Theatrely31: The Inaugural Class


Theatrely31, the 2024 Class

Theatrely Editorial Board
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July 1, 2024 11:15 AM

What does the theatrical landscape of tomorrow look like? The Theatrely31 is our newly minted annual compilation of visionary actors, directors, and theatre makers poised for a meteoric rise. These trailblazers and emerging stars are carving unique paths within our industry, and we eagerly anticipate the exciting destinations they will take us to next.

Shannon Tyo

Shannon Tyo is the rare actor whose name you see in a program and immediately relax. She not only possesses an incredible warmth and knowingness which informs her every role, no matter how dissimilar, but she has an astonishing sense of which projects to select. I first saw her in the titular role of Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady in 2022, where she was tasked with filling out a real-life woman who grew up within the confines of a guarded box made for public consumption. I’ve not been able to shake her performance (or that of scene partner Daniel K. Isaac, for that matter) since, and her star has only been on the rise, recently shining in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ The Comeuppance. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Nina White

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2020, Nina White came to New York and booked a small unknown musical down at The Atlantic called Kimberly Akimbo. Following stellar reviews, White and her entire company transferred to Broadway where they recently just concluded a nearly 19 month run. As bubbly high schooler Teresa Benton, White brought a heartfelt humor to the piece as part of the teenage glee club ensemble. Next up, White will be seen as Kristen Chenowith’s daughter in The Queen of Versailles in Boston prior to its Broadway run. White is a star and her career is just beginning. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Taylor Reynolds

Taylor Reynolds is staying busy. Last year she directed Tori Sampson’s This Land Was Made at Vineyard Theatre, a drama exploring the Black Panther Party in 1960s California; the year before that, the haunting ghost tale Man Cave and political drama La Race, both for Page 73, and Dave Harris’ meta-theatrical minstrel show Tambo & Bones for Playwrights Horizons. Reynolds is a former Producing Artistic Leader at The Movement Theatre Company, and continues to direct across the country, leading The Sensational Sea Mink-Ettes at Woolly Mammoth this year. That one had ghosts, which seems to be a throughline in Reynolds’ atmospheric, often unsettling work. Perhaps my favorite staging of Reynolds’ remains Will Arbery’s bizarro comedy Plano, a hilarious yet truly terror-inducing ghost tale – in Reynolds’ hands, it felt like a 90-minute panic attack. — Critic Joey Sims

Joy Woods

Simply put, no one is doing it like Joy Woods. The career she has had in simply the last few years is more impressive than what many can hope to achieve in their entire life. From slaying in Little Shop Off-Broadway as the original Chiffon, to Six, to an incredible turn in Martha Mills in CSC’s I Can Get It For You Wholesale, to creating the most talked about song of the season with My Days as Middle Allie in The Notebook, Woods is perhaps one of the greatest new talents of her generation and you would be a fool to miss any performance of hers, I know I won’t. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Wren Rivera

When you see Wren Rivera’s name in a program, you know you are in good hands. They command the stage. I first encountered Rivera’s performance in the ensemble of Jagged Little Pill once the production reopened post pandemic and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Since then, we have enjoyed Rivera in Between the Lines Off-Broadway plus the cult hit Teeth at Playwright’s Horizons a few months back. They are certainly one to watch and it’s only a matter of time before they hit the NYC stage again soon. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal


Aside from a terrific showing in american (tele)visions, b mastered the nigh-impossible task of playing a disaffected stoner without coming off insufferable in Danny Tejera’s Toros. Playing a third-culture Mexican teacher in posh Madrid, they portrayed over-traveled, under-cultured ennui with a cool, calm, collected presence that nevertheless hinted at profound wells beneath. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Skylar Fox 

Now if there is absolutely one person you should know about, it’s Skylar Fox. An incredible director and playwright in his own right, Fox is the co-artistic director of Nightdrive, alongside Simon Henriques. From the much buzzed about The Grown-Ups, to the currently in development Society (I caught a workshop and it’s incredible!), the real reason Fox is on this list is for his work as a magic and illusions designer. A rarely spoken about position, Fox is doing by the far the most exciting and interesting work on a stage. From his work as the Illusions & Magic Associate on Harry Potter and The Cursed Child here on Broadway and around the world, to him being involved in just so many exciting shows from Boop! to Fat Ham to A Beautiful Noise to Back To The Future to truly so many more in development, Fox is one to watch out for as his meteoric rise in this space is just beginning and I will be first in line to truly any project he is attached to. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Katie Spelman

