BROADWAY FALL PREVIEW 2011: From Follies to Porgy and Bess, With Drama and Comedy in Between

Special Features   BROADWAY FALL PREVIEW 2011: From Follies to Porgy and Bess, With Drama and Comedy in Between Good times and bum times. They're both represented in the plays and musicals that make up the fall 2011 Broadway season. Here's a look at what Frank Langella, Audra McDonald, Samuel L. Jackson, David Henry Hwang, Alan Rickman and more are doing in the weeks ahead.

Ron Raines and Bernadette Peters in Follies.
Ron Raines and Bernadette Peters in Follies. Photo by Joan Marcus

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Don't ever say Broadway doesn't respect age and experience. Many of the talents that will try to beguile theatregoers this fall first cut their teeth 40 or 50 years ago. Among them are playwrights Woody Allen and Elaine May, composer Stephen Sondheim, and actors Frank Langella, Alan Rickman, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige.

The latter two are just a couple of the stars that people Broadway's newest incarnation of the 1971 Sondheim-James Goldman classic Follies, returning to Broadway after a successful late-spring staging at the Kennedy Center. Eric Schaeffer, a longtime Sondheim interpreter, directs a cast that also includes Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, Mary Beth Peil and Jayne Houdyshell as a group of reunited stage stars (and their spouses) remembering their bygone days in the spotlight. The Marquis Theatre stands in for the old Weismann Follies house about to be torn down, in the rueful, elegiac musical. Appropriately enough, the opening will be Sept. 12.

Frank Langella
photo by Joe Fornabaio

Man and Boy does not enjoy the name recognition of Follies. The Terence Rattigan play, due to open at the American Airlines Theatre on Oct. 9, was written in 1963, and hasn't been heard from since. The subject is timely, however. In it, a calculating businessman named Gregor Antonescu reunites with his alienated son in order to solve financial issues in a time of economic turmoil. Langella, an actor who could command a stage while playing a butler, portrays the titan torn between the demands of family and business. Maria Aitken directs.

Rickman, a Britisher with as much stage experience as Langella, will star in Theresa Rebeck's new play Seminar. He will play an imperious teacher (not too much of a stretch there, given we're talking about Severus Snape of "Harry Potter" film fame). The work, about a private writing class led by an international literary figure (Rickman), will begin Oct. 27 at the Golden Theatre. Rickman's victims, er, students include Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater.

Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach in Other Desert Cities.
photo by Joan Marcus

In a younger class of New York stage veterans — but, with 25 years of productions under his belt, an old soldier nonetheless — is playwright Jon Robin Baitz. His Other Desert Cities, which won critical praise at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater last season, will represent the dramatist's long-in-coming Broadway bow. In the drama, a politically connected family gathers to hash out the contents of its daughter's new tell-all memoir. The parents are GOP icons; the kids and their aunt lean leftward. Needless to say, there's little consensus as to their shared personal histories. Rachel Griffiths, Judith Light, Stacy Keach, Thomas Sadoski and Stockard Channing star. The latter three were in the Off-Broadway production.

Like Baitz, playwright David Ives has long enjoyed considerable success Off-Broadway. But, adaptations of other artists' work and librettos aside, he has never had one of his works on Broadway until this season. The breakout work is Venus in Fur. A two-hander twist on the classic erotic novel of the same name, it was a hit Off-Broadway last year and made a star of Nina Arianda (last season's Tony-nominated Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday). Hugh Dancy will co-star in the Broadway transfer. It will begin at Manhattan Theatre Club's Friedman Theatre on Oct. 13.

More new work comes from David Henry Hwang. The M. Butterfly author is offering Chinglish, a comedy about a Midwestern American whose efforts to secure a lucrative contract in China for his family firm become seriously lost in translation. Leigh Silverman directs the play, which begins previews Oct. 11 at the Longacre. The cast will include Gary Wilmes, Jennifer Lim, Angela Lin, Christine Lin, Stephen Pucci, Johnny Wu and Larry Zhang.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson will play the iconic Dr. Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop, set for an opening at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Oct. 13. The Katori Hall play depicts events in the evening hours between King's delivery of his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech and his assassination in Memphis. Angela Bassett will play Camae, a mysterious maid at the ill-fortuned Lorraine Motel. This very American play had its world premiere at Theatre 503 in London in 2009 before transferring to the West End.

