Fall 2015 Broadway Preview

Fall 2015 Broadway Preview

We know there’s no real plan, theme or trend that governs a Broadway season, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to find one.

Productions can come together for any number of reasons: Some happen quickly, others have long gestation periods. Ultimately, it is mostly real estate (which theatres are available) and marquee-name schedules that determine which shows will open at any given time. But it’s the start of the new season, so here we go again.
Did someone look into that crystal ball the Nostradamus character brandishes in Something Rotten! and predict that immigration would be a hot-button topic this year? It just so happens that immigrants feature in four out of the five new musicals scheduled for the first half of the season (two have already opened) and in one of the plays coming up as well. And are you among those who felt that the last season on the Great White Way was, ahem, lacking diversity? Be prepared for a mosaic of multiethnic and multicultural diversity this season.

The two early summer arrivals are historical tales from the 18th century that still resonate today. Amazing Grace (Nederlander Theatre) is about John Newton, the English slave trader turned abolitionist who composed the lyrics of the inspiring hymn that is now an anthem of the civil rights movement. The musical throws a harsh spotlight on forced emigration, giving voice to Africans who were transported from their homeland as slaves. And Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop–inflected musical Hamilton (Richard Rodgers Theatre) celebrates the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies. In this production, an ethnically diverse cast takes on historical figures traditionally played by white actors.

On Your Feet! (Marquis Theatre, starts previews October 5, opens November 5) celebrates the success of two immigrants from Cuba: seven-time Grammy-winning superstar Gloria Estefan and her husband, 19-time Grammy Award–winning producer-musician-entrepreneur Emilio Estefan. The book by Alexander Dinelaris (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Birdman) recontextualizes popular Estefan hits to narrate their life story. The musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots) and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys). Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra star as Gloria and Emilio.

Jay Kuo and Marc Acito’s musical, Allegiance (Longacre Theatre, previews October 6, opens November 6), looks back at a traumatic period in American history when Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II. A single multigenerational family faces tests of loyalty and courage as it confronts the isolationist politics prevalent in the country. The story is based on the personal memories of George Takei (Star Trek television series), who also stars in the show. Lea Salonga (Tony Award winner for Miss Saigon) and Telly Leung (Pacific Overtures and Glee on television) play the leads in the production, directed by Stafford Arima.

For the first time since his revolutionary rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar opened in New York more than four decades ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber will premiere a new musical directly on Broadway. Writing the score for School of Rock: The Musical (Winter Garden, previews November 9, opens December 6), the composer reports, is a return to his rock music roots. The musical comedy is adapted from the 2003 movie about a failed rock musician who passes himself off as a substitute teacher at a prep school and persuades his fifth-grade students to form a rock band. The lyrics are by Glen Slater (Sister Act, The Little Mermaid) and the book is by Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame. Alex Brightman plays the teacher and Sierra Boggess (Tony nominee for The Little Mermaid) the school principal.

Musical Revivals

The Los Angeles–based Deaf West Theatre company presents an innovative new production of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s pop/rock musical Spring Awakening (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, previews September 8, opens September 27). The 2007 Best Musical Tony winner is based on the 1891 Frank Wedekind play about adolescents grappling with sexuality in an ultrarepressive culture. This revival, directed by Michael Arden (last seen on Broadway in Deaf West’s revival of Big River), is performed in American sign language as well as spoken and sung in English. Hearing-impaired actors are paired with counterparts who simultaneously voice the roles as they are performed; Spencer Liff’s choreography blends ASL signing with movement. The production marks the Broadway debut of Marlee Matlin, the first deaf performer to win an Oscar (Children of a Lesser God).

Dames at Sea (Helen Hayes Theatre, previews September 24, opens October 22) is a love letter to the extravagant Warner Bros. musicals of the 1930s. This tuneful gem, a runaway hit when it premiered Off-Broadway in the 1960s, has a classic plot: An aspiring dancer achieves her dream of becoming a Broadway star when she steps in for the leading lady. Director-choreographer Randy Skinner promises loads of tap, and dancing like they used to do in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies.

Director John Doyle, Tony Award winner for the 2006 revival of Sweeney Todd, takes a new look at The Color Purple (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, previews November 10, opens December 10). The musical is by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray, and Marsha Norman, adapted from Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. The production, which originated at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, stars England’s Cynthia Erivo as Celie, Oscar and Grammy Award winner Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery, and Danielle Brooks (Orange Is the New Black) as Sofia.

The beloved Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein musical Fiddler on the Roof (Broadway Theatre, previews November 12, opens December 17) returns in a new production helmed by director Bartlett Sher and the same creative team responsible for last season’s Tony winner The King and I. Danny Burstein stars as the milkman Tevye and Jessica Hecht as his wife, Golde, in the story about a Jewish family in the early 20th century who escape persecution in their Russian homeland and make a new life for themselves in America.

New Plays

Thérèse Raquin (Studio 54, previews October 1, opens October 29) is a new stage adaptation by British playwright Helen Edmundson of Émile Zola’s 1867 novel. The tale of violent crime and passion has had numerous incarnations — on stage, film, television, and also as the Harry Connick Jr. Broadway musical Thou Shalt Not. In the current production, directed by Evan Cabnet, Kiera Knightley (The Imitation Game, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Gabriel Ebert (Tony Award winner for Matilda the Musical) play Thérèse and Camille, a couple locked in a loveless marriage until Laurent, played by Matt Ryan, enters their lives. Tony winner Judith Light (The Assembled Parties) plays Madame Raquin.