Katie Spelman has been on the scene as a choreographer for years now, putting in her time as an associate choreographer on numerous Broadway productions from Amélie to American Psycho to Moulin Rouge (I mean, their Act II opener is still the best number on Broadway all these years later). As choreographer of The Notebook, her lyrical movement elevates the entire production, especially when paired with Ingrid Michaelson’s lush score in the incredible mid-Act I song "I Wanna Go Back," a number I still think about nearly daily. I am ready for what she dreams up next. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Jade Jones

I first witnessed Jade onstage when I caught them in Beauty and the Beast at the Olney Theatre Center and was astonished by their grace and, well, beauty. A true stalwart of the DC theatre community, with multiple Helen Hays nominations under their belt, Jade was wonderful in the world premiere of A.D. 16 back in 2022 and in the York Theatre’s production of Vanities The Musical, a rarely produced theatrical gem. Jade is also a prolific rapper under the pseudonym “Litty Official,” where you can listen to their music on Spotify, Soundcloud, and iTunes. After just wrapping up Les Miserables as Madame Thenardier at the Muny last week, Jones is unstoppable and only just beginning. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Anna Zavelson

Not many performers can co-headline a piece as celestial as The Light in the Piazza with Ruthie Ann Miles and match her talent and grace, yet that’s what then-19-year-old Anna Zavelson achieved in City Center’s once-in-a-lifetime concert staging last year. With an angelic voice and cheery disposition betrayed by an inchoate motherly resentment – not to mention the fact that her youth allows her to evade some of the ickiness created by performers who have previously stepped into the differently-abled part – Zavelson generated enough goodwill to have us longing for the day she emerges from her collegiate career and blossoms into a full-blown star. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

George Strus

Creating a boundary-pushing theatrical festival out of nothing is a herculean feat. But George Strus saw a stark absence, and knew it needed to be fulfilled. In 2022, they created Breaking the Binary Theatre, a new-work development hub which offers a home to transgender, non-binary and Two-Spirit+ (TNB2S+*) artists. In just two years, Strus has led BTBT through a period of remarkable growth – the company has commissioned over 50 artists, produced thirty workshops and readings, and hosted two new work festivals. A third festival will follow this fall, along with Playwrights Horizons’ mainstage production of non-binary playwright Sarah Mantell’s In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot, which will be produced in association with BTBT. Strus works fast, but they are not done changing the face of American theater. — Critic Joey Sims

Shayok Misha Chowdhury

I was worried, returning to Shayok Misha Chowdhury’s three-plus hour Public Obscenities at TFANA a year after I’d so loved its Soho Rep debut, that the mythical hype I’d built up for it would not sustain. It didn’t – and that’s good. My second visit to the world of travelogs, internal and interpersonal, that Chowdhury creates was not one spent thinking about media theory and the loneliness of cyberspace, but a family dramedy, rich with emotion and care. It seemed to regenerate itself for me, at that time. Like all the best dramas, Chowdhury’s masterful work seems to meet you where you are, while still showing you what you didn’t know you needed to see. I can’t wait to see what the third visit will bring – what myths it might inspire next. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Jack Serio  

Jack Serio is growing into the rarest of breeds: a director who is a brand unto himself. It began with This Beautiful Future, the unlikely Omicron-era hit born off-off-Broadway at Theaterlab which traveled to a commercial off-Broadway run at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Then came loft-Uncle Vanya, a startling intimate revival which became the hottest ticket of last summer. When Serio announced a short run of new play The Animal Kingdom last winter, the production sold out within a day. Serio isn’t waiting on the city’s companies or institutions to hand him an opportunity – if the play feels right, and the space is there, he just makes it happen. Theater could use a little more of that. — Critic Joey Sims

Zach Zucker, Actor/Comedian 

The NYC comedy scene is on fire right now, and that is thanks in part to Zack Zucker. His eclectic brand of comedy blends absurdist humor and physical comedy paired with energetic improvisation and audience work delivers one of the most unpredictable and entertaining nights I have had in the theater in the past year. Often performing as his alter ego Jack Tucker, Zucker has sold out his run in NYC and venues across the globe. Not only is it imperative for him to return to the New York stage as soon as possible, I foresee an exciting rise to fame for him and I certainly will be right there to cheer him on. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Gaye Taylor Upchurch

