Seasonal Activity: A Look at Broadway in 1999-2000

Seasonal Activity: A Look at Broadway in 1999-2000 For theatre writers burdened with an early deadline, writing Broadway season previews is a fool’s game. No sooner have you turned in your copy than the players have changed. Sure things postpone until next year. Shows lose their stars, their backing, their nerve. And the season you’ve written about resembles nothing currently crossing the city’s stages.
The Season in Red: David Suchet in Amadeus, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie in Kiss Me, Kate and James Carpinello in Saturday Night Fever.
The Season in Red: David Suchet in Amadeus, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie in Kiss Me, Kate and James Carpinello in Saturday Night Fever. (Photo by First Photo by Catherine Ashmore, Photos by Joan Marcus)

For theatre writers burdened with an early deadline, writing Broadway season previews is a fool’s game. No sooner have you turned in your copy than the players have changed. Sure things postpone until next year. Shows lose their stars, their backing, their nerve. And the season you’ve written about resembles nothing currently crossing the city’s stages.

So, in the interest of accuracy in reporting, this article will dwell only on those shows which seem most certain to honor their opening dates. Naturally, most of these fall in the autumn and winter months. (Who knows what frightful theatrical versions of musical chairs will come into play with the spring?)

Only the most demanding of musical fans could be unhappy with the 1999 2000 forecast. It seems every heavy hitter in the theatre community is stepping up to the plate, from one of Broadway’s most prolific individual producers, Cameron Mackintosh (Martin Guerre), to corporate producer Disney (Aida); from the musical form’s greatest artist, Stephen Sondheim (Wise Guys); to one of its rising stars, Michael John LaChiusa (Marie Christine).

Lincoln Center Theater’s Marie Christine, a Creole updating of the deathless (so to speak) tale of Medea, will be the long-touted LaChiusa’s most high-profile assignment to date. The show, due this fall, has the added interest of giving the American theatre’s most famous supporting actress, three-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, her first starring Broadway role.

LaChiusa’s artistic mentor, Sondheim, may, with Wise Guys, present his first new musical since 1994’s Passion. (Older Sondheim material will be on display in the fall revival of the revue Putting It Together, starring Carol Burnett.) The show -- a vaudevillian take on the roguish Mizner brothers, one an architect, the other a playwright and con man -- was commissioned by the Kennedy Center way back in 1995, some 42 years after Sondheim began toying with the idea. Nathan Lane and Victor Garber have been widely reported for the leads in November’s Off Broadway workshop, and the musical could possibly grace Broadway in the spring. Aida, Disney’s first stage musical written explicitly for the stage (due at the Palace Theatre in early 2000), has an intriguingly eclectic creative team -- including Lion King composers Elton John and Tim Rice, Death of a Salesman director Robert Falls, British designer Bob Crowley and stars Lion King’s Heather Headley and Rent’s Adam Pascal. The season’s other epic offering, the oft-told fable of Martin Guerre -- due in April -- is Les Miz composers Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schonberg’s long-in-development follow-up to Miss Saigon and Cameron Mackintosh’s first new megamusical in some years.

Another familiar tale that may see Broadway in the fall is the Paul Gordon-John Caird musical telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

A British import and a home-grown show will fight for the title of “dancingest show in town.” The first is the stage version of the John Travolta film Saturday Night Fever. Bee Gees tunes (a couple of them new) provide the score in and around Bay Ridge’s 2001 Odyssey discotheque. The second is Swing!, a celebration of the thirties dance craze currently being discovered anew by the nation’s youth (and which, ironically, informed disco-dancing styles); cabaret/jazz singer Ann Hampton Callaway -- making her Broadway debut -- will star.

Among musical revivals, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, is a definite for the fall; a new version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar will arrive in April; and a reworking of the Burton Lane-E.Y. Harburg Finian’s Rainbow may reach New York by early 2000.

The first play of the fall (not the season -- that was John Pielmeier’s thriller, Voices in the Dark) will be Larry Coen and David Crane’s Hollywood farce, Epic Proportions, director Jerry Zaks’s first stab at comedy in years and newly minted star Kristin Chenoweth’s first post Tony role.

In April, Donald Sutherland returns to the Broadway stage for the first time in nearly 20 years (Remember Lolita? Any-one?) in Eric Emmanuel Schmitt’s Enigma Variations. Eileen Atkins is an ardent fan of a famous novelist in The Unexpected Man, by Yasmina Reza, author of the Tony-winning Art. Another British import due in the spring is Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, about the 1941 meeting of two famous physicists who helped open the world of the atom but now find themselves on opposite sides of a world war.

A new revival of the late Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings will open on December 16, the playwright-composer’s 100th birthday. The cast of the comedy, about a retirement home for actresses, boasts stage and screen veterans Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Harris and is sure to be stocked with various other living legends.

One legendary actress certain not to be in the Coward cast is Julie Harris, who will instead star in Lisette Lecat Ross’s Scent of the Roses (due in December), about a South African woman and her attachment to a valuable painting. The multiple-character play is unusual for Harris, who has for many years typically favored Broadway as a solo act.

Meanwhile, Cherry Jones, star currency of more recent coinage, has been announced for the lead in a Gerald Gutierrez revival of O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, set for December. The two last teamed on The Heiress, one of the theatrical highlights of the past decade.

Direct from London -- via a stopover at Los Angeles’s Ahmanson Theatre - is Sir Peter Hall’s acclaimed revival of Amadeus, which will arrive on Broadway in December with David Suchet and Michael Sheen as Hall’s Salieri and Mozart. And, a new fall production of N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker will feature the hopefully rainmaking star Woody Harrelson as Starbuck. Finally, no Broadway season would be complete without one solo show. This fall’s first candidate is Barry Humphries’s latest turn as Dame Edna, subtitled The Royal Tour.

In February, Julie Taymor will bring in her first post-Lion King Broadway show, a restaging of her 1996 Off-Broadway success, The Green Bird. Other possibilies for the season are David Hirson’s Wrong Mountain, Elaine May’s Taller Than a Dwarf and the comedy Enchanted April, an adaptation of Elizabeth Von Armin’s novel.

Whether the above plans be reality or merely dreams won’t be known until the last days of April (traditionally, the time by which a Broadway show must open to qualify for Tony Award consideration). Until then, enjoy whatever season the Gods and producers may send you.

--Robert Simonson