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Shows to be Excited for: Spring 2018: The Who’s Who Who’s Coming to Broadway

Shows to be Excited for: Spring 2018: The Who’s Who Who’s Coming to Broadway
Bernadette Peters is on her way back to Broadway. And I can’t wait. Along side numerous other big named Broadway and non-Broadway stage stars. She’ll be taking over the lead in the juggernaut, Hello, Dolly! And I can’t tell you how curious I am to see her fill Bette’s shoes. It’s always a thrill to see Peters take the stage. She’s was fantastic in 2011’s Follies (click here to check out my review of the National Theatre’s revival of Follies that I saw over the holidays in London, UK) and Peters gave a compelling portrayal of Rose in 2003‘s GypsyIn his review, Ben Brantley in The New York Times wrote that “the surprise coup of many a Broadway season…Working against type and expectation under the direction of Sam Mendes, Ms. Peters has created the most complex and compelling portrait of her long career…There have been many illustrious successors to Merman as Rose…Only Ms. Peters, however, can be said to have broken the Merman mold completely.” And in the same manner that Hello, Dolly! and Peters doesn’t quite seem like an obvious or perfect fit, her stage presence is strong and her talent even more so, making her replacement status (just like when she replaced a weaker voiced Catherine Zeta-Jones in A Little Night Music) big Broadway news. I’m hoping I get a chance to see it.
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Noah Galvin, Taylor Trensch.
Besides the highly anticipated replacements, Peters and the, not one, but two new Evan Hansen’s; Noah Galvin (‘The Real O’Neals‘) & Taylor Trensch (Hello, Dolly!) who are making their way to the helm of two big ticket shows (god, I wanna see them both in Dear Evan Hansen), there are numerous stars making their way into new productions and revivals, and I’m sure a few stars in the making. Here’s a few that I’m most excited about.
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First and foremost, I’m filled with excitement over the cast of Encores’ Hey, Look Me Over! (opening February 8) directed by Marc Bruni (Beautiful).  There is just one great name after the other in this new musical about Broadway gems that have yet to be revived on the Encores! stage. Bob Martin, who was so brilliant as the beloved ‘Man in Chair’ from one of my all time favorites, The Drowsy Chaperone, plays an opinionated Encores! subscriber who leads us on a tour of his favorite scenes and songs from musicals he’s always wanted to see at City Center: All AmericanGeorge M!GreenwillowJamaicaMack & MabelMilk and HoneySail Away, and Wildcat. The cast includes Reed Birney (Man from Nebraska), Carolee Carmello (Tuck Everlasting), Judy Kuhn (Fun Home), Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago), Nancy Opel (Curvy Widow: The Musical), and the incredible Vanessa Williams (After Midnight). And I want to be there!
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In regards to the more standard Broadway musical, there is the nearly always perfect Jessie Mueller (Waitress)  appearing along side the magnificent Joshua Henry (Shuffle Along..) and Renee Fleming (Broadway’s Living on Love) in Carousel,the second musical by the team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) opening April 12th. That should be something, and I say that without really knowing the 1945 musical all that well.  The show includes the well-known songs “If I Loved You“, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone“. I have a feeling that directed by Jack O’Brien, the final product will be beautiful and fare better than his last season’s project, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I’ll be happily in that line waiting to see Mueller once again, and to ride this Carousel.
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I know I’m looking forward to that classic a wee bit more than the other big revival, My Fair Lady at the Vivian Beaumont, even though it’s being directed by Bartlett Sher (Oslo, Fiddler on the Roof) who helmed the other classic revivals at Lincoln Center; King and I and South Pacific. It stars Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under, Exit the King), Norbert Leo Butz (The Whirligig), and Diana Rigg (Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones), and I’m curious. It seems the theatre gods really want Ambrose to star in a classic big musical (see the failed Funny Girl Broadway revival attempt that also would have been helmed by Sher) and although I can’t quite see her as a musical theatre dynamo, maybe (and hopefully) they all know something I don’t. Butz, I have no doubt, will be worth the trip to the Lincoln Center, if nothing else.
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Then we have the young girl power category of musicals: Frozen, with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, book by Jennifer Lee which is opening at the St. James Theatre on March 22nd, directed by the formidable Michael Grandage (Cort Theatre’s The Cripple of Inishmaan) and choreographed by Rob Ashford (Broadway’s Evita).  Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of a princess who freezes everything she touches (in case you’ve been living under a rock since 2013 and the words, “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel mean nothing to you), this show, which had an out of town try-out in Denver is sure to be a commercial hit initially.  The question will be it’s long term appeal (I’m guessing it might rival Wicked, another Menzel connected show).
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Competing in this tiny specific category, are the Mean Girls from Tina Fey’s film to stage adaptation, with music and lyrics by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin arriving after a successful pre-Broadway run in D.C. (click here for my out-of-town try-out review).  This funny and fun musical, directed by the hit maker, Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!) as director/choreographer opens April 8th at the August Wilson Theatre.  Both are coming to Broadway with huge name recognition from their namesake hit movies, Frozen has the edge on fan base size and the backing from the powerful and deep pockets of Disney Theatrical Productions, while Mean Girls is the cult favorite with a wider age appeal and slightly edgier and comic style. Both I’m sure will do well, but will they last for years to come.  The casts are light on name recognition with Kerry Butler (Hairspray, Disaster) as numerous moms and teachers to the Mean Girls as the biggest star wattage, but the crowds will be turning up more for the princesses and the plastics than anything or anyone else.
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Speaking of princesses, or rather goddesses, I’m not sure what Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, opening April 23rd at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, directed by the very capable Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) will be like, but the music will be festive and disco-great (yes that’s a real term, or at least a term I have given it). The title of the show sort of sucks, but I wonder if the story will be compelling enough to sustain a full length musical.  It played at La Jolla Playhouse these last few months, so there is some positive buzz, but I remain unconvinced.
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The Jimmy Buffet musical, Escape to Margaritaville, with a book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley comes to the Marquis Theatre for an opening on March 15th. With a story wrapped around a romance between a bartender and a tourist at a tropical island resort, director Christopher Ashley, coming from the super successful and beloved Come From Away, has some magic to create. Let’s hope we don’t need a few margaritas to enjoy ourselves (although I love love love a good margarita…). And finally, there is Rocktopia, opening at the Broadway Theatre (first preview: March 20th) featuring the music of Mozart, Queen, Beethoven, Journey, Handel, U2, Tchaikovsky, Pink Floyd, Heart, Rachmaninoff, Foreigner, Copland, The Who, and more. It is being billed as more a live concert that fuses rock songs with classical music rather than a traditional jukebox musical like the other two, so where this show fits in, I’m not sure, but curious to find out. Because, to be honest, you say mention the band, Queen, and I say, “Yes, please”.
 
