In New York, the Broadway season officially begins just after the spring Tony Award nominations are announced, but it isn't until after Labor Day and into the fall when the majority of productions on the Great White Way, Off-Broadway and around the country make their appearances.
Serious theatre, the conventional wisdom goes, doesn't begin until autumn. And although autumn doesn't officially begin until Sept. 22, Labor Day is the spiritual end of summer and it seems a natural time to look ahead. What's fresh, new, different and generating buzz, questions or speculation before the end of the year? Playbill On-Line has compiled a list of six shows — dark horses and underdogs — you need to note if you want to be in the know.
Below, we point not to the obvious audience-friendly attractions, such as the juggernaut ABBA musical, Mamma Mia!, Neil Simon's new Forty-Five Seconds From Broadway, or Andrew Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves, which have built-in audiences and star-writers attached, but to the quirky question marks that make become breakaway hits.
Happy Labor Day. The season is upon us.
Laugh Until You're Wet: Did anyone suspect a musical with the title Urinetown would ever be playing on Broadway starring the classy Tony Award wining actor John Cullum? But there it is, currently in previews at the Henry Miller, officially opening Sept. 10. The neo-Brechtian comic musical is set in a futuristic world where an evil corporation controls water usage. The laugh out-loud show spoofs musical theatre conventions and, somewhere, has a political edge. Some are calling the John Rando-directed show by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis the funniest tuner this side of The Producers. A Hundred Million Miracles: Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles is producing the world premiere of a newly-adapted version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Flower Drum Song, about Chinese-Americans living, loving and clashing in 1950s San Francisco. Playwright David Henry Hwang and director choreographer Robert Longbottom have reconsidered the material, merged characters, moved and reassigned songs (including the classics "I Enjoy Being a Girl," "Sunday" and "Love, Look Away") and refreshed a show that is rarely revived but beloved by musical buffs. Elements of American nightclub glitz and traditional Chinese opera are said to be part of the mix. Performances play the Los Angeles non-profit Oct. 2-Dec. 2. Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga stars, along with Jose Llana.
Niagara Calls: Manhattan Theatre Club offers the New York premiere if serio-quirky playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World, starring Sarah Jessica Parker ("Sex and the City") as a housewife who flees her husband to live life to its fullest at Niagara Falls, where she meets a boat captain, a suicidal alcoholic with a pickle barrel perfect for the falls, a psychotic helicopter pilot and a bickering couple disguised as detectives. Performances begin Off-Broadway at MTC's Stage I Oct. 9. Opening is Nov. 1. Marylouise Burke, Kristine Nielsen, Amy Sedaris and Alan Tudyk join Parker for the ride. Lindsay-Abaire is known for his daffy Fuddy Meers, an MTC and regional hit.
The Big Easy Musical: There is virtually no buzz about the new Susan Stroman musical, Thou Shalt Not, except that it's the new Susan Stroman musical. The director-choreographer who made magic with Contact, The Music Man and The Producers helms a book by David Thompson (Steel Pier) and a score by theatre novice Harry Connick Jr. Involving adultery and murder in post-World War II New Orleans (Connick's home turf), it's based on Emile Zola's "Therese Raquin," about a sensual wife and her lover murdering her husband and remarrying, only to be haunted by the victim's ghost. Lincoln Center Theatre produces at the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway beginning Sept. 20 and opening Oct. 25. Craig Bierko, Kate Levering, Norbert Butz, Debra Monk and Leo Burmester star. The production is a limited engagement to Jan. 6, 2002 — unless the show's a critical hit. If so, expect it to take off quicker than you can say Contact.
Humanity, With Gravy: The new musical, The Spitfire Grill, based on the film of the same name, is making its New York City debut at Off Broadway's Playwrights Horizons at The Duke on 42nd (in previews Sept. 7 and opening Oct. 2) and word of mouth says the show brims with humanity and melody. David Saint directs (as he did the regional debut at his George Street Playhouse in New Jersey). The bittersweet tale of an outsider who changes the lives of people in a small town is even more bittersweet with this production — earlier this year the co-librettist and lyricist, Fred Alley, died of an undiagnosed heart ailment at the age of 38. His collaborator, composer and co-librettist James Valcq, moves ahead with the project. Liz Callaway, Phyllis Somerville, Mary Gordon Murray and Garrett Long star.
Bang!: It was said the mood in the country in 1991 was not quite right for a Broadway move for Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's fantasia of a musical, Assassins, a tuneful and abstract rumination on violence, celebrity and the folks who tried to — or succeeded at — killing American presidents. In 1991, the Gulf War was raging and the original Off-Broadway staging of the show played and quietly ended at Playwrights Horizons. Really, now, is there ever a sure-fire time for a commercial run of a show about presidential assassins? Roundabout Theatre Company gives the show its Broadway premiere under the direction of Joe Mantello, at the Music Box Theatre beginning Nov. 1. Filled with anger, wit, comedy, guilt and pain, there is nothing like Assassins, and audiences are likely to approach it with the attitude of "you have to see it to believe it." Douglas Sills and Neil Patrick Harris are among stars.
— By Kenneth Jones
and staff writers