A versatile director who specializes in new work, Gaye Taylor Upchurch has shown a consistently deft hand with actors over years of varied projects. Whether guiding Francesca Faridany to inhabit the pioneering physicist Marie Curie (The Half-Life of Marie Curie), or film star Rebecca Hall to embody a depressed woman succumbing to madness (Animal), or most recently, stage legend Frank Wood to roll around on the floor like a dying dog (Toros), Upchurch brings precision and empathy to every assignment. And let’s not forget her work on Anna Ziegler’s The Last Match, about rival tennis players facing off in a decisive semi-final – Upchurch gave us Challengers years before we had Challengers! — Critic Joey Sims

Hannah Cruz

The first time I heard Hannah Cruz sing, I knew she was going to become part of the Broadway lexicon quite quickly. Cruz has made a name for herself over the past year or so with an incredibly diverse array of characters, all of which makes for a thrill to watch on stage. From Hamilton, to a sensational turn in The Connector, to now shining in Suffs eight nights a week at the Music Box Theatre, Cruz is here to stay, and for that we should all be grateful. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Marina Kondo

From national tours of The King and I to Frozen, Marina Kondo is just getting started. I first saw Kondo on stage during the run of KPOP here on Broadway. Her energy is infectious and her charm is delightful. She can currently be seen on the national tour of Company as Susan, where she understudies Bobbi and whatever she does next will be a thrill for us in the audience. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Candrice Jones

A deep-summer offering from Lincoln Center Theatre last year, Candrice Jones’ Flex, while receiving positive notices, deserves wider recognition. The play, about a girl's high school basketball team in the ‘90s, feels both eminently unique and doable – sturdily built to be produced anywhere, and informed by the experiences of hundreds of actors. Alternating comedy and deep intuition like the best sitcoms of the era, it understands its characters’ relationships and dilemmas with refreshing clarity and wit, finding equal room for rivalry, love, secrets, family and, above all, plot. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez


Has anyone had as meteoric a rise in New York theatre as ‘dots’ the last two seasons? What was once a raised eyebrow prompted by a single lowercase word in the Kate program has become a veritable three-person industry responsible for your favorite sets across all your favorite shows. To list them is to blush: You Will Get Sick, Public Obscenities, (pray), The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (which became their Broadway debut), Infinite Life, the Tony-nominated double-whammy of Appropriate and An Enemy of the People, and the soon-to-transfer Oh, Mary!. Their range and room-where-it-happens acuity is as impressive as their skill at creating atmospheres that transcend their “sets”; whole worlds inspired by utopian ideals of eternity and specificity. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Aaron James McKenzie, Actor

Aaron James McKenzie stood out as part of the Noise (ensemble) in Neil Diamond’s A Beautiful Noise in both its Boston run as well as its turn on the Main Stem but it was his memorable performance as Elijah in Gun & Powder at Paper Mill Playhouse that turned heads. McKenzie is off to Japan as Benny in Rent and once he is back stateside, I look forward to seeing what he cooks up next. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Maia Novi

Since my first making of a mental best-of note to the writing of this entry, writer-performer Maia Novi has parlayed her memorable debut at the miniscule Tank, Invasive Species, into one of the buzziest plays of the season at the Vineyard. It’s thanks in part to its massive media push, but Species is also the kind of work you remember as a one-woman show despite its fantastic four-person ensemble. And that’s all Novi – a creature of fierce intelligence and presence whose eyes seem to shoot past you into her dazzling future. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Kimberly Belflower

If you are at all attuned to the goings on of regional theatre programming, you have heard of Kimberly Belflower’s John Proctor Is The Villain. After a much talked about debut at DC’s Studio Theatre and an extended run at Boston’s Huntington Theatre, Belflower and this play are just getting started. As an assistant professor of dramatic writing at Emory University, Belflower continues her writing while educating and creating the next generation of great playwrights. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Jason Schmidt

As I wrote in my review for The Outsiders on Broadway, I have not seen a fanbase so fervently dedicated to a show on social media in a very long time. Jason Schmidt, currently starring as Sodapop at the Jacobs Theatre, wins over the hearts of the audience every night on that stage. I thought Schmidt was just superb in the ill fated Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies canceled Paramount musical series, but between The Outsiders and his new music, Schmidt is certainly one to watch and just warming up. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Michael Herwitz

If the meteoric success of Job – from one sold out off-Broadway run to another, and soon to the Main Stem – can be attributed to any one thing, it is the inextricable collaboration of playwright Max Wolf Friedlich, actors Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman, and director Michael Herwitz, who ties up an intellectually sprawling play into a cohesive knot of tension with preternatural skill. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Salome Smith

