Spring Preview 2016: A Bright Broadway Season Continues

Spring Preview 2016: A Bright Broadway Season Continues

Stars from stage and screen will brighten the marquees on Broadway in the coming months.

The second half of the current season brings an impressive group of newcomers and veterans to the Great White Way — Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Jessica Lange, Audra McDonald, Frank Langella, Saorise Ronan, Sophie Okonedo, Ben Wishaw, and Faith Prince, to name just a few. And just as in the previous months, the season continues to offer diversity in casting and a wide variety in subject matter. In other words: rich theater-fare to appeal to a wide range of tastes and sensibilities. Here is the list of productions that are scheduled to open before the end of April, to qualify for the current 2015–2016 Tony Award season.
THE MUSICALS

First up is Disaster!ffzerstweecxeadrestyeavbbqvdatdysryt (begins previews February 9, opens March 8 at the Nederlander Theatre), a musical parody written by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, which sends up the entire disaster movie genre: an assortment of colorful characters carries on singing and dancing aboard a New York floating casino, oblivious to an onslaught of earthquakes, tidal waves, killer bees, and towering infernos. Could sharks and piranha be lurking around the corner? The lighthearted spoof, which features memorable pop, rock, and disco hits of the 1970s, was first seen Off-Broadway a couple of years ago; it arrives on Broadway with a starry cast that includes Tony Award winners Faith Prince and Roger Bart, Tony nominees Kevin Chamberlain, Kerry Butler, and Adam Pascal, and Drama Desk Award winner Rachel York.

As part of its 50th anniversary season, the Roundabout Theatre Company brings back a perennial favorite: She Loves Me (begins previews February 19, opens March 17 at Studio 54), written by Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), Jerry Bock (music), and Joe Masteroff (book). The 1963 musical is based on the Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo — inspiration for the movie The Shop Around the Corner, the Judy Garland movie musical In the Good Old Summertime, and the Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail — about two coworkers in a parfumerie who are constantly at loggerheads, unaware that they are each other’s secret romantic pen pals. A stellar cast, led by Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, includes Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, and Michael McGrath. The production is directed by Scott Ellis, who also directed the previous 1993 Roundabout revival.

Actor, comedian, and author Steve Martin makes his Broadway debut with Bright Star (begins previews February 25, opens March 24 at the Cort Theatre), as a composer with a country and bluegrass score, cowritten with lyricist Edie Brickell. Martin’s book for the original musical, inspired by a real-life story, is about a successful literary editor and a young soldier, just returned home from World War II to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Together, they unravel a disturbing secret from the past. The cast includes Carmen Cusack (making her Broadway debut), A.J. Shively, and Tony Award nominees Dee Hoty, Michael Mulheren, Stephen Bogardus, and Jeff Blumenkrantz. The production is directed by Walter Bobbie, who won a Tony in 1997 for directing Chicago.

More than eight decades ago, an all-black musical revue with a scintillating jazz score by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, titled Shuffle Along, became the toast of New York. A breakthrough show for African American performers, it became the launch pad for Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, and Adelaide Hall, and made a star of Florence Mills. The backstage story of the show, incorporating the original score, is the basis for Shuffle Along: Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (begins previews March 15, opens April 28 at the Music Box Theatre). A new libretto, penned by director George C. Wolfe, will focus on how the vaudeville veterans F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles created the revue with Sissle and Blake. Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, Tony winners Brian Stokes Mitchell (Kiss me Kate) and Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), Brandon Victor Dixon, and Joshua Henry head the cast. Choreography is by Savion Glover, who, along with Wolfe, received 1996 Tony Awards for Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.

Move over, Sweeney Todd: There’s a new serial killer on Broadway. Benjamin Walker (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) stars in American Psycho (begins previews March 24 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre). He plays Patrick Bateman, a hedonistic Wall Street investment banker who goes on a killing spree. The musical, based on the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, is written by composer-lyricist Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) with a book by Glee writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The cast includes Alice Ripley (Tony Award winner for Next to Normal), Jennifer Damiano, and Heléne Yorke. The production is directed by Rupert Goold, currently represented on Broadway with King Charles III.

Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles makes her Broadway debut with her score for Waitress (begins previews March 25, opens April 24 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre). The new musical has a book by Jessie Nelson, based on the screenplay written by the late Adrienne Shelly for her 2007 indie movie about an unhappily married woman who works at a diner in a small Southern town and has a flair for making delectable pies. A new romance brings passion into to her life and a new zest for her pies. Jessie Mueller, who won a 2014 Tony for Beautiful, stars in the production directed by Diane Paulus (Finding Neverland, Pippin).

Tuck Everlasting (begins previews March 31, opens April 26 at the Broadhurst Theatre), a new musical written by Chris Miller (music), Nathan Tysen (lyrics), and Claudia Shear and Tim Federle (book), is based on the popular fantasy novel by Natalie Babbitt, which was also made into a Disney movie. In the story, young Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family who lives in the woods near her home; she embarks on a life-changing adventure when she discovers their secret of immortality. The musical is a change of pace for Tony Award–winning director Casey Nicholaw, who is currently represented on Broadway with The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, and Something Rotten! Eleven-year-old newcomer Sarah Charles Lewis joins a cast of Broadway veterans that includes Carolee Carmello, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Michael Park, Terrence Mann, and Fred Applegate.