It seems like no Broadway season is complete without a play about a British monarch. Although King George III is not having it so good in Hamilton, our fascination with English royalty continues with King Charles III (Music Box Theatre, previews October 10, opens November 1), winner of the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Play. Playwright Mike Bartlett, writing in blank verse, emulating Shakespeare’s history plays, speculates about the future of the venerable British institution if Prince Charles gets to wear the crown. Tim Pigott-Smith returns to the role he created in London, playing the new king who triggers a constitutional crisis when he refuses to rubber-stamp a new parliamentary bill.

Al Pacino, who has appeared on Broadway in two plays by David Mamet — American Buffalo in 1983 and the revival of Glengarry Glen Ross nearly two decades later — returns in Mamet’s latest, written especially for him: China Doll (Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, previews October 21, opens November 19). The two-time Tony winner plays a billionaire who is set to retire and marry the young woman for whom he has just purchased an airplane but who gets interrupted by a phone call. The actor describes the role as one of the “most daunting and challenging” he’s ever been given to explore on stage. The two-character drama, which costars Christopher Denham, is directed by Pam McKinnon, who directed the recent revival of Albee’s A Delicate Balance.

Playwright, novelist, and screenwriter William Goldman, best known for his screenplays (including the Oscar-winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Marathon Man), also wrote The Season, a candid book on the business of Broadway in 1969. He returns, after an absence of more than 50 years, with a dramatic adaptation of Misery (Broadhurst Theatre, previews October 22, opens November 15), based on the Stephen King thriller that he previously adapted for the screen in 1990. Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Bruce Willis stars as a novelist who is held hostage by an ardent fan, played by Emmy Award winner Laurie Metcalf.

In Richard Greenberg’s Our Mother’s Brief Affair (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, previews December 28, opens January 20), Tony Award winner Linda Lavin (Broadway Bound) plays an ailing Jewish matriarch who makes a deathbed confession about an extramarital affair from her past. Her son and daughter are disturbed by the revelation, but also know that their mother cannot be relied upon to tell the truth. The stylish dramatic comedy, from the author of Three Days of Rain and the Tony Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning Take Me Out, is directed by Manhattan Theatre Club’s Lynn Meadow.

Play Revivals

The Manhattan Theatre Club revival of Sam Shepard’s 1983 drama Fool for Love (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, previews September 15, opens October 8), directed by Daniel Aukin, originated at last year’s Williamstown Theatre Festival. Tony Award winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur) and Sam Rockwell (the movie Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) play stepsiblings, now estranged lovers. The past is reexamined as they battle it out in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Gordon Joseph Weiss plays the father.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season kicks off with a revival of Harold Pinter’s Old Times (American Airlines Theatre, previews September 17, opens October 6). A married couple welcome an old friend back into their lives — but who is she, exactly? And whose memory can we trust? Pinter’s puzzle promises to be as entertaining as ever in the company of the top-notch British actors in the cast: Oscar nominee Clive Owen (Closer), two-time Tony nominee Eve Best (A Moon for the Misbegotten, The Homecoming), and two-time Olivier Award nominee Kelly Reilly (True Detective). The production is directed by Douglas Hodge, best known on Broadway for his Tony-winning performance in the 2010 revival of La Cage Aux Folles; the incidental music score is composed by Thom Yorke, lead singer of the band Radiohead.

D.L. Coburn’s 1978 Pulitzer Prize–winning play The Gin Game (Golden Theatre, previews September 18, opens October 13) has attracted the highest caliber of actors since Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn starred in the original Broadway production. In a testament to the increasing prevalence of nontraditional casting, the roles of the two elderly residents who bond over games of gin rummy at a senior citizens’ nursing home are played by James Earl Jones (two-time Tony winner for Fences and The Great White Hope) and Cicely Tyson (Tony winner for The Trip to Bountiful) in this new revival, directed by Leonard Foglia.

A Tony cast brings Sylvia (Cort Theatre, previews October 2, opens October 27), A.R. Gurney’s 1995 shaggy dog comedy, to Broadway. Two-time Tony Award winner Matthew Broderick (last seen in It’s Only a Play) and Julie White (Tony winner for The Little Dog Laughed) are Greg and Kate, a middle-aged couple whose marriage is thrown into jeopardy when Greg decides to adopt a stray dog he finds in Central Park. The dog, Sylvia, is played by Annaleigh Ashford, who won a Tony last year for You Can’t Take It With You.

Celebrations of Arthur Miller’s birth centennial kick off with a radical new revival of his 1956 drama A View From the Bridge (Lyceum Theatre, previews October 21, opens November 12). The riveting production, which originated at London’s Young Vic, is staged on a minimalist set with the intensity of a Greek tragedy by Belgian director Ivo Van Hove, who is known Off-Broadway for his avant-garde productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Hedda Gabler, and The Little Foxes. Mark Strong plays Eddie Carbone, the Brooklyn longshoreman who is thrown into jealous rage when his young niece Catherine (Phoebe Fox) falls in love with the undocumented Sicilian immigrant sheltered in their home. A new revival of Miller’s The Crucible, also directed by Van Howe, is slated for the spring.

More than 30 years after it was first seen on Broadway, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (American Airlines Theatre, previews December 17, opens January 14) still ranks as one of the best farces written for the theater. The Tony Award–winning playwright (who also wrote Benefactors, Copenhagen, and Democracy) mines endless comic potential through observing from the wings a mediocre play being performed by a less-than-stellar cast; the actors are accident-prone, the set is rickety, and the stage management is seemingly out to lunch. Andrea Martin (2013 Tony Award winner for Pippin) leads a crack ensemble that includes Tracee Chimo, Rob McClure, Daniel Davis, Cambell Scott, Megan Hilty, and Jeremy Shamos. The production is directed by Jeremy Herrin, who staged last season’s Tudor epic Wolf Hall Parts I & II.

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