I first witnessed the incredible voice of Salome Smith during the 1776 revival at the ART in Cambridge, MA, and then Broadway got to witness it when it transferred to the now Todd Haimes Theatre in 2022. The powerhouse vocals during her Act II ballad Mama Look Sharp was simply astounding. As Lisa, the homeless lady from A New Brain up at Barrington last summer, she stole the show with her voice alone. I look forward to many more roles and from what I hear, we are in for a treat. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Dustin Wills

My first discovery of Dustin Wills’ bold, delightfully off-kilter directorial vision came in 2016, with The Foundry’s Theatre’s production of Casey Llewellyn’s O, Earth. Llewellyn’s epic play deconstructed Thornton Wilder's Our Town through a contemporary queer lens, an assignment Wills took up with typically wild abandon – his vibrant staging conjured a world out of time, colliding Marsha P. Johnson, Portia de Rossi and even Wilder himself within a shared fantastical space. The same spirit has energized Wills’ many recent hits, Wolf Play, Wet Brain and Heartbeat Opera’s Eugene Onegin among them — he crafts ambitious, fully-formed alternate worlds, unlike anything you’ve witnessed on stage before. — Critic Joey Sims

Julia May Jonas

Julia May Jonas made waves with her debut novel Vladimir a few years back, going as far as garnering the title of “Best Book of 2022” by Time Magazine and many other publications. But her work in theatre is what keeps our team’s eyes peeled. After presenting and developing work at some of our nation’s best theatres, her latest play, Problems Between Sisters, just had a stunning debut at DC’s Studio Theatre as part of her ALTAS cycle (“All Long True American Stories”) where she reinterprets classic 20th-century American plays about male experiences by exploring how they would unfold from the viewpoints of others, particularly women. I look forward to more works produced by her across the country, and what she does next. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Aneesa Folds, Actor 

Everytime I would walk into Freestyle Love Supreme, the improv hip hop comedy show that featured the likes of Lin Manuel Miranda, Wayne Brady, James Monroe Iglehart, etc., there was always one name that I prayed would be on the list. Aneesa Folds not only has one of the most impressive voices out there, but her comedic chops shoot her talent into the stratosphere. Would you believe I first caught Folds in Freaky Friday The Musical at North Shore Music Theatre in the suburbs of Boston?! Since then, there has not been a singular performance of hers that I have not been enthralled at watching her shine. Her star turn came in the new Kenny Leon directed musical Trading Places which had a run at the Alliance in summer of 2022 and I hope makes its way here to New York soon. If Aneesa Folds is on the bill, you know I will be sat. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Steph Paul

Steph Paul (director and choreographer), as I wrote in my review of New York Theatre Workshop’s staggering How to Defend Yourself in 2023, assisted in creating “One of the most vivid, striking coups de théâtre in recent memory: a dream ballet of sorts that tracks the latent history of our bodies, from college keggers to tween pool parties to playground birthdays, magnificently underscoring the terrifying, exciting possibilities of tenderness, sex, danger, and passion.” It’s what I most often think of when remembering the production: how it made everything feel so earned yet surprising, inevitable and ferocious. — Chief Critic Juan A. Ramírez

Russell Daniels 

When you have as many comedic geniuses on stage at one time as they do in Titaníque, it’s hard to stand out. But when you are Russell Daniels, you simply steal the show. Daniels made audiences kneel over in laughter down at the Daryl Roth Theater for months as Ruth in the hilarious and outrageous parody musical about the infamous sinking ship. After a short break when he stood by for Josh Gad during Gutenberg on Broadway, Daniels returned right away back to his home at Titanique where eight times a week he would stop the show cold with the most incredible three minute absurdly comical panic attack. Besides for his work as a stage actor, Daniels is an accomplished comedian who is currently touring with his podcast, The Downside. If there is one thing we need as a society, it's Russell Daniels always on stage. — Editor-in-Chief Kobi Kassal

Marsha Ginsberg

Marsha Ginsberg’s scenic design is often deceptively simple. Take, for instance, her elegant rotating classroom set for Sanaz Toossi’s Pulitzer Prize-winner English, staged at Atlantic’s Linda Gross Theater in 2022. At first, the space seemed functional, naturalistic. But as it moved to reveal new corners, light either overwhelming the room or invading its crevices, the set’s versatility grew more evident. Ginsberg’s model-city town for Eboni Booth’s Primary Trust pulled off a similar trick, feeling variously cozy or suffocating, depending on the protagonist’s state of mind. Ginsberg’s soft touch combined with a boundless imagination has produced scenic marvels, and she’s just getting started. — Critic Joey Sims

The Theatrely31 was chosen by a committee composed of the Theatrely Editorial Board as well as a small group of industry professionals.

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