London Fall Preview: A Double Bill of Harvey Fierstein, Funny Girl’s Back Onstage and Kenneth Branagh Sets Up a New Theatre

News   London Fall Preview: A Double Bill of Harvey Fierstein, Funny Girl’s Back Onstage and Kenneth Branagh Sets Up a New Theatre
 
The West End is sending Broadway King Charles III and returning The Color Purple to sender as well (with the transfer of the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of the 2005 Broadway musical, just as they previously bequeathed Broadway its revivals of Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music and La Cage Aux Folles).

Meanwhile amongst the most eagerly awaited musical highlights of this season in London is the Menier's revival of Funny Girl, the first major revival of the 1964 Broadway musical that famously made a star of Barbra Streisand, and will now star Sheridan Smith under the direction of Broadway's Michael Mayer, originating his first UK production (though he's overseen West End transfers of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Spring Awakening). It begins performances Nov. 20, prior to an official opening Dec. 5, but the entire run (though March 5, 2106) sold out within hours of tickets going on public sale, so let's hope it has a further life beyond the Menier.

Meanwhile, Broadway also sends another show 'home' to the UK in return: Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 film of the same name, comes back to the country it is set in, when Jerry Mitchell's Tony Award winning production opens at the Adelphi Theatre Sept. 15, following previews that began Aug. 21. Killian Donnelly (who previously led the cast of the West End transfer of Broadway's Memphis, as well as headlined in The Commitments) and Matt Henry co-star.

Matt Henry
Matt Henry

Kinky's prolific book writer Harvey Fierstein has a second consecutive opening night in London Sept. 16 when director Luke Sheppard and producer Paul Taylor-Mills present the UK premiere of his 2014 play Casa Valentina. That fringe powerhouse, where a run of a revival of Grand Hotel is just ending Sept. 5, last year saw the same team of Sheppard and Taylor-Mills produce the sell-out London premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights.

The latter production is itself revived this season at King's Cross Theatre, a tented construction behind the London railway terminus of the same name, where it begins performances Oct. 3 prior to an official opening Oct. 13. Olivier Award-winning David Bedella (original Satan in Jerry Springer the Opera, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Josie Benson are amongst those reprising their performances from Southwark, newly joined by a cast that also includes Jade Ewen (original member of the British girl group Sugababes) and Broadway actor Joe Aaron Reid.

Also at Southwark in the fall is the London premiere of the 2007 Broadway musical Xanadu, based on the cult 1980 film of the same name, with a book by Douglas Carter Beane. It begins performances Oct. 16 prior to an official opening Nov. 2, with a cast led by Carly Anderson, Samuel Edwards and Alison Jiear. Broadway is also sending Elf to London for a Christmas season at the Dominion, beginning performances Oct. 24 prior to an official opening Nov. 5, with a cast that is led by Ben Forster (star of the arena stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, for which he was chosen by reality TV public vote), Joe McGann and Kimberley Walsh. They're also importing Broadway prices for it: top price tickets are a new record £240 each ($366).

Beverley Knight
Beverley Knight

While Andrew Lloyd Webber is, for the first time since Jesus Christ Superstar premiered on Broadway back in 1971 ahead of its West End bow a year later, offering Broadway his latest show School of Rock to New York first, his 1981 megahit Cats is also returning to London for the second time in the same year. The London Palladium revival last Christmas, that originally starred Nicole Scherzinger as Grizabella, will be back in residence at the same address from Oct. 23, this time with British pop star Beverley Knight (currently on the boards in Memphis at the Shaftesbury) as the "Memory"-singing feline.

Chichester's summer revival of Guys and Dolls, directed by Gordon Greenberg, is to transferring to the West End's Savoy Theatre, to follow directly on from Chichester's Gypsy currently playing there (through Nov. 28), to star Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide and Jamie Parker (Broadway's The History Boys) as Sky Masterson. It begins performances Dec. 10 prior to an official opening Jan. 6.

On a smaller scale, Dusty — a musical tribute to the iconic late British singer Dusty Springfield — is opening officially at the Charing Cross Theatre Sept. 7, after previews that began over three and a half months ago, and during which time it has now replaced most of its cast, director and several other members of its creative team.

Still on the musical front, various New York names will be making London cabaret appearances in the coming months. New York-based songwriter Scott Alan hosts a series of concerts from Sept. 7-17 at the Hippodrome casino, with guests that include the Broadway-bound Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple), Dean-John Wilson, Oliver Tompsett and a trio of stars from the current London production of Miss Saigon Eva Nobleza, Jon Jon Briones and Chris Peluso. Also at the Hippodrome, Julia Murney will headline two concerts  Nov. 2. And Bryan Batt is to bring his solo cabaret about his hometown "Tales from New Orleans to The Vaults in Waterloo," as part of its Bayou Banquest Festival celebrating the city, for a run from Sept. 21-23.

Sophie Thompson
Sophie Thompson

On the plays front the fall sees director Matthew Warchus (Broadway's Matilda the Musical, Art and God of Carnage) inaugurate his regime at the helm of the Old Vic, which he has taken over from Kevin Spacey, with a programme of seven productions across the next twelve months with the world premiere of Tamsin Oglesby's Future Conditional, that opens Sept. 10 (following previews that began Sept. 1), with a cast led by stage and screen comic Rob Brydon.

Future productions at the theatre will include Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape (with Matilda star Bertie Carvel in Richard Jones's production, beginning performances Oct. 17 prior to an official opening Oct. 29), as well as Ralph Fiennes in Ibsen's The Master Builder, the world premiere of a new musical based on the film Groundhog Day, with a score by Matilda's Tim Minchin, that has already announced Broadway plans for 2017, and the first West End revival of Yasmina Reza's Art that Warchus directed the original production of.

Also setting up a West End residency is Kenneth Branagh, who will inaugurate a year-long season at the Garrick Theatre under the umbrella of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company with a double bill of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Terrence Rattigan's Harlequinade, that will play in rep beginning performances Oct. 17 prior to an official opening Nov. 7, with a cast that will feature Branagh himself, Judi Dench, Zoë Wanamaker (who will also perform Rattigan's solo play All On her Own prior to Harlequinade nightly), Hadley Fraser and Michael Pennington.

The productions are co-directed with Broadway's Rob Ashford, who will also direct Branagh in John Osborne's The Entertainer at the theatre next August. Branagh will also star, with Rob Brydon, in Francis Veber's French farce The Painkiller that the pair previously starred in at Belfast's Lyric Theatre in 2011, and now bring to London next March. Branagh was last seen in the West End as part of the Michael Grandage-led Donmar West End season at Wyndham's, in which he played the title role of Chekhov's Ivanov.

Grandage, who has since left the Donmar, now runs his own eponymous company, which he launched with a five-play season at the Noel Coward Theatre that included Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan that subsequently transferred to Broadway. Now Grandage returns to the same West End address to offer the British premiere of Anna Ziegler's play Photograph 51 — previously produced at Off-Broadway's Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2010 – to begin performances Sept. 5 prior to an official opening Sept. 14.

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman

It stars Nicole Kidman, who recently worked with Grandage on his debut feature film "Genius" that is yet to be released and who was last seen on the London stage in The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse that subsequently transferred to Broadway. Could a transfer to Broadway also be on the cards for this one? (Grandage has also already announced that his company will originate its first production directly on Broadway when it revives O'Neill's Hughie, with Forest Whitaker, on the main stem next spring).

Also in a busy West End season, there are some high profile transfers ahead, including Farinelli and the King that brings Mark Rylance back to town in his wife Claire van Kampen's play that was first staged at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe earlier this year. It will now begin performances at the West End's Duke of York's Theatre Sept. 14 prior to an official opening Sept. 29. Florian Zeller's The Father — also due to receive its Broadway premiere this season in a separate production — will transfer to Wyndham's Theatre, beginning performances Sept. 30 prior to an official opening Oct. 5, in a production first seen at Bath's Ustinov Theatre and subsequently London's Tricycle. It stars Kenneth Cranham in the title role of a man, now 80 years old, who is exhibiting signs of the onset of dementia, with Claire Skinner as his daughter. The Almeida Theatre is Islington is also seeing its sell-out production of Aeschylus's Oresteia, re-imagined for the modern stage by director/adaptor Robert Icke, transfer to the Trafalgar Studios, opening Sept. 7 (following previews that began Aug. 22), with a cast led by Lia Williams and Angus Wright. The Almeida's ongoing season of Greek plays, which has also featured Ben Whishaw in Bakkai, will conclude with the Tony-nominated Kate Fleetwood (Macbeth opposite Patrick Stewart) starring in the title role of Medea, directed by Rupert Goold, that begins performances Sept. 25 prior to an official opening Oct. 1.

