The long overdue 2020 Tony Awards are behind us, and we're marching ahead into a new theater season with a clean slate. As you scan the roster of upcoming Broadway shows, searching for the perfect option, you may notice that a number of them are rooted in history. Some recount or reimagine historical events. Others are simply embedded in a moment in time, with the context of the era informing the story that will unfold onstage.
Perhaps this plethora of history-heavy offerings reflects our generation of layman historians, brought on by the never-ending flow of podcasts available to us at the click of a button. And who didn't use podcasts to fill the theater-shaped hole in their heart during the dark times of the Broadway shutdown?
If you're a member of the podcast literati—either veteran or pandemic-inducted—there are a few stage offerings that you may be particularly primed for this season. Of course, there is nothing wrong with jumping into your Broadway experiences blind and letting the world of the play wash over you with no preconceptions. After all, the theater is a no-homework-required space. But if you're someone whose podcast library resembles the list below, there are a few places we think you might enjoy using some of that knowledge.
If you like…Why Is This Happening? With Chris Hayes
You should see…Is This A Room
MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes supplements his TV gig with a weekly podcast about fraught political developments in America. If you were a listener back in January, 2020, perhaps you remember his deep dive into the story of Reality Winner, the intelligence specialist who was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison for leaking evidence about Russian hacking in American voting systems during the 2016 election (the longest sentence ever handed down for such a crime).
Winner is the subject of the documentary play, Is This A Room, which theatricalizes, verbatim, the recording of her June, 2017 FBI interrogation. The play ran off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 2019 and is now at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, running in repertory with Lucas Hnath's Dana H. (another documentary-style work). It's a powerful snapshot in time—conceived and directed abstractly by Tina Satter—and Hayes's analysis of the matter pulls back to a wide shot of the surrounding circumstances that contributed to the injustices in Winner's larger story. With these details in hand, you'll be asking yourself the question, "why did she do it?" before the lights even go down.
Why Is This Happening?: "Who Is Reality Winner? With Kerry Howley"
If you like…Business Movers
You should see…The Lehman Trilogy
From Wondery, podcast host Lindsay Graham (not to be confused with politician Lindsey Graham) digs into the human stories behind the biggest business successes and failures in American history. And when you think "American business failure," it's not long before your mind aptly jumps to the story of Lehman Brothers—the investment bank whose catastrophic collapse took out the entire American economy in 2008. As those who enjoyed Graham's prior breakdowns of business titans like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs likely know, the prolific podcaster just completed a four-part series on Lehman's demise, right on time to see The Lehman Trilogy at the Nederlander Theatre.
Stefano Massini's epic play (translated to its English version by Ben Power), largely lives in the shadow of this 21st-century event, instead focusing on the three immigrant brothers who started it all in 1847: Henry, Emanuel, and Mayer Lehman. Your understanding of mortgage-backed securities and the subprime market need only be cursory at best, but comprehending just how large the shadow of 2008 looms over these godfathers of finance will surely bolster the dramatic experience.
Business Movers—The Collapse of Lehman Brothers
If you like…Ten Percent Happier
You should see…Flying Over Sunset
An offshoot of Dan Harris's best-selling book and meditation app, Ten Percent Happier is not a history podcast, but rather, focuses on mindfulness practices and highlights different experts' recommended roads to peace and enlightenment (Broadway's own Sara Bareilles has stated her fandom for the podcast and has herself been a guest). Among the meditative practices Harris has explored on the show, however, is the historically charged system of psychedelic therapy—which is of particular relevance this season as Flying Over Sunset becomes the trippiest musical Broadway has seen since Hair.
Written by James Lapine (book), Tom Kitt (music), and Michael Korie (lyrics), Flying Over Sunset (beginning performances in November at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater) imagines a communal acid trip among 1950s icons Cary Grant (Tony Yazbeck), Clare Booth Luce (Carmen Cusack), and Aldous Huxley (Harry Hadden-Paton). During this Hollywood Golden Age, LSD's therapeutic uses were just starting to be explored—and then were promptly shuttered when the drug became associated with hippie counterculture.
Popular opinion is finally circling back to a more measured view of psychedelics and their medicinal uses, and in a recent episode of Ten Percent Happier, Harris interviewed Michael Pollan, a major voice in the growing conversation about the relationship between psychedelics and mental health. Listeners will certainly enter Lincoln Center with a stigma-free attitude toward this musical's unorthodox premise and may even leave ten-percent happier with the finished product.
Ten Percent Happier: "Psychedelics and Meditation—Michael Pollan"
If you like…You're Wrong About
You should see…Diana The Musical
There is so much content swirling around about the royals that it's hard to tell fact from fiction. But listeners to You're Wrong About's five-part series about Princess Diana will have the closest thing to a definitive version of history before taking in the musical version of her life at Broadway's Longacre Theatre.
Beginning performances November 2 (and hitting Netflix prior to that in October), Diana The Musical follows Diana's story, from her engagement at 19 through the end of her loveless marriage and clashes with the media, as she builds a legacy as the caring and compassionate princess we remember her as today.
You're Wrong About hosts Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall blend their pithy commentary with thorough research about every corner of the story the Diana musical will touch upon. Second to Hobbes and Marshall themselves, fans of their show (at least the Diana episodes) may be most qualified to critique Joe DiPietro and David Bryan's latest collaboration and check it for any unwarranted artistic liberties that tend to sneak into tear-jerking biomusicals.
You're Wrong About—Princess Diana
If you like…The Bowery Boys
You should see…Paradise Square
If you're a New York City history buff who relishes every new episode of Tom Meyers and Greg Young's "romp down the back alleys of New York City," you are uniquely prepared to appreciate Paradise Square, a new musical beginning previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on February 22, 2022.
With a combination of original music and reimagined songs by Stephen Foster, Paradise Square is set in Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the Civil War at the outbreak of the 1863 New York City Draft Riots. For those who don't know this piece of history, the Draft Riots spanned five days and were the deadly and destructive response to a new federal draft law, which allowed wealthy men to buy their way out of conscription.
The story is a tangled web of class, race, and political clashes, and Meyers and Young unravel all of those twisted threads in an episode from way back in 2011. The musical will surely add layers of personal drama to the mix, but understanding the larger forces at play will make those human tensions even tauter.
The Bowery Boys: "The Civil War Draft Riots"