The 1996-97 Broadway theatre season has the potential to top even the bustling 1995-96 that ended May 31. Rarely since the 1960s have there been so many pretty-sure major projects in the pipeline so early in the game. Even the following season, the one that begins a year from now, looks like it will be busy.
So which shows ARE likely to come in? This is always a crapshoot. Last year at this time everybody was betting on Busker Alley as the big hit of the season; Rent wasn't even on the radar. But big money has already caught up with big names on several major projects.
Here is a preview of planned new musicals that have announced they're headed for Broadway:
Both Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim are preparing to open new musicals in 1996-97 -- but Broadway may not get to see them until 1997-98. Lloyd Webber says he'll open his new show, Whistle Down the Wind, not in London, but somewhere in the U.S. (bets are on Los Angeles, where Sunset had its U.S. debut) in late 1996 or early 1997, with Harold Prince directing. But no theatres have been booked.
Sondheim's Wise Guys will open at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., but too late to make it to New York before the end of the 1996-97 season. The event of the season may wind up being the Disney-sponsored reopening of the renovated New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. This major reborn musical house, once home to the legendary Ziegfeld Follies, could make its bow with the stage adaptation of the animated Disney film The Lion King or with another Elton John musical, a new musicalization of Aida. Disney is targeting the reopening for January 1997.
Those projects alone would be enough for most recent season, but there are at least a half dozen more major projects headed for Broadway.
Tommy Tune is working with composer/lyricist William Finn (Falsettos) on The Royal Family of Broadway, based on the George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber comedy The Royal Family, about a nutty showbiz family (modeled on the Barrymores). The musical is opening in the late fall 1996 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, and promised for Broadway before the Tonys.
Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky is so pleased with the workshops of Ragtime that he moved up the production schedule, and now is planning to open the show for a commercial run in Toronto this autumn. The musical, with a score by Lynn Ehrens and Stephen Flaherty (Once on This Island) and a book by Terrence McNally (Master Class, Kiss of the Spider Woman) is scheduled to open on Broadway in April.
The Leslie Bricusse/ Frank Wildhorn musical Jekyll & Hyde has become a cult hit without ever playing New York. During a successful national tour in 1994-5 the show won adherents across the U.S. Only a booking jam prevented the show from coming into Broadway this spring. Armed with a new director, Robin Phillips, the epic is now scheduled for spring 1997.
Though originally promised for October 1996, Time and Again, based on the Jack Finney novel, has gone back into rewrites after mixed reviews for Jack Viertel's book (though raves for Walter Edgar Kennon's score) in a West Coast production. It's now tentatively scheduled for spring 1997.
Multiple Tony-winner Cy Coleman has been working for years with lyricist Ira Gasman on The Life, an account of Times Square street life in the 1970s. But the May 1996 release of a concept CD of the score, sung mainly by pop stars, reenergized the project. It's now scheduled to open on Broadway in spring 1997.
John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman) are working on two musicals simultaneously: The Skin of Our Teeth and Steel Pier, both or neither of which may come to Broadway this season. Teeth is having a workshop in June with the to-die-for cast: Bernadette Peters, James Naughton and Debra Monk. Naughton says producers are "serious" about bringing it to Broadway in the coming year.
Here is a rundown of musicals announced to open between June 1, 1996 and May 31, 1997:
THE JAZZ SINGER: Musical biography of Al Jolson. Music and lyrics by Will Holt; book by Sherman Yellin. Autumn 1996 previews, opening and theatre TBA.
TIME AND AGAIN: Rebecca Luker stars in new musical based on Jack Finney novel about a time-traveling New Yorker. Music and lyrics by Walter Edgar Kennon; book by Jack Viertel. Spring 1997 previews and opening TBA at a Jujamcyn theatre TBA.
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND: New musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Jim Steinman; book by Patricia Knop. Directed by Hal Prince. Spring 1997 previews. Opening and theatre TBA.
RAGTIME: New musical by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Terrence McNally, based on the E.L. Doctorow novel. April previews, opening and theatre TBA.
THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH: New musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb based on the Thornton Wilder play. Workshop production stars James Naughton, Bernadette Peters and Debra Monk. Previews, opening and theatre TBA.
TOM SAWYER: New musical based on the Mark Twain novel. Music by Don Schlitz, book by Ken Ludwig. Spring 1997 previews. Opening and theatre TBA.
JANE EYRE: New musical based on the Charlotte Bronte novel. Directed by John Caird. Previews and opening February 1997. Theatre TBA.
THE ROYAL FAMILY OF BROADWAY: Musical based on The Royal Family. Directed by Tommy Tune. Music and lyrics by William (Falsettos) Finn. Book by Richard Greenberg. Previews and opening spring 1997. Theatre TBA.
Several more shows have been mentioned for the coming season, but are still question marks: Les Miserables and Miss Saigon fans have their fingers crossed that Martin Guerre, the latest musical epic from Boublil and Schonberg, will be a hit when it opens in London in July. If the musical reaches Mizian proportions, pressure will be strong to carry it across the Atlantic.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's overhauled By Jeeves is a hit in London, and Goodspeed Opera House is interested in hosting the U.S. premiere, but so far it's just in the wishing stage.
Randy Newman's Faust is opening at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago this fall, where we'll get a chance to see how much rewriting was done from the 1995 San Diego premiere. After that, we'll see.
Paul Simon hosted auditions at the Nederlander last fall for doo-wop groups to appear in his musical Capeman. But that's the last that's been heard of the project, which was mentioned for spring of 1997.
Circle in the Square is considering a new musical, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas but a final season lineup has not yet been made.
Beyond these projects, you never know what George C. Wolfe will discover at the New York Shakespeare Festival, or what will come bubbling up from the fecund off-Broadway and regional scenes.