How do you offend as many people as possible in two hours?
This isn't usually a question musical writers ask themselves when putting together a new show for Broadway. But it's a typical starting point for "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who have joined forces with Avenue Q creator Robert Lopez to formulate The Book of Mormon, a show likely to be the most audacious and talked-about new musical of the 2011 spring season on Broadway.
Stone and Parker have made a reputation of stepping heavily and gleefully on the toes of the rich, famous and sacred in the name of comedy, and their first foray into theatre is likely to follow that playbook. (The title alone is provocative.) The story reportedly follows two young Mormon missionaries who are shipped off to a dangerous part of Uganda to spread the good word. Their adventures are told alongside the story of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church. Previews start in February at the O'Neill Theatre.
Oscar Wilde's 19th-century comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by and starring (as Lady Bracknell) Brian Bedford, opens in January at the American Airlines Theatre. The Roundabout production borrows elements from Bedford's acclaimed earlier staging at Ontario's Stratford Festival. Two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy returns to the Broadway stage as the star of The People in the Picture, the story of three generations of women headed by a former star of the Yiddish stage in Poland. It features book and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart and music by Mike Stoller and Artie Butler. Stoller is best known as half of the legendary songwriting duo Lieber and Stoller. