Playbill.com Takes a Look at the 2008 Broadway Season

News   Playbill.com Takes a Look at the 2008 Broadway Season
 
After taking a back seat to plays for much of the fall, in 2008 musicals will resume their usual front-and-center place in the Broadway universe.
Sierra Boggess as The Little Mermaid
Sierra Boggess as The Little Mermaid Photo by Per Breiehagen

The line-up of winter and spring musicals begins about as big as can be expected. Marshalling its usual deep stores of talent and capital, Disney opens its sixth Broadway show, The Little Mermaid, on Jan. 10 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. (The show was to have bowed in 2007, but its arrival was delayed by the three-week-long stagehands strike.)

The underwater tale of a mermaid who longs to sample human life is a well-known property to audiences, as is the show's composer, Alan Menken, who has written many a familiar Disney ditty over the years. His late collaborator Howard Ashman, who worked on the original film, is given an assist here by additional lyricist Glenn Slater. Directing her first Broadway show is Francesca Zambello. On stage are such familiar hands as Norm Lewis, Sherie Rene Scott and Eddie Korbich, as well as newcomer Sierra Boggess. The show took some licks at the hands of critics during its Denver tryout. Time will soon tell whether it will hook Broadway critics and audiences.

 

Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell in Sunday in the Park.
 

Stephen Sondheim has been on a winning streak lately, revival-wise, what with critically acclaimed productions of Sweeney Todd and Company. His winning season may continue with a new rendition of Sunday in the Park With George, direct from London's Menier Chocolate Factory and presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company (which is Anglophilia Central this year, presenting both Sunday and the Brit-bred 39 Steps). Sam Buntrock directs the praised production, which will feature its London stars, Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, as George and Dot. Otherwise, the cast is packed with some skilled Americans, including Michael Cumpsty, Alexander Gemignani, Jessica Molaskey and Mary Beth Piel. Studio 54 is the locale.

 

Stew in Passing Strange
photo by Michal Daniel

Following in the non-traditional musical footsteps of last season's Grey Gardens and Spring Awakening will be Passing Strange, an erstwhile Off-Broadway offering that will soon make certain that Broadway audiences know there is a man named Stew. This mono-monikered composer created, with co-writer Heidi Rodewald and director Annie Dorsen, a musical story of one bohemian artist's adventures. The entire original Off-Broadway company, including Stew himself, will transfer to Broadway. Previews begin Feb. 8 at the Belasco.

Keeping Stew feel company in his offbeat Off-Broadwayness will be the cast and crew of In the Heights, which began life at 37 Arts last year. The show, about a Latino community in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who, like Stew, also stars) and Quiara Alegría Hudes. It will begin previews on Feb. 14 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

 

Harvey Fierstein in A Catered Affair.
photo by Craig Schwartz

Yet another new musical arrives on Broadway March 25 at the Walter Kerr, this one inspired by existing material. A Catered Affair is based on a motion picture about a family faced with a tough decision, written by Gore Vidal from an original teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky. The stage production is the work of an interesting array of artists. Actor Harvey Fierstein, who stars, reclaims his librettist bonafides by writing the book. John Bucchino, a well-known name in cabaret circles, claims his first major Broadway credit with this show. And directing is Tony winner John Doyle, who this time around does not arm his cast with musical instruments.

Meanwhile, beginning March 1, Lincoln Center Theater reminds us what musicals can be, offering the first Broadway revival in half a century of the classic, South Pacific. This show has been so anticipated that its coming was announced nearly a year-and-a-half ago. That announcement was followed by months of speculation as to who would play the leads. In the end, director Bartlett Sher cast Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot as Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque. The design staff will duplicate that of LCT's The Light in the Piazza, a production that apparently mightily impressed the Rodgers and Hammerstein camp.

 

S. Epatha Merkerson in L.A.'s Sheba
photo by Craig Schwartz

If Broadway audiences want to know what the theatre — and life in America — was like in the 1950s, they'll have no trouble getting a general idea in the next few months. Playwriting titans of days past, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams and William Inge, will all be represented. First up is Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba, at Manhattan Theatre Club starring S. Epatha Merkerson and directed by Michael Pressman. The two previously tackled the play in a spring 2007 incarnation in Los Angeles. The show hasn't been seen on Broadway since 1950. Opening is Jan. 24 at the Biltmore.

Sheba will still be playing when director Debbie Allen's all-black staging of Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof begins Feb. 12 at the Broadhurst. Featured in the unique take on the classic Southern drama of deceit and disillusion will be Anika Noni Rose, Giancarlo Esposito, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Terrence Howard.

 

Morgan Freeman
 

Arriving last, in April at a Shubert theatre to be announced, will be Academy Award winners Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand starring as a washed-up actor and his faithful wife in Odets' The Country Girl, directed by Mike Nichols. Also starring is Peter Gallagher.

Adding to the post-WWII feeling will be a couple other productions. Laurence Fishburne will star as the title character in the new play Thurgood. (Thurgood Marshall, in case you're still scratching your head. How many famous Thurgoods do you know?) The show, by George Stevens Jr., is based on the life of the famous lawyer, Civil Rights crusader and Supreme Court Justice. The presence of this attraction also adds to what is shaping up to be one of the most prosperous seasons for African-African actors in recent memory. Previews begin this spring at the Booth.

The other 1950s-flavored show is an unlikely revival of Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski's war drama set in a German prison camp, Stalag 17. The original play ran on Broadway in 1951 and played 472 performances at the 48th Street Theatre before closing June 21, 1952. Film director Spike Lee is the unusual helmsman of this work, which has not announced any official theatre or dates.

 

November's Nathan Lane
photo by David Kennerly

Keeping audiences rooting solidly in the present day, meanwhile, will be David Mamet's November, starring Nathan Lane as an incumbent President who has screwed up everything he's ever touched and is facing certain defeat in the coming election. The tasty cast also includes Laurie Metcalf and Dylan Baker. Opening is Jan. 17 at the Barrymore.

Opening a couple days before that is a very unexpected sort of screen-to-stage adaptation. Few people are familiar with the British Alfred Hitchcock thriller The 39 Steps. But that didn't stop Patrick Barlow from adapting it, or Maria Aitken from directing it, or four actors from essaying all 150 parts, or the whole darn thing from becoming a great hit — first in North Yorkshire, then off-West End and then on the West End. The Roundabout has brought it in to its American Airlines Theatre.

Also at the Roundabout will be a new revival of Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, starring Ben Daniels and Laura Linney as the devious lovers, the Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil. Rufus Norris will stage the work scheduled to begin April 11, at the American Airlines Theatre.

Finally, starting April 15, James MacDonald will direct a Broadway revival of Caryl Churchill's modern classic Top Girls at the Biltmore. MacDonald likes him some Caryl Churchill; he will also direct the playwright's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You at the Public Theater Off-Broadway this spring. The cast of the MTC production will comprise Elizabeth Marvel, Mary Catherine Garrison, Martha Plimpton and Marisa Tomei. Now, there're some top girls, indeed.

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