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Moving beyond the spectacle of the Broadway musical, there are two epic plays coming from the London stage to Broadway.  Both are sure to be huge hits with their finances, their prospective audiences who will be selling their unborn children for a ticket, and the award communities who will most likely lavish them both with nominations come this spring. The magnificent revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes opens March 21st at the Neil Simon Theatre. After a sold out run at the National Theatre on the expansive stage of the Lyttleton Theatre on the south bank of the Thames (click here for my review of the NTLive screening), the cast that includes Nathan Lane (The Front Page), Andrew Garfield (Mike Nichols’ Death of a Salesman), Susan Brown (NT’s Husbands & Sons), Amanda Lawrence (Young Vic’s Government Inspector), James McArdle (Chichester Festival’s Platonov), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett  (NT’s The History Boys), and the invincible Denise Gough (People, Places, & Things) arrives almost intact, only minus the wonderful Russell Tovey (Broadway’s View From the Bridge) who will be replaced by Lee Pace (2011 Broadway’s The Normal Heart) as the confused Morman, Joe. During it’s 18-week limited engagement on Broadway, the amazing Beth Malone (Fun Home) will share the role of the angel at select performances with Lawrence. Angels in America‘s two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, running in repertory, is sublime; a metaphorical, and sometimes symbolic examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980s. It won numerous awards when it first appeared on Broadway in 1993/1994, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. In New York as it did in London, this British import of one of the greatest modern American plays will once again dominate the intellectual and emotional theatrical Broadway world this coming spring, and I. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

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The other huge import, not that I need to remind anyone, is the hardest ticket to get this coming spring.  Not only did you have to sign up onto their webpage, and then hope that when they were doling out the access codes to purchase tickets, your name was drawn, giving you nothing more than the opportunity to try to purchase tickets before they were all sold out.  And that first sell out only took hours. That’s huge and unprecedented, but that’s no surprise, because it is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, opening April 22nd  at the huge Lyric Theater on 42nd Street. The two-part stage play is written by Jack Thorne based on an original new story by Thorne, J. K. Rowling and John Tiffany, and directed by Tiffany.  It’s transferring to Broadway carrying with it a record-breaking eleven Olivier nominations winning a record-breaking nine awards, including Best New Play, Best Actor, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Director. The import is bringing the entire first year cast from the West End, including Sam Clemmett, Jamie Parker, Anthony Boyle, Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thornley. My guess is that come Tony Award nomination time, this new play will once again do very well, maybe even break a record over here. The question that remains is will it also win as big as it did over there.  I can’t wait to see what the fuss is all about.

