Spring Broadway Preview, Part Two: The Plays

From rural Ireland to the White House; from the early 1960s, when sexual liberation was stirring, to current times, when gay marriage is becoming legal: The plays of the second half of the Broadway season offer theatergoers a varied feast.

Nine works — from playwrights making their Broadway debuts as well as from several veteran Tony Award winners — are slated to premiere on Broadway between now and April. And you can also look forward to seeing Tyne Daly, Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, Diahann Carroll, Bryan Cranston, Debra Messing, James Franco, and Estelle Parsons among the stars who will light up the Great White Way this spring.
Broadway Premieres

Outside Mullingar, which opened last week, is the latest from playwright John Patrick Shanley, who made an impressive Broadway debut with Doubt, which received Tony and Drama Desk Awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize, in 2005. His new work is about two introverts in rural Ireland who discover romance against all odds — Rosemary (played by Will & Grace Emmy Award winner Debra Messing) and her painfully shy neighbor, Anthony (played by Brían F. O’Byrne, who received a Tony Award for Frozen). Shanley, whose own father was born on an Irish farm, describes his play as an “Irish Moonstruck,” referring to the eccentric romantic comedy for which he won a screenplay Oscar in 1988.

Playwright and director Eric Simonson has already established a track record for bringing the world of sports to the Broadway stage: His 2010 play Lombardi (about the mercurial football coach) was followed by Magic/Bird (about the unlikely friendship between two famous basketball stars) in 2012. He now turns to baseball. In Bronx Bombers (opens February 6), New York Yankees icon Yogi Berra and his wife, Carmen (played by real-life husband and wife acting duo Peter Scolari and Tracy Shayne), host an unforgettable dinner party. Their guests include the team’s legendary stars from past and present: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Derek Jeter.

Bryan Cranston, Golden Globe award winner for Breaking Bad, plays LBJ in Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way (starts February 10), a play about President Lyndon B. Johnson’s epic battle to pass a landmark civil rights bill in the country. Schenkkan, who won a Pulitzer Prize and received a Tony nomination for The Kentucky Cycle, chronicles the tumultuous 11 months from when Johnson took over the office after the assassination of President Kennedy, to his landslide election victory in 1964 over Republican challenger Barry Goldwater.

Tony Award–winning star Tyne Daly (Gypsy in 1990), who was last seen on Broadway a little more than two years ago playing Maria Callas in a revival of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, returns next month to star in McNallys latest, Mothers and Sons (starts February 23). She plays Katharine, the mother of a young man who died from AIDS in the late 1980s. Twenty-five years later, she pays a surprise visit to her late son’s lover (Fredrick Weller), who is now married and living with his husband (played by Bobby Steggert, who was seen earlier this season in Big Fish) and their 6-year-old son. The play is a sequel of sorts to McNally’s 1990 teleplay Andre’s Mother, in which Katharine grieved the loss of her son. McNally, who has received four Tony Awards — for the musicals Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime, as well as for the plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class — explores Katharine’s conflicting emotions the wake of changing attitudes toward AIDS, homosexuality, and gay marriage in the intervening years.

Playwright Will Eno, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the monologue Thom Pain (based on nothing), makes his Broadway debut with The Realistic Joneses (starts March 13). The two suburban couples, who share more than their identical last names in Eno’s dark comedy, discover that their lives are strained by the same specter of sickness hanging over them. The production, directed by Sam Gold, features a crackerjack cast: Toni Collette (Hostages, United States of Tara), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Tracy Letts (Tony Award winner for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny).

Showbiz legend Moss Hart is the subject of Act One (March 20), adapted by James Lapine from Hart’s own bestselling 1959 autobiography. A loving tribute to Broadway of the 1920s, Hart’s book chronicles the famed playwright and director’s impoverished childhood in New York City and his hard path to theatrical fame, leading up to the first of his many successes, the 1930 Broadway production of Once in a Lifetime, the hit comedy he wrote with George S. Kauffman. Writer-director Lapine is best known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim (he received Tony Awards for Into the Woods and Passion); he also directed last season’s revival of Annie. The Lincoln Center production features a large cast of 16 actors in multiple roles and includes Andrea Martin, a Tony Award winner last year for Pippin. Monk star Tony Shalhoub (Tony nominee for Golden Boy) and Santino Fontana (last seen on Broadway as the Prince in Cinderella) play Hart at different stages of his life.

