Step right up, folks!
The new Broadway season is here, and there’s something for everyone! We’ve got golden oldies, some new plays, two new musicals (well, it’s still the fall), and high-toned literary fare. We’ve got Broadway stars and movie stars! We’ve got theater monsters (fictional only, we think). We’ve even got conjoined twins and a one singular human curiosity. And — abracadabra! — seven magicians to dazzle you. Oh, what a circus; oh, what a show! Let the season begin . . .
We’ll start with the revivals since two are already in previews, and this fall, productions bring a bright constellation of stars to the Great White Way.
This Is Our Youth (at the Cort). Directed by Tony-winner Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County, Of Mice and Men) this production, which comes via Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, marks playwright Kenneth Lonnergan’s Broadway debut. First produced Off-Broadway in the mid-1990s, Lonnergan’s coming of age drama offers a snapshot of Manhattan in the Reagan 1980s, focusing on three disaffected Generation X’ers in a pre-internet era. Canadian actor/musician Michael Cera makes his stage debut as Warren, a 19 year-old who is hanging out with his drug-dealer friend Dennis (Kieran Culkin) and their fashion student friend Jessica (Tavi Gevinson); Warren is hoping find a way to spend the money he has just stolen from his dad, and to hook up with Jessica.
You Can’t Take It With You (at the Longacre). Last season’s Act One depicted the fateful meeting between the budding playwright Moss Hart and the suave and more experienced writer-director George S. Kauffman. This warmhearted comedy was Kauffman and Hart’s third collaboration together; it won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was made into a movie by Frank Capra. In the current revival, directed by Scott Ellis, Tony Award–winning octogenarian star James Earl Jones plays the patriarch of the wacky and unconventional Sycamore family; their lifestyle is a stark contrast to that of the young man his granddaughter hopes to marry. The cast features a slew of well-known New York theater names, including Byron Jennings, Kristine Nielsen, Johanna Day, Reg Rogers, Annaleigh Ashford, Mark Linn-Baker, and Julie Halston. Veteran Tony Award winner Elizabeth Ashley gives a star turn as a former Russian countess who has seen better days.
It’s Only a Play (starts September 4, Schoenfeld) The combination of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick is proven box-office gold — The Producers, The Odd Couple. Lightning is expected to strike once more when the duo get together again, in four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally’s insider comedy about group of theater folk awaiting the fate of a new Broadway play on its opening night. McNally’s play itself has had a long history — an out-of-town tryout that failed to make it to Broadway in 1978 and then a short Off-Broadway run in 1986. The stars are certainly in alignment for this revised Broadway version: The production, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, also features Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, F. Murray Abraham, and, in his Broadway debut, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame).
Love Letters (starts September 14, Brooks Atkinson) Playwright A.R. Gurney, best known for his chronicles of WASPs in the American Northeast (The Cocktail Hour, The Dining Room), focuses on a half- century of correspondence between a man and woman — childhood friends and sweethearts who go their separate ways, but always stay connected. Since its 1989 Off-Broadway debut (and subsequent Broadway transfer), the epistolary play, also a finalist that year for a Pulitzer, has been a vehicle for big marquee names. Expect no less with this revival, directed by Gregory Mosher: From now through the end of the year, the stellar combinations on board include Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow; Carol Burnett and Dennehy; Alan Alda and Candice Bergen; and Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg. Next year will bring us Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen, with other equally high-wattage pairings promised for beyond.
On the Town (starts September 20, Lyric). The quintessential New York musical: Three sailors starved of female company (played by Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and Tony Yazbeck) on 24-hour shore leave from service in World War II find themselves footloose and fancy-free in the Big Apple. Leonard Bernstein’s joyous 1944 musical, with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, gets a fresh look in this revival directed by John Rando (Tony winner for Urinetown), which originated at the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires. The exuberant dances are choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, best known for his work on the TV shows Smash and So You Think You Can Dance.
The Real Thing (starts October 2, American Airlines) Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play about love, marriage, infidelity — and the art of playwriting — bears the hallmarks of the brilliant British dramatist: dazzling wordplay, scintillating wit, and precise craftsmanship. The Real Thing even incorporates a play within a play for extra intellectual fun and games, but this time, in exploring the nature of “the real thing,” Stoppard also reveals a deep emotional core. Tony voters loved both the original 1984 Broadway production as well as the last revival in 2000: The first production received five Tony Awards, including Best Play, along with honors for its lead actors, and the revival took home prizes for Best Revival as well as for the top acting categories. The current revival, directed by Sam Gold, stars Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal (both making their Broadway debuts), Josh Hamilton, and Cynthia Nixon, who played a supporting role in the original production when she was a teenager.
A Delicate Balance (starts October 20, John Golden). Glenn Close (a Tony winner for the original production of The Real Thing) and John Lithgow headline a starry revival of Edward Albee’s devastating comedy of manners, which also features Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Claire Higgins, and Martha Plimpton. The production, last revived on Broadway in 1996, is directed by Pam Mackinnon, who won a 2013 Tony for her revival of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Possibly Albee’s greatest work, A Delicate Balance, which received the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is written in the guise of a witty drawing-room comedy that only barely masks the unseen terrors that threaten the precarious equilibrium of our everyday lives.