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That being said, the real excitement for me is with the dramatic ladies on their way to the Broadway stage. Laurie Metcalf (A Doll’s House, Part 2), with Oscar dreams buzzing around her performance in the magnificent and award-winning film, “Lady Bird (directed by first timer Greta Gerwig) is starring with the legendary Glenda Jackson (2017 Evening Standard Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress playing the title role in Old Vic’s King Lear) and the talented Alison Pill (2006 Broadway’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore) in the revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women opening March 29th at the Golden Theatre. Directed by the always amazing and interesting Joe Mantello (Wicked, The Humans), this will be the the second most exciting revival of a play on Broadway this year (Angels being #1), and one of the most thrilling casts assembled.

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 The other actress and play that I’m equally excited about is Billie Piper starring in Federico García Lorca’s devastating and desperate play, Yerma, opening on March 27th (click here for #frontmezzjunkiesUK review from our correspondent Gus Subero). This 1934 drama, radically reimagined and adapted by Australian director and dramatist Simon Stone (Sydney Theatre’s Baal), transforms the powerful tale of a provincial Spanish woman’s desire to have a child into a parable of modern life. The Young Vic production won the 2017 Olivier Awards for Best Revival and Best Actress for Piper and now, courtesy of the Park Avenue Armory, it arrives in New York City for its North American premiere. This is must-see theatre, and I will be there, come hell or high water, or big glass caged walls blocking my way (you’ll know what I mean once you’ve seen this play that Gus describes as “easily, one of the best plays so far this year”).
Yerma at the Young Vic. Photo by Johan Persson (4)
Billie Piper in Yerma at the Young Vic. Photo by Johan Persson.
There is also Condola Rashad, who was Tony nominated for last season’s, A Doll’s House, Part 2 set to star in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman. Daniel Sullivan, who gracefully gave us Laura Linney (Time Stands Still) and Cynthia Nixon (Rabbit Hole) in the sublime The Little Foxes last year in the same theatre, directs this 1923 play chronicling a country girl whose mysterious visions propel her into a position of power within elite circles. Those same souls, threatened by her popularity and influence unite to destroy her.  Shaw’s play, based on substantial records of her trial, is considered a “a tragedy without villains” and also as Shaw’s “only tragedy“, and although I’m feeling that the Public’s musical adaptation that I sat through last summer was enough Joan of Arc: Into the Fire to last me for a life time, I’m slightly curious to see Saint Joan through Shaw’s words, Sullivan’s eyes, and Rashad’s voice and body.
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There is also the revival of Children of a Lesser God, not seen on Broadway since it opening on March 30, 1980 with a cast that included Phyllis Frelich and John Rubinstein. The play, written by Mark Medoff, focuses on the conflicted professional and romantic relationship between a strong-willed deaf student, Sarah Norman, and her unconventional teacher, James Leeds. This production, opening on April 11th at the Studio 54 Theater stars Joshua Jackson (2ST’s Smart People), best known for his television work on the TV shows, “Dawson’s Creek’, ‘Fringe’ and ‘The Affair‘, making his Broadway debut, costarring a former Miss Deaf America and sign language model by the name of Lauren Ridloff. She was originally hired by director Kenny Leon as his ASL teacher while preparing for this play’s Berkshire Theatre Group‘s production last summer, but quickly altered his plan and cast her in the lead once he saw “how the world looked at her”.  I don’t really see this play as particularly great, other than the opportunities it presents, but in this background story we can see its significance.
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So what about the men heading to the stage this spring? The biggest name coming to Broadway, beyond Harry Potter, is Denzel Washington leading the Broadway revival of the classic Eugene O’Neill play, The Iceman Cometh, opening at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on April 26th, the official last day for shows to open on Broadway and still be eligible for the 2018 Tony Awards. Maybe you’ve heard of this actor. He has starred in and won a Tony award for the 2010 production of August Wilson’s Fences, won three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards (‘Glory‘, ‘Training Day‘) for his film work, and by many, he’s considered to be one of our generation’s finest actors.  I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of his work, generally feeling that I am always seeing Washington ACT, rather than inhabit, but maybe I’ll change my mind this time around.  Time will tell.
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Movie stars, Michael Cera (Cort Theatre’s This Is Our Youth) and Chris Evans (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier“, “Snowpiercer”) sound a lot more thrilling to behold when they tackle Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 play, Lobby Hero, opening up at the new Broadway home of Second Stage: the Helen Hayes Theatre. Opening on March 26th, and directed by the always compelling Trip Cullman (MCC’s Yen), four New Yorkers find themselves involved in a murder investigation. Played out in a foyer of a middle-income Manhattan apartment building in the middle of the night, these four find their personal and professional personas challenged and tested, as this situation puts them at odds with one another,  Those clashes of ambition and intense conflict from the 2017 Oscar-winning writer of Manchester by the Sea sound much more exciting and fascinating to me, than the long and slightly tedious O’Neill classic.

