First up on the Broadway roster is the new mounting of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which, in 1984, was the playwright's first big success. It featured an up-and-coming young actor named Charles S. Dutton, playing the role of Levee the trumpeter. Joining star Whoopi Goldberg in the new show, which is directed by Marion McClinton and begins in January, is a now well-established television and film actor named, well, Charles S. Dutton. He will again play Levee, offering audiences a rare chance to time travel back a couple decades.
Next, in March, comes a new look as Athol Fugard's South African drama Master Harold...and the boys, which had a Broadway berth during the 1982-83 season and starred Lonny Price as the title character, and Zakes Mokae and a fairly unfamous Danny Glover as Sam and Willie, Master Harold's two servants. Price and Glover are apparently very attached to the piece, for the upcoming Roundabout Theatre Company staging will feature both, but in different capacities. Glover will now be Sam, the older servant. Price will still play his master, in a way: he's directing the piece.
The final entry in this new form of déjà vu production—which seems to indicate that producers not only desire the comfort and safety of proven properties, but now also want some of the people who helped prove those properties in the first place—is the first Broadway production of the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman Off-Broadway smash musical, Little Shop of Horrors. Reports have Lee Wilkof, the actor who originated the part of Seymour, the hero-sap at the story's center, being considered to play the role of Seymour's curmudgeon boss, Mushnik. Keeping the work further rooted in tradition is that the director will be someone quite familiar with the work: Wilkof's wife, Connie Grappo.
Proof, the most successful Broadway play in 20 years, will close at the Walter Kerr on Jan. 5 after a nearly two-and-one-half-year run. Since opening Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, it has collected every award on the shelf (Tony and Pulitzer included), found its way into the seasons of all but a handle of the major nonprofits in the U.S., become MTC's most successful production ever, played in London and other foreign locales far more obscure (Lea Salonga in Manila, anyone?), gone through three movie star Catherines (Mary-Louise Parker, the original star, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anne Heche), and been adapted into a film with a fourth movie star, Gwyneth Paltrow (probably due to be released in 2003). Throughout all this, playwright David Auburn has kept a relatively low profile, acting almost preternaturally modest. He's also been taking his time about delivering a follow-up to his breakthrough play. It should be the most highly anticipated new work in some time.
Also closing is White Tie and Tails, Tommy Tune's very brief return to the New York stage, which opened the new Little Shubert Theatre. The second tenant on that splashy new stage will be something completely different: Lynn Redgrave's play The Mandrake Root. Off-Broadway's The New Group has opened one of its more interested offerings in a while: Trevor Griffith's Comedians, starring Jim Dale and Raul Esparza. Likewise, the Drama Dept. Is unveiling a beguiling selection: Shanghai Moon, a campy melodrama about the mysterious East by and starring (in drag) Charles Busch, and co starring B.D. Wong.
Finally, reports have Neil Simon's latest, Rose and Walsh, now in rehearsals at the Geffen Playhouse in L.A., as a possibility for Broadway in the spring. It's based on the relationship between playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist Dashiell Hammett. This news inevitably makes one think about two things: one, Imaginary Friends, the current Broadway play by Nora Ephron about the relationship between playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist Mary McCarthy; and two, the relationship between playwright Lillian Hellman and other currently living playwrights, and why the first is forcing the others to write plays about her.