Broadway prepares for a busy second half of the season
Seven new musicals, a Tennessee Williams minifestival, a couple of new plays, and a parade of stars--a busy second half of the 2004-2005 theater season means that spring could push Broadway box office receipts to levels not seen since before September 11. That's the cheerful prognosis of Jed Bernstein, head of the League of American Theatres and Producers, Broadway's official trade organization. All the activity has produced a theater-booking jam--with every one of Broadway's more than 30 venues filled or awaiting new productions.
The situation has left the season's most praised play, John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, without a theater in its expected transfer from off-Broadway to Broadway. Doubt, set in the Bronx in 1964, stars out actress Cherry Jones as an authoritarian nun who suspects a priest (Brian O'Byrne) of having more than a passing interest in a young male student in the Catholic school she oversees. The play must arrive on Broadway by May 4 to be eligible for the 2005 Tony Awards.
There was a scarcity of new musicals on Broadway last fall. Only Brooklyn, The Musical debuted--along with two revivals, Pacific Overtures and La Cage aux Folles. Things have changed. Before the May 4 Tony cutoff seven new musicals--plus one musical revival--are due on Broadway. Even January, usually a bleak month for Broadway openings, brings two song-and-dance offerings.
First up: Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott's sturdy tale of the March family, particularly its daughters. There have been three major film versions--featuring Katharine Hepburn (1933), June Allyson (1949), and Winona Ryder (1994) as Alcott's spirited heroine, Jo March--plus an opera and several TV versions. Sutton Foster, a Tony winner for her portrayal of the ambitious flapper in Thoroughly Modern Millie, stars in the Broadway incarnation, opening January 23 at the Virginia Theatre. Maureen McGovern costars as Marmee in this production, which has a book by Allan Knee (Finding Neverland), music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein.
Good Vibrations brings the Beach Boys sound to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, January 27. The story, supplied by Richard Dresser, follows a group of teenagers from New England who head to the Southern California coast in search of sun and fun. The music will include many of the Beach Boys' biggest hits, including the show's title song.
Charlatans take center stage in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the new musical starring John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz as a pair of con men operating on the Riviera. Joanna Gleason, Sara Gettelfinger, and Sherie Rene Scott portray three of their victims. The book is by Jeffrey Lane, with a score by David Yazbek, who composed the music and lyrics for The Full Monty. Opening at the Imperial March 3.
Scalawags of a more medieval sort apparently will be found in Monty Python's Spamalot, which its creators say is shamelessly lifted from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Much of the merriment will be provided by three accomplished comic actors: David Hyde Pierce, late of Frasier, Hank Azaria, and, as King Arthur, Tim Curry. The book and lyrics are by Python guru Eric Idle, with music by Idle and John DuPrez. Mike Nichols directs. The curtain rises March 17 at the Shubert.
A week later, March 24, All Shook Up arrives at the Palace Theatre. The musical inserts such Elvis Presley classics as "Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "Hound Dog" into a twangy tale of a hip-swivelin' stranger who upends a small Tennessee town in the mid 1950s. The Presley-like hero is played by newcomer Cheyenne Jackson, and Jenn Gambatese is the girl who wins his heart. Word is that Joe DiPietro has based the plot loosely on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
Romance in a different key can be found in The Light in the Piazza, based on the bittersweet novella by Elizabeth Spencer. With a score by Adam Guettel and a book by out playwright Craig Lucas, Piazza tells the story of a Southern matron and her daughter traveling in Italy and of the handsome Italian who romances the young woman. The curtain goes up April 18 at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center.
Sweet Charity, the spring's lone musical revival, opens April 21 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Christina Applegate, best known as the kittenish daughter on television's Married With Children, inherits the role of Charity Hope Valentine, the taxi dancer with the heart of gold. Gwen Verdon originated the title role in the debut 1966 production directed by Bob Fosse, who also supplied the sizzling choreography. This time around the director is Walter Bobbie, who guided the still-running revival of Chicago to box office glory, and the choreographer is Wayne Cilento.
The newly rechristened Hilton Theatre will be home to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the lavish London hit based on Ian Fleming's children's book and the 1968 movie, which starred Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. On Broadway, Raul Esparza will be inventor Caractacus Potts and Erin Dilly plays Truly Scrumptious. And, of course, there's that flying car. Expect it to soar over the Hilton on April 28, with preview performances beginning a month earlier.
Play revivals will offer some potent star power. Consider two Tennessee Williams classics--The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire--which arrive about five weeks apart. Menagerie is up first, with Jessica Lange portraying overbearing matriarch Amanda Wingfield; Dallas Roberts, her rebellious son, Tom; Sarah Paulson, her fragile daughter, Laura; and Josh Lucas, the gentleman caller. The director is David Leveaux. Look for it March 15 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Streetcar stars Natasha Richardson as the fading Southern belle Blanche Du Bois. John C. Reilly is her hulking nemesis, the brutish Stanley Kowalski, and Amy Ryan portrays his devoted wife, Stella. Edward Hall directs this Roundabout Theatre Company production opening April 26 at Studio 54.
Kathleen Turner plays another formidable woman, Martha, in a revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The bruising Edward Albee drama is set for a March 20 opening night at the Longacre. Bill Irwin, last seen on Broadway in Albee's The Goat, portrays Martha's husband, George.
Shakespeare revivals on Broadway are rare, but the Belasco Theatre will get a production of Julius Caesar on April 3, starring Denzel Washington as Brutus, William Sandler as Caesar, Colm Feore as Cassius, and Jessica Hecht as Portia. The director is Daniel Sullivan, best known for his work on such plays as Proof and Intimate Apparel.
The following day, April 4, brings Marsha Mason, Delta Burke, Christine Ebersole, and Frances Sternhagen to the Lyceum Theatre in a new production of Steel Magnolias. Robert Harling's look at the owner and customers of a beauty parlor in a small Louisiana town was a big hit off-Broadway in 1987 and later proved a popular movie.
James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams will star in a production of On Golden Pond, the Ernest Thompson drama about a retired professor who returns to the family's Maine cottage for one last visit. Most people know the movie version that starred Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. The production opens April 7 at the Cort.
A revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet's acerbic look at real estate salesmen, also has an all-star cast that includes Alan Alda , Liev Schreiber, Tom Wopat, Jeffrey Tambor, Frederick Weller, Gordon Clapp, and Jordan Lage. The shenanigans commence May 1 at the Royale.
And, yes, there are a couple of new plays arriving on Broadway too. Donald Margulies, whose Dinner With Friends won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for drama, returns with Brooklyn Boy, the story of a writer coping with success. Adam Arkin plays the writer. His tribulations can be seen at the Biltmore, where this Manhattan Theatre Club production opens February 3. Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman was a big hit for London's National Theatre in 2003. It arrives April 10 at the Booth with a cast headed by Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum. This dark comedy concerns a writer (played by Crudup) in a totalitarian state being interviewed about the similarities between his fiction and some strange events that have taken place. And finally, after five one-person shows in the fall, only one is in sight for the rest of the season. It's Freshly Squeezed, starring Broadway perennial Jackie Mason. His observations can be heard starting March 23 at the Helen Hayes. (AP)