2000-01 SEASON PREVIEW: The Broadway Plays

News   2000-01 SEASON PREVIEW: The Broadway Plays In contrast to previous seasons, in which whatever new Broadway plays there were typically popped up around March and April in hopes of capturing the Tony Award, the 2000-01 has a goodly amount of fresh dramas and comedies bowing during the fall months. In another refreshing change, the new works by American authors outnumber those by British playwrights (at least for now). Of course, there is the usual contingent of revivals, but they do not dominate as in years past. The following is a brief run-down of the productions certain and/or likely to reach Broadway this season.

In contrast to previous seasons, in which whatever new Broadway plays there were typically popped up around March and April in hopes of capturing the Tony Award, the 2000-01 has a goodly amount of fresh dramas and comedies bowing during the fall months. In another refreshing change, the new works by American authors outnumber those by British playwrights (at least for now). Of course, there is the usual contingent of revivals, but they do not dominate as in years past. The following is a brief run-down of the productions certain and/or likely to reach Broadway this season.

The Best Man: Fittingly for an election year, the autumn season begins with a political drama. This is the first Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's examination of the back room machinations during a presidential race since it debuted in 1960. That production won Melvyn Douglas a Tony. The present cast features Chris Noth, Spalding Gray, Elizabeth Ashley, Charles During, Michael Learned and Christine Ebersole. Forty years ago, both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon took in the show. It's probably a sure bet George W. won't come near Broadway, let alone a play by an avowed liberal. As for Vidal's cousin, Albert Gore, Jr., we'll have to wait and see. Previews began Sept. 5 for a Sept. 17 opening at the Virginia Theatre. The limited run goes through Dec. 31.

Betrayal: French film star Juliette Binoche will make her Broadway debut in this new production of the Harold Pinter drama, the second attraction to fill the Roundabout Theatre Company's new American Airlines Theatre. She will play the unfaithful wife torn between John Slattery's husband and Liev Schreiber's best friend. David Leveaux shapes the play's famously reversed chronology. Previews begin Oct. 20 for a Nov. 14 opening.

Brighton Beach Memoirs: This Neil Simon revival was once to be double bill with Broadway Bound, the two works played in repertory. And that double bill once was to have starred Linda Lavin. A lot has changed. Lavin jumped ship to headline in the Broadway production of Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife; subsequently the evening was sliced in half. Emanuel Azenberg still produces and the show will debut this February as scheduled at Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse. The Broadway bow is set for spring 2001. No theatre or director has been named. Zoe Wanamaker and Elizabeth Franz have been rumored to play the mother.

Design for Living: Alan Cumming has been mentioned for many a project since winning a Tony for his performance in Cabaret, and he has been connected as well to this Roundabout Theatre Company production of Noel Coward's ribald classic about a creative and terribly sophisticated menage-a-trois. Other whispered names include Julianne Moore and Rupert Everett. Joe Mantello is to direct the comedy, set to play the American Airlines Theatre in February 2001. • The Dinner Party: It's been some years since Neil Simon has had two plays running on Broadway simultaneously. That may happen this season, with something old and something new by the veteran dramatist. The something old is the above-mentioned Brighton Beach Memoirs. The new is The Dinner Party, Simon's latest, which has enjoyed rave reviews in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and is now set to open at the Music Box. The Broadway cast, somewhat altered from previous incarnations, includes Henry Winkler, John Ritter, Len Cariou, Jan Maxwell, Veanne Cox and Penny Fuller. The first three are men attending a private dinner party in a chic Parisian restaurant. The latter trio are their ex-wives, who begin to suddenly show up at the eatery. Lloyd Rose of The Washington Post, typically very hard on Simon, said it was "Neil Simon in new, dangerous territory" and called the work "Simon's emotionally richest play." John Rando directs. Previews begin Oct. 3 for an Oct. 19 opening.

The Faith Healer: The Roundabout Theatre Company remains devoted to Irish author, Brian Friel. Last year, it presented the American premiere of Give Me Your Answer, Do!. This year, it's a revival of The Faith Healer. Director, cast and venue have yet to be assigned.

The Invention of Love: It seems every city in the U.S. has seen this Tom Stoppard play about poet A.E. Housman except New York City. Lincoln Center Theater will correct that wrong by staging the drama at an unnamed Broadway house this coming spring. (LCT has in the past presented such Stoppard works as Arcadia and Hapgood.) No cast has been named, but the San Francisco staging starred James Cromwell, and the Chicago mounting featured Paxton Whitehead.

Judgment at Nuremberg: Little has been heard from Tony Randall's National Actors Theatre since Night Must Fall, which quickly rose and fell first at the Belasco and then at the Helen Hayes a couple seasons back. Now, the troupe is promising Judgment at Nuremberg, a new stage adaptation of Abby Mann's screenplay. Maximilian Schell won an Oscar for his performance in the film and will be returning the material for its Broadway debut, albeit in a different role. John Tillinger, who could be called NAT's in-house director, will helm the play. No opening date or theatre has been named.

Proof: This is one of two Manhattan Theatre Club efforts to make the leap from the 1999-2000 Off-Broadway season to the current Broadway season. Playwright David Auburn came from out of nowhere to score a big hit with this drama about two sisters coping with the death of their addled physicist father. The production -- fueled by the excellent direction of Dan Sullivan and a strong performance by Mary Louise Parker - extended its run several times, before producers snapped it up for the Walter Kerr. (So strong is the momentum behind the play that is stole Parker from a scheduled Broadway revival of Desire Under the Elms and bumped Neil Simon's The Dinner Party from the Kerr into the Music Box.) Previews begin Oct. 10 for an Oct. 24 opening.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: Jane Wagner's one-person play returns to Broadway 15 years after its initial run. Lily Tomlin will repeat her Tony-winning performance. Previews begin at the Booth Theatre Nov. 11 for an opening on Nov. 16.

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife: This is the other Broadway offering by Manhattan Theatre Club. As big a hit as Proof it also boasts a towering performance, this one by Linda Lavin, in a part written specifically for her by Charles Busch. Busch, best known for his drag turns in campy plays of his own writing, has had some success in the last decade writing more conventional comedies for other actors. But nothing prepared audiences or critics for this comic breakthrough, about an Upper East Side dilettante mourning for her own humdrum, disappointing life. Tony Roberts and Michele Lee co-star, under the direction of Lynne Meadow. Previews begin Oct. 11 for a Nov. 2 opening.

Tallulah: Suddenly, everyone loves Tallulah Bankhead. Two other dramas about the tempestuous Southern actress will arrive in New York this season, but this is the only one scheduled for Broadway. Kathleen Turner -- who recently disrobed in London's The Graduate to the glee of many a British tabloid reporter -- will star. The one-woman bio play will open in Minneapolis in October and then tour the U.S. If all goes well, it will by spring reach Broadway, a street that has previously seen Turner in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Indiscretions.

A Thousand Clowns: This revival of the Herb Gardner comedy about a confirmed nonconformist will find an unlikely protagonist in the studly actor Tom Selleck. John Rando will direct. The show will try out at Duke University in February, trace a four-city tour and then proceed to Broadway on April 16. No theatre has been named.

--By Robert Simonson