Kenny Leon, who will direct The Mountaintop, will also stage Stick Fly, starting Nov. 18 at the Cort. Lydia R. Diamond's play is about a well-to-do African-American family's tense summer holiday. Opening is Dec. 8. Evenings of one-acts are rarely seen on Broadway these days, as producers don't view them as commercial. But when Woody Allen comes up with a new play, heaven and earth become a little more movable. Allen's work, Honeymoon Motel, will be joined with plays by Elaine May and Ethan Coen. The latter, one of Hollywood's fabled Coen brothers, has become a prolific creator of Off-Broadway playlets lately. John Turturro directs the project, under the umbrella title of Relatively Speaking. The cast of old hands includes Marlo Thomas, Grant Shaud, Julie Kavner and Steve Guttenberg. It will open Oct. 20 at the Atkinson.

Private Lives star Kim Cattrall
photo by Nobby Clark

Further comic relief comes in the imported form of Noël Coward's Private Lives. The classic 1931 comedy of urbane misbehavior will open at the Music Box on Nov. 17. Kim Cattrall ("Sex and the City"), who starred in the original 2010 London production, shares the stage with Canadian star Paul Gross ("Slings and Arrows"). (The British-born Cattrall was last seen on Broadway in 1986's Wild Honey.) 

For those who can't wait for the new Broadway revival of Evita — expected in spring — there's An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. The original stars of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical about Eva Peron will begin a 63-performance engagement on Nov. 16 at the Barrymore.

New musicals will include Bonnie and Clyde, the latest artistic celebration of the Depression-era gangsters. This one comes from composer Frank Wildhorn, lyricist Don Black and librettist Ivan Menchell and opens in December at the Schoenfeld. Also scheduled is Lysistrata Jones, the cheeky pop musical that resets the ancient Greek classic in the world of college cheerleaders and basketball players. Well-liked Off-Broadway, the show by librettist Douglas Carter Beane and songwriter Lewis Flinn will open at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre Dec. 14.

Harry Connick, Jr.

Musical revivals are more plentiful. In addition to the aforementioned Follies, there is a new version of Stephen Schwartz's early hit Godspell, set to dawn at Circle in the Square on Nov. 7; and a reworking of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The 1965 musical is fondly recalled for its graceful Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner score, but has rarely been staged owing to a wacky, ESP-and-psychotherapy-inspired plot. Director Michael Mayer and playwright Peter Parnell have fashioned a new libretto involving a quirky young gay florist named David Gamble, who, when put under hypnosis, relives his former life — as a 1940s female jazz singer named Melinda. The revision was enough to attract the interest of actor-crooner Harry Connick, Jr., who will play the role of widower psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner, who falls in love with the gay man's past life, adding tension to the patient's life (who gets some of the score's best numbers, as Barbara Harris did in the original). Previews begin Nov. 12 at the St. James.

Connick may not have been born to play Bruckner (was anybody?), but Audra McDonald was unquestionably made to sing Bess in Porgy and Bess. The four-time Tony winner will do just that at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Dec. 17, when performances begin of the American Repertory Theatre production of the George and Ira Gershwin-DuBose and Dorothy Heyward folk opera. McDonald's Porgy will be undersung Broadway stalwart Norm Lewis. The show has been "re-imagined" by director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and musician Diedre Murray as a musical for contemporary audiences, and has already become the subject of heated debate. (Thank you, Mr. Sondheim.) So, those out there who live to stoke this work's ever-burning Is-It-An-Opera-or-Is-It-A-Musical? fire — your order for more fuel has arrived.

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in <i>The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess</i>.
Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. Photo by Michael Lutch
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