Side Show (starts October 28, St. James) The 1997 musical cult favorite by Bill Russell and Henry Kreiger (Dreamgirls) about the sisters Daisy and Violet Hilton gets a second lease of life on Broadway. The historical conjoined twins, who were first exhibited as carnival sideshow “Siamese Twins,” later found fame in the 1930s as a pair of touring vaudeville stars. Directed by Bill Condon (director of the movie version of Dreamgirls and screenwriter of the movie version of Chicago), the new revival, now with a revised book and additional songs, features Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, who first gave their bravura star turn as the Hilton twins in previous incarnations of this production at the Kennedy Center and La Jolla Playhouse.
The Elephant Man (starts November 7, Booth) Like Side Show, Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 Tony- and Drama Desk award–winning drama offers a humane take on another so-called “freak” from the carnival world: Joseph Merrick, a real-life 19th century Englishman whose ailments disturbingly twisted and disfigured his face and torso. The otherwise intelligent and sensitive Merrick — portrayed in this revival by two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) — transcended his disorders to become, briefly, the toast of Victorian society, with the guidance and support of a prominent London surgeon (played by Alessandro Nivola) and a sympathetic actress (Patricia Clarkson). The revival is directed by Scott Ellis, who is also responsible for this season’s revival of You Can’t Take It With You.
THE NEW PLAYS & MUSICALS
Star-driven revivals may seem to dominate the first half of this season, but the new work on offer can certainly hold its own. There are plays from two Pulitzer Prize winners, the first musical by a 16-time Grammy Award–winning composer, a bona fide London hit, a new musical comedy composed by the winner of the recent 2014 Tony for Best Original Score, and the return of box-office magnet Hugh Jackman to the Broadway stage.
The Country House (starts September 9, Samuel J. Friedman): Tony- and Emmy-winning actress Blythe Danner (Will and Grace, Meet the Parents) — a real life leading lady of many seasons at the Williamstown Theatre Festival — plays the matriarch of an ambitious theater family who is returning to the Massachusetts summer fest to take on a leading role. Echoes of Chekhov (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya) reverberate through this comedy-drama from playwright Donald Margulies, who received a Pulitzer in 2000 for his Off-Broadway hit Dinner With Friends and a 2010 Tony Award nomination for Time Stands Still. The Manhattan Theatre Club and Geffen Playhouse coproduction is directed by Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (starts September 10, Barrymore). A compelling tale about a 15-year-old boy with behavioral disorder, who takes a bold leap outside his comfort zone to solve a mystery of a dead dog and discovers some startling truths about his own family. The imaginative theatrical production from the National Theatre of Great Britain, directed by Marianne Elliott (Tony Award winner for War Horse), was adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens from the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon. A major critical and commercial hit in London, Curious Incident swooped a record seven British Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, in 2013.
Disgraced (starts September 27, Lyceum). An urbane dinner party thrown by a successful Pakistani-American lawyer and his white American artist wife at their well-appointed apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side turns ugly, breaking down into an unexpectedly brutal examination of the faith and politics of the hosts and their guests when the hot-button subject of Muslim identity and Islamic belief comes up in conversation. Playwright Ayad Akhtar, who is making his Broadway debut, received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for his witty and hard-hitting social comedy (previously produced at Lincoln Center in 2012). The production, directed by Kimberly Senior, features Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman, and Josh Radnor.
The Last Ship (starts September 30, Neil Simon) Singer-songwriter Sting has said that his first foray into writing for musical theater was inspired by going back to his roots — to the town of Wallsend in northeast England, once home to a thriving shipbuilding industry. In his semiautobiographical musical, with a book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, a man returns home after a 15-year sojourn overseas to find his local shipyard about to close down forever and his childhood sweetheart engaged to someone else. The Last Ship is directed by Joe Mantello (Tony winner for Wicked and Assassins), choreographed by Steven Hoggett (Once), and stars Micahel Esper, Rachel Tucker, and Jimmy Nail.
The River (starts October 31, Circle in the Square) You only need to say “Hugh Jackman” to start a stampede at the box office. The Australian heartthrob (and screen Wolverine), who famously bounced through city streets on his way to hosting this year’s Tony Awards, plays a man with a passion for fishing in the new play by Jez Butterworth. You are not likely to read much more about the mysterious work by the British playwright who received a Tony nomination for Jerusalem, except that there are two female characters involved and that there are spellbinding revelations in store for audiences.
Honeymoon in Vegas (starts November 18, Nederlander) Rob McClure (Tony nominee for Chaplin: The Musical) plays a man who must pit his wits against a slick gambler (Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Tony Danza) in order to win his bride (played by Brynn O’Malley). The musical-comedy caper, directed by Gary Griffin, has a book by Andrew Bergman, who wrote and directed the original 1992 source movie, and a score by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County). Channeling the spirit of the Rat Pack and incorporating the movie’s over-the top bevy of Elvis impersonators, Honeymoon in Vegas has been generating buzz since its debut at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse last fall.
And where are the magicians? Don’t worry, they’re here:
The Illusionists (starts November 26, Marriot Marquis). The seven entertainers who go by the names of The Gentleman, The Enchantress, The Anti-Conjuror, The Escapologist, The Warrior, The Trickster, and The Manipulator promise a skillful display of high-tech astonishments for your holiday entertainment in a spectacular conceived by Simon Painter.