Beloved octogenarian actress Estelle Parsons, an Oscar winner (Bonnie and Clyde) and four-time Tony Award nominee, stars in The Velocity of Autumn (starts April 1), which marks playwright Eric Coble’s Broadway debut. Parsons plays a 79-year-old artist who has barricaded herself with explosives in her Brooklyn brownstone in her attempt to thwart her family’s efforts to move her. But now she has to deal with her estranged son, played by two-time Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella (Angels in America- Parts I and II).  The production is directed by Molly Smith, artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage.

It’s been some 30 years since Harvey Fierstein made theater history, becoming the first person to win both the Best Play and best actor Tony Awards for his groundbreaking work Torch Song Trilogy. Since then, the gravelly voiced actor-playwright has mostly been associated with musicals: He wrote the books for La Cage aux Folles (1984 Tony Award), Legs Diamond, and The Catered Affair, as well as the currently running Newsies and Kinky Boots; he also received a 2003 Tony for his performance in Hairspray. His first play in three decades, titled Casa Valentina (starts April 1), is about men with a passion for wearing women’s clothes. But if you are expecting glamorous drag queens, you are in for a surprise. Casa Valentina takes place in 1962 at a hideaway in the Catskills mountains, where the clientele are heterosexual family men who indulge in discreet transvestism on the weekends. The story is inspired by a true-life group from the 1960s who used to let their hair down at a bungalow retreat in upstate New York; their secret lives came to light when a cache of photographs of the men posing as very proper suburban ladies was discovered in a Manhattan flea market and subsequently published in a photo book in 2005. A year later, The New York Times ran a story about the community with the pithy headline: “A safe house for the girl within.” The Manhattan Theater Club production is directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Assassins, Wicked).

From his last two Broadway appearances alone — Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — you can tell that Daniel Radcliffe has put his Harry Potter image firmly behind him as he develops an impressively versatile stage career. The 24-year-old English actor returns in The Cripple of Inishmaan (starts April 12), a black comedy by Martin McDonagh, a four-time Tony Award nominee for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lonesome West, The Pillowman, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Radcliffe plays a disabled young lad living on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, whose dreams of becoming a movie star could become real when word gets around that a Hollywood movie (in real-life, Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran) is being filmed on a neighboring island. McDonagh’s play has been produced twice before in New York but this production, which originated in London, directed by Michael Grandage (Tony Award winner for Red), will mark the play’s premiere on Broadway.

Broadway Revivals

This current Broadway season is not a banner year for women playwrights, but at least we get to celebrate the work of two women writers of the past with plays by Sophie Treadwell and Lorraine Hansberry among the revivals slated for the second half of the season.

Treadwell, a journalist and playwright from the first half of the last century is nearly forgotten today, but her best known work, Machinal, which opened earlier this month, retains its power 85 years after its Broadway debut in 1928. The riveting expressionist drama, ripped from a sensational tabloid story of the day, based on true-life incidents, tells the story of a woman who is driven by a stifling world to murder her husband. The current Roundabout Theatre revival, directed by Lyndsey Turner, stars Golden Globe nominee Rebecca Hall.

In Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun (starts March 8), tensions rise when the matriarch of a black family makes plans to move to a white neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side. Two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, who received the 2010 Tony Award for Fences, his last appearance on Broadway, leads the cast in the role of Walter Lee, originally played by Sidney Poitier when the play premiered in 1959. Diahann Carroll, who won a Tony Award in 1962 for the musical No Strings, returns to Broadway after an absence of 30 years, in the role of Walter Lee’s mother, Lena Younger. The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who also helmed the previous 2004 revival starring Sean Combs.

James Franco, the multidisciplinary movie star (127 Hours), director (Child of God), performance artist, and academic, makes his Broadway debut in Of Mice and Men (starts March 19). The play is by Nobel Prize–winning author John Steinbeck, based on his own 1937 novella about two California migrant ranch workers searching for work during the Great Depression. The production, which also features Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester, and Jim Norton (Tony Award winner for The Seafarer), is directed by Anna D. Shapiro, who received the 2008 Tony Award for her production of August: Osage County.

For our preview of the musicals slated for the spring Broadway season, click here.