New York theatre critics have been trained over the years, when faced with a season crowded with revivals, to groan and bemoan the state of the American theatre. But, given the talent involved, it's hard not to get a wee bit excited about this fall's dramatic reexaminations. Arguably the most anticipated of the new productions of old plays is This Is Our Youth, the 1996 Kenneth Lonergan play about three witty but wayward young souls in 1982 New York. The unique character study made Lonergan's name when The New Group first produced it, and launched the career of actor Mark Ruffalo. The production — Lonergan's long-in-coming Broadway debut — hails from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company and stars Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson. It opens Sept. 11 at the Cort.
Also getting its belated Broadway premiere is It's Only a Play, Terrence McNally's 1982 play about a nervous playwright awaiting opening-night reviews and his back-biting frenemy. The new production reunites the duo of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (The Producers), whose prowess at the box office is the stuff of theatre legend. Megan Mullally, F. Murray Abraham and Stockard Channing lend able assistance. The opening at the Schoenfeld is Oct. 9.
Matching the McNally in ensemble might is a new Pam MacKinnon-directed mounting of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, last seen on Broadway nearly two decades ago. Congregating in this tale of vague existential angst, but very real familial strife, are Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Martha Plimpton, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins and Lindsay Duncan. The curtain goes up at the Golden Nov. 20. No less stressed but a little more sunny, is the crowded household in Kaufman and Hart's 1936 perennial You Can't Take It With You, which will get its first Broadway revival in more than 30 years at the Longacre Sept. 28. James Earl Jones blithely oversees a household peopled by the reliably loopy likes of Kristine Nielsen, Elizabeth Ashley, Mark Linn-Baker and Reg Rogers.
With its new production at the American Airlines Theatre, opening Oct. 30, The Real Thing takes the crown as Broadway's most-revived Tom Stoppard play. This is the third go-round since its '80s debut. Providing connecting tissue between the two stagings is Cynthia Nixon, who made headlines back in 1984 when she simultaneously performed in the Stoppard work and David Rabe's Hurlyburly, running back and forth between theatres. This time, she plays not the youthful Debbie but the more mature Charlotte. Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton (one of the original stars of This Is Our Youth) join her onstage.
Revived just as often at The Real Thing on Broadway has been Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man, which begins Nov. 7 at the Booth. This time it's Bradley Cooper's turn to show that John Merrick is not an animal, but a human being. Also in the cast are Patricia Clarkson and Anthony Heald, one-time fixtures of 1990s New York theatre, back on Broadway for the first time in decades. Scott Ellis directs. Also back on Broadway is A.R. Gurney's sturdy epistolary two-hander Love Letters. A rotating cast of stars will begin performances at the Nederlander Theatre Sept. 13.
Not all the revivals are plays, of course. The Lyric Theatre (formerly the Foxwoods, which was previously the Hilton, which was...ah, skip it) host a new mounting of Leonard Bernstein's and Comden and Green's urban romp On the Town. This production had its premiered at Barrington Stage Company in summer 2013. Opening is Oct. 16. And the bravest and most quixotic revival of the fall is doubtless Side Show, a revisiting of the unlikely Henry Krieger-Bill Russell musical about real-life vaudeville stars, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, which played a few months back in 1997. It will open Nov. 17 at the St. James.
Remember that preview Sting gave of his new musical The Last Ship at last spring's Tony Award broadcast? Well, now you can see the whole show. It will open at the Neil Simon Theatre Oct. 26. Joe Mantello will direct the former Police frontman's first musical. Inspired by the singer-songwriter's childhood experiences, the show depicts life in the English seafaring town of Wallsend and the young man who longs to escape the town.
Composer Jason Robert Brown won a couple of Tonys last season for his The Bridges of Madison County, but not a long run. He's back, however, with a new show, the long-aborning Honeymoon in Vegas, based on the 1992 film comedy. Filling the love-triangle roles created by Nicholas Cage, James Caan and Sarah Jessica Parker are Rob McClure, Tony Danza and Brynn O'Malley. Andrew Bergman, who wrote and directed the movie, is back to write the libretto. Previews begin Nov. 18 at the Brooks Atkinson. In from London is the marquee-busting title The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Simon Stephens' stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's popular 2003 mystery novel was a hit in the West End. Alexander Sharp plays Christopher, the hyper-intelligent teenager at the center of the action. The show opens at the Barrymore Oct. 5.
Also leaping the Atlantic is The River. The literary-mined can think of this as the new play from British dramatist Jez Butterworth, author of the acclaimed Jerusalem. The starry-eyed may view it as the vehicle bringing Broadway darling Hugh Jackman back to town. Either way, the play — set in a remote cabin on the cliffs on "a moonless night" — will open at Circle in the Square Nov. 16.
The characters in Donald Margulies' new play, due to open at the Friedman Theatre Oct. 2, are also in a house in the country. In fact, the play's titled The Country House. Daniel Sullivan directs a cast led by Blythe Danner, enacting the very theatre-world-centric story of a "brood of famous and longing-to-be-famous creative artists who have gathered at their Berkshires summerhouse during the Williamstown Theatre Festival."
Finally, Ayad Akhtar's politically charged play Disgraced, about race and identity among Muslim-Americans, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. On Oct. 23, it will get its Broadway debut at the Lyceum Theatre. Kimberly Senior directs a cast that includes Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman and Josh Radnor.