Other producing houses around London have also got busy seasons lined up. Hampstead Theatre has Simon Russell Beale as Georgian celebrity Samuel Foote in Mr Foote's Other Leg, directed by Richard Eyre (beginning performances Sept. 14 prior to an official opening Sept. 21) and Roger Allam in David Hare's The Moderate Soprano, directed by Jeremy Herrin (Broadway's Wolf Hall and the forthcoming Noises Off), about John Christie, the man who built Glyndebourne Opera House that begins performances Oct. 23 prior to an official opening Oct. 29.

Simon Russell Beale
Simon Russell Beale

The Donmar Warehouse has former Royal Court supremo Dominic Cooke returning to direct for the stage for the first time since he left Sloane Square to direct the U.K premiere of Christopher Shinn's Teddy Ferrera, beginning performances Oct. 1 prior to an official opening Oct. 7, and the 30th anniversary of Christopher Hampton's award-winning Les Liaisons Dangereuses, that will star Tony winner Janet McTeer (A Doll's House), Dominic West and Michelle Dockery (TV's "Downton Abbey") under the direction of Donmar artistic director Joise Rourke, beginning performances Dec.11 prior to an official opening Dec. 17.

At the Royal Court, the fall season kicks off with Martin McDonagh's first new play to premiere in the U.K in over a decade when Hangmen begins performances Sept. 10 prior to an official opening Sept. 17, with a cast that includes David Morrissey, Reece Shearsmith and Johnny Flynn. Also ahead there, Kim Cattrall returns to the London stage to star in Penelope Skinner's Linda, directed by Michael Longhurst, beginning performances Nov. 25 prior to an official opening Dec. 9.

At the Lyric Hammersmith, Lyndsey Turner, currently represented in London by her production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch at the Barbican (running through Oct. 30), directs the world premiere of Tipping the Velvet, Laura Wade's stage version of Sarah Waters' novel, beginning performances Sept. 18 prior to an official opening Sept. 28.

The National Theatre has world premieres of plays by Wallace Shawn (Evening at the Talk House, with Ian Rickson directing Sinead Matthews in the company, beginning performances Nov. 17 prior to an official opening Nov. 24 in the Dorfman Theatre) and Caryl Churchill (Here We Go, directed by Dominic Cooke, beginning performances Nov. 26 prior to an official opening Nov. 27 in the Lyttelton). There are also new productions of DH Lawrence's Husbands & Sons (starring Anne-Marie Duff, directed by Marianne Elliott, beginning performances Oct. 19 prior to an official opening Oct. 27 in the Dorfman Theatre), Shakespeare's As You Like It (featuring Rosalie Craig as Rosalind, beginning performances Oct. 26 prior to an official opening Nov. 3 in the Olivier Theatre) and the transfer of wonder.land, a new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" that was first premiered as part of the Manchester International Festival in July, to begin performances in the Olivier Theatre Nov. 23, prior to an official opening Dec. 10.

Ivo van Hove returns to the Young Vic, where his now Broadway-bound production of A View from the Bridge originated, to direct Simon Stephens's monologue Song from Far Away, opening Sept. 4 following a Sept. 3 preview. It is followed by Romola Garai starring in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, beginning performances Oct. 2 prior to an official opening Oct. 8.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything opening in the next few months — but its a big taster! Keep reading Playbill's International section for regular updates, and visit weekly for the What's Hot in London column. You can also follow Playbill.com's London correspondent @ShentonStage.

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