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Another exciting actor coming to Broadway this spring is Tom Hollander (Old Vic’s A Flea in Her Ear). He appeared at the Apollo Theatre in London as Henry Carr in the sell-out  revival of Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties, directed by Patrick Marber (Comedy Theatre’s The Caretaker). The play transferred to the West End after its sell-out run at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Hollander was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor and the production as a whole was nominated in five categories (Best Actor, Best Revival, Best Sound Design, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role). That revival is now heading to Broadway opening on April 24th, with Hollander reprising his leading role at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater. And although I don’t know his work beyond his most popular films, such as “Gosford Park“, “Pride and Prejudice“, “Hanna“, and numerous “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, I’m intrigued to see him and this exciting production of a Tom Stoppard classic that I have never seen before.

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Off Broadway, we have a few productions worthy of excitement.  More than the couple that I will discuss here, but these two have definitely peaked my interest. At Classic Stage Company, after two moderately successful Shakespearian comedies in the fall of 2017 (Fiasco’s Twelfth Night being the better of the two), this East Village theatre starts out the new year with Terrence McNally’s new play, Fire and Air, directed by CSC’s John Doyle (As You Like ItPacific Overtures) . The man who brought us the musical, The Visit (book) and the magnificent play, Master Class, presents us with an exploration of the tempestuous relationship between Sergei Diaghilev and the dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky of the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev’s famed Russian ballet company, as they attempt to revolutionize dance. It’s hard not to be thrilled when looking at the who’s who in the cast: Tony Award winner, Douglas Hodge (Broadway’s La Cage aux Folles), Tony Award winner, John Glover (Love! Valour! Compassion!), Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Olivier Award nominee, Marin Mazzie (Kiss Me, Kate), and the four time Oscar nominee, Marsha Mason (Cinderella LibertyThe Goodbye GirlChapter Two, Only When I Laugh). I’m sure to be dancing my way down to the East Village for that experience.

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Opening on February 11th at the Pershing Square Signature Center, Lila Neugebauer (PR’s The Wolves) directs Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story. Starring the talented Katie Finneran (Broadway’s Noises Off), Robert Sean Leonard (Broadway’s The Invention of Love), and Paul Sparks (New Group’s Buried Child), this new production of these two one-act plays honors Albee, who recently passed away in 2016, by showcasing his signature dark humor and brutality as he explores both love and the cruelty that we humans inflict on one another every day. I’m looking forward to these two pieces, mainly because they will be new to me, but also, this is a great opportunity to experience Albee’s nutty bizarreness one more time.

 

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Those are the shows that are capturing my attention as we drive forward towards the Tony Award deadline in late April.  But there are two more shows I must mention that open after that deadline.  Roundabout‘s production of Joshua Harmon’s Skintight opening June 21st and directed by Daniel Aukin (Public’s The Fortress of Solitude).  It stars the phenomenal Idina Menzel (If/Then) as Jodi Isaac, a New York divorcee, reeling from her ex-husband’s engagement to a much younger woman (naturally) and running head first into a tangled gay-tinged relationship between her famous fashion-designer father and the 20 year-old Trey, a not necessarily gay man, but a probable adult film star.  Or at least, so says, Jodi’s 20 year-old gay son.

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And speaking of gay men, starting previews in late April (opening night: TBA), the gay landmark play, The Boys in the Band, directed by the talented Joe Mantello (Take Me Out), will usher in a new audience to this historically significant play. With an exciting and stellar cast, comprising of Jim Parsons (Broadway and HBO’s The Normal Heart), Matt Bomer (Golden Globe winner for HBO’s ‘The Normal Heart‘), Andrew Rannells (Broadway’s Falsettos), and Zachary Quinto (Signature’s Angels in America, 2013 Broadway’s The Glass Menagerie), this Broadway production of The Boys in the Band will help celebrate the play’s 50th anniversary at the Booth Theatre. This play, written by Mart Crowley that premiered Off-Broadway on April 14, 1968 at Theater Four, centers on a group of gay men who have gathered together in a New York City apartment for a friend’s birthday party. As the evening flies forward, the bitter conflicts and painful heartaches begin to seep out, exposing the tensions that threaten this group’s solidarity. While many critics of this piece call it a “smart gimmick” full of dated “self-homophobic, low self-esteem characters” (Elyse Summer for CurtainUp, 2010)others call it “Shakespearean” (Steve Weinstein for the Edge) in its epic importance. I’m hoping that Mantello will create something akin to the later. And with that cast of famous young male actors, all I can say, is let the Gay Games begin.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

 

Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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