Performance order. Enjoy!

An affordable, fun, wildly entertaining show for kids as young as four and as old as “timeless”, Seven in One Blow, or The Brave Little Kid is strutting its magical holiday stuff for the 16th time at the Axis Theatre. Kids are instantly caught up in this tale of a city youngster who wears a belt announcing “Seven in One Blow” after flattening a bunch of flies and proceeds to hit the road, journeying into a world of surprising characters and challenges. I’ve been a fan of this charming production for several years now – as much for the expressions on the faces of young theatregoers as the story itself. Plus, there are bursts if interaction—sing-alongs and shout-outs—that radiate seasonal energy in the best of all holiday ways! Thru 12/19. (

From L to R, Andréa Burns, Mary Testa, Priscilla Lopez, and Eden Espinosa. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

For the last few years, The Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center has presented some truly remarkable shows, and their latest, The Gardens of Anuncia by Michael John LaChiusa, is no exception. Within the current miscellany of musical genres—ranging from big budget originals, jukebox spin-offs, film & TV adaptations, and concert-centric productions—this intimate show with its cast of seven, would be classified as a boutique musical. And yet it soars. Under director/co-choreographer Graciela Daniele, time and place blur as the piece flows in an out of present-day U.S. into Argentina circa the 1940s and ‘50s when Juan Perón was in power.

The 21st-century is a party of one: Older Anuncia, a role infused with the joy and ache of memory by Tony-winner Priscilla Lopez. It’s she who takes us back in time to her younger self (Kalyn West), growing up in a female household comprised of her mother, Mami (Eden Espinosa), aunt, Tia (Andrea Burns), and outspoken Granmama (Mary Testa). Together they form an irreverent and unconventional family unit; individually, they embody a different aspect of womanhood as they confront the reality of life in Buenos Aires, and the men who have become optional to their existence (played by Enrique Acevedo and Tally Sessions).

Lopez helms this exquisite musical with physical and vocal conviction, enhanced by stunning poetic movement. In addition, there are no shortage of female power ballads—most with tango undertones—making this a show to savor. Thru 12/31. (

Translationsthe first entry of The Friel Project, Irish Repertory Theatre’s celebration of both the playwright Brian Friel and the theatre company’s 35th season—is a masterful tale of longing and language that draws audiences into the fictional Irish village of Baile Beag as cultural lines are drawn in shifting sands after a detachment of Royal Engineers arrives, tasked with mapping the area and translating the Gaelic place names into “standardized” English.

Set in and around a makeshift rural schoolhouse where the classics are taught with lusty detours into Greek and Latin, the play shines a flickering light on both these “dead” languages and the town’s lingua franca suddenly teetering on extinction. The year is 1833, and Friel’s verbal playground is an exquisite one, even as he sets the stage for colonialism conflict – along with a verbally challenged romance between Gaelic-speaking Maire (Mary Wiseman) and the British Lieutenant Yolland (Raffi Barsoumian).

The stunning ensemble cast also includes Owen Campbell, Rufus Collins, Joan Keating, Owen Laheen, Sean McGinley, Seth Numrich, Oona Roche, and Erin Wilhelmi—all of whom masterfully embrace Friel’s imagery and words (the play is performed in English, yet there is never a question about which language is being spoken at any given time). Thru 12/31. (

Photo by Russ Rowland.

Breaking theatrical taboos—real or perceived—EMERGENCE: Things Are Not As They Seem is a New Age show that meshes multi-faceted musings with stylized music. The brainchild of creator Patrick Olson, who kicks off the evening in a three-piece red suit and an existential brainteaser: “Am I alive? Are you? Things are not as they seem…Our minds reinforce simple deceptions. We don’t see things the way we are and the universe doesn’t care…” So goes Olson’s prelude to other reveries and ideas scattered meticulously between musical numbers and mind-blowing projections.

In terms of comparisons, critics tend to automatically stack Olson up against David Byrne —not inaccurate, but failing to acknowledge Olson’s unique vision of rock + reverb + psychedelic trope + scientific introspection. “If we’re being watched from somewhere in the Andromeda Strain,” he notes,” it would be 2 ½ million years out of sync.”

Sharing the stage of the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater with Olson are vocalists Cherry Davis, Samara Brown, Miya Bass, and Bella Kosal, as well as dancers Summer Sheldrick, Dana Liebezeit, and Lavy Cavaleire…and musicians Steven Styles, Nadav Hezi, Jordan Coker, and Thomas Nickell.

If you share my passion for the unconventional, by all means put EMERGENCE on your must-see list. Thru 1/7/24. (

asi wind

Think magicians…think card tricks…think you know what you’re in for? Think again.

Asi Wind’s Inner Circle, currently in its final extension, is a far cry from any card trickery you may have seen…ever. No abra or cadabra here, only 75 minutes of quizzical looks and dropped jaws stemming from a single deck and one helluva cardician.

The deck in question, incidentally, exceeds the standard 52 plus jokers, in that these cards—with identical backs—are filled in pre-show by theatregoers. The info? First and last names and initials. The card-count maxes out at 106—the number of seats at the Judson Theatre. Yet throughout the performance, this pile of names is all Wind needs to pitch one sleight-of-hand curveball after another.

The show’s title is derived from the circular table at the foot of the tiered theatre, around which nine or 10 audience members serve as Wind’s unofficial assistants/cohorts. And because everyone’s name is in the mix, no one is exempt from his machinations—as I discovered toward the end of the show when my name was plucked by a fellow theatregoer.

And while he does employ the occasional up-close projection of the table, it’s not like you’re going to catch a glimmer of “how.” Clearly, magic in Wind’s skilled hands defies probability. Thru 1/14/24. (

About the Author

City Guide Theatre Editor Griffin Miller moved to New York to pursue an acting/writing career in the 1980s after graduating magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, she has written for The New York Times, For the Bride, Hotels, and a number of other publications, mostly in the areas of travel and performance arts. An active member of The New York Travel Writers Association, she is also a playwright and award-winning collage artist. In addition, she sits on the board of The Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Griffin is married to Richard Sandomir, a reporter for The New York Times.

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