THE PLAYS

The Roundabout Theatre’s revival of Michael Frayn’s backstage comedy Noises Off (at the American Airlines Theater), which few will dispute is one of the great farces of all time, was the first Broadway production of 2016. The ensemble cast includes Andrea Martin, Tracee Chimo, Campbell Scott, Megan Hilty, Rob McClure, and Jeremy Shamos; direction is by Jeremy Herrin, whose last Broadway outing was the epic Wolf Hall Parts One and Two.

This month’s second opening is Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Richard Greenberg’s Our Mother’s Brief Affair (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre), which stars Tony- and Golden Globe winner Linda Lavin as a mother who, late in her life, still has the capacity to shock her children.

Fresh from its sold-out and critically acclaimed Off-Broadway engagement last year, The Humans (opens February 18 at the Helen Hayes Theatre) marks the Broadway debut of playwright Stephen Karam. The Lebanese American dramatist, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012, celebrates an American working class family as they meet for an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner in a New York apartment that seems haunted by ghosts from the past. Joe Mantello directs an exemplary ensemble cast that includes Jane Houdyshell and Reed Birney — two of the very best character actors working on the New York stage today.

David Harrower’s Blackbird (begins previews February 5, opens March 10 at the Belasco Theatre) is a compelling drama about a woman who tracks down and confronts the man who had a sexual relationship with her when she was 12. The man, played by Jeff Daniels (Tony Award nominee for God of Carnage), has since done time for the crime of statutory rape and the woman, played by Michelle Williams (last seen on Broadway in Cabaret) is conflicted about her feelings for the man who abused her 15 years earlier. The two-character drama, which received the 2007 Olivier Award, premiered in New York Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club in 2008; since then, it has continued to enjoy huge success in cities all across the globe. Joe Mantello, who directed Daniels in the original New York production, will helm this Broadway incarnation as well.

Forest Whitaker makes his Broadway debut in Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie (begins previews February 5, opens February 25 at the Booth Theatre). The Academy Award–winning actor — known for his towering performance in The Last King of Scotland and the expert character study in The Butler — plays Erie Smith, a garrulous small-time hustler and gambler who masks his loneliness and despair by recalling his glory days to the night clerk on duty at his seedy hotel in 1928 New York (played by Frank Wood). The role of Smith was originally played on Broadway in 1964 by Jason Robards, and subsequently by Al Pacino in the one-act play’s most recent revival in 1996. The current revival is directed by Michael Grandage, who received a Tony Award for directing Red in 2010.

Kenyan Mexican superstar Lupita Nyong’o, who catapulted to fame with her Academy Award–winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, makes her Broadway debut in Eclipsed (begins previews February 23, opens March 6 at the Golden Theatre.) The powerful drama about five resilient women kept captive as concubines by a military officer during the second Liberian civil war of 2003 is written by Zimbabwean-American playwright and actress Danai Gurria. The play was first seen at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2009 and then again last year at the Public Theater, Off-Broadway. South African–born Liesl Tommy, who also directed the previous productions, makes her Broadway directorial debut.

Director Ivo van Hove, currently represented on Broadway with his riveting revival of A View From the Bridge, returns with a second Arthur Miller work: a new revival of The Crucible (begins previews February 29, opens April 7 at the Walter Kerr Theatre). The 1953 classic, which was inspired by the notorious Salem witch trials of the 17th century, was written during the time of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunts, which personally affected the playwright as well. Ben Wishaw (“Q” in the current James Bond movies and British Academy Television Award winner for Richard II) plays the upright John Proctor, whose marriage to Elizabeth (played by Sophie Okonedo, 2014 Tony Award winner for A Raisin in the Sun) is threatened by the young Abigail Williams (played by Saoirse Ronan, 2016 Golden Globe nominee for Brooklyn).

Three-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella plays a retired dancer struggling with dementia in The Father (begins previews March 22, opens April 14 at the Samuel Friedman Theatre). Not to be confused with the Strindberg play of the same name for which Langella received the 1996 Drama Desk Award, this new play is written by Florian Zeller; it has been translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton (who wrote the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses and has translated Yasmin Reza’s Art and God of Carnage). The play, which is written from the disorienting perspective of an octogenarian trying to keep a handle on reality, gives Langella a role of King Lear proportions. The Manhattan Theater Club production is directed by Doug Hughes, who received a 2005 Tony Award for Doubt.

Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson (last seen on Broadway in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) will singlehandedly take on 40 different roles in Fully Committed (begins previews April 2, opens April 25 at the Lyceum Theatre). He plays Sam, a harried out-of-work actor who takes phone reservations at a swanky New York restaurant, dealing with the trendy crowd as they threaten, coerce, bribe, and stop at nothing in their efforts to secure a table at the fancy eatery. Playwright Becky Mode has updated her 1999 one-person comedy to reflect today’s foodie and restaurant culture. It is directed by Jason Moore, who received a Tony nomination for Avenue Q.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night (begins previews March 31, opens April 27 at the American Airlines Theater) brings Jessica Lange back to Broadway. The actress has a slew of awards to her name, including two Oscars and three Emmys. She was last seen on television in four seasons of American Horror Story and has appeared twice before on Broadway — in revivals of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie.  She now plays Mary Tyrone, the morphine-addicted matriarch in O’Neill’s semiautobiographical masterwork, a role she previously played to great acclaim in the London West End in 2000. Jonathan Kent directs the current revival, which also features Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon, and John Gallagher Jr.

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