Get to Know the Best Off-Broadway Musicals Of the Season

Maria Baranova
Will Roland in "Be More Chill"

With Tony nominations just announced and the Lortel Awards just around the corner, it’s clear theater award season is in full swing.

The annual Lortel Awards -- named after actress and theater producer Lucille Lortel -- have recognized the best of off-Broadway since 1986. Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia is slated to host the ceremony this year, which will be held May 5 at the NYU Skirball Center in New York City.

In preparation for the event, we’ve rounded up some of the best off-Broadway musicals of the season and which awards they’re in the running for.


RAGS PARKLAND SINGS THE SONGS OF THE FUTURE
Nominated for: Outstanding musical, outstanding lead actor in a musical, outstanding lead actress in a musical, outstanding scenic design, outstanding lighting design, outstanding sound design

The self-described “sci-fi folk concert” — set 250 years into the future, where humans are created in black market labs, Mars is home to a forced labor camp and outlaws are plotting a rebellion — has both a creator and star in Andrew R. Butler. Butler plays the titular character, who arrives on Earth for the first time in 100 years to perform a setlist of songs about how the world has changed. The music is soulful and reminiscent of folk and blues, featuring poignant lyrics and raw emotion that carries the show along. 

BE MORE CHILL 
Nominated for: Outstanding musical, outstanding featured actor in a musical, outstanding featured actress in a musical, outstanding projection design 

Be More Chill is the kind of happily-ever-after success story most off-Broadway shows only dream about. Before the production even arrived in New York, the musical blew up on social media in spring of 2017 after fans began sharing its cast album online. The show, which ultimately became the second most talked about show on Tumblr after Hamilton, premiered at the Irene Diamond Stage in July last year and ran for roughly two sold-out months before transferring to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre in February. The premise — high-school student Jeremy, a social outcast, takes a pill known as a “SQUIP” that teaches him what to do and say to become popular — might seem outlandish, but the show's core message isn't. It’s been described as "Dear Evan Hansen meets Little Shop of Horrors" and features standout hits “Michael in the Bathroom” and “More Than Survive” that have captivated a new generation of young theater goers. 

MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET 
Nominated for: Outstanding musical, outstanding lead actor in a musical (2)

Set in New York in the 1960s, Midnight at The Never Get chronicles the romantic relationship between two young men, nightclub singer Trevor Copeland and songwriter/pianist Arthur Brightman. At a time of strict anti-gay laws and police crackdowns on illegal gay bars, the show highlights key events in gay history while following the couple’s budding romance. The show’s book, music and lyrics were written by Mark Sonnenblick, with a score inspired by the Great American Songbook. 

MISS YOU LIKE HELL 
Nominated for: Outstanding musical, outstanding lead actress in a musical
Mother and daughter

Quiara Alegría Hudes — the mastermind behind In the Heights and Water by the Spoonful — wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics for this musical about a troubled teenager and her mother, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico on the verge of deportation. After living apart for years, the two set off on a cross-country road trip, learning more about themselves and each other in the process. Folk-rock singer-songwriter Erin McKeown wrote the folk and pop-tinged music for the production, and Gizel Jiménez is nominated for her powerful breakout performance.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF IN YIDDISH 
Nominated for: Outstanding revival, outstanding director, outstanding lead actor in a musical, outstanding featured actress in a musical 

You may have seen Fiddler on the Roof, but you haven’t seen it like this. The beloved musical was revived entirely in Yiddish, the language Tevye and his family would have spoken in real life, adding a rich layer of depth and authenticity that resonated deeply with audiences: the show's run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage was extended multiple times before it moved uptown to Stage 42 in February. Directed by Oscar and Tony Award-winner Joel Grey, the timeless show captures the strength of Jewish people and their traditions, while espousing universal themes of love, belonging and community. 

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY 
Nominated for: Outstanding musical, outstanding lead actress in a musical, outstanding lead actor in a musical, outstanding featured actress in a musical 

Following a critically acclaimed run in London, Girl from the North Country made its U.S. debut at the Public Theater in October 2018. The show highlights the trials and tribulations of a local community in Duluth, Minnesota during the Great Depression — set entirely to Bob Dylan tracks. The moving story weaves Dylan’s work in masterfully, featuring renditions of “Slow Train Coming,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Make You Feel My Love.”

CARMEN JONES 
Nominated for: Outstanding revival, outstanding director, outstanding lead actor in a musical, outstanding lead actress in a musical, outstanding featured actress in a musical, outstanding sound design 

Tying Rags Parkland Sings the Song of the Future with the most nominations is this revival of a 1943 Broadway musical adapted from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, featuring an all-black cast and set during World War II. While the original 1943 production received rave reviews, Carmen Jones has been largely absent from New York stages until this much-praised revival, which ran last summer at Classic Stage Company. Princess and the Frog and Dreamgirls actress Anika Noni Rose turned in an incendiary performance in the title role, a seductive parachute maker who finds herself in a love triangle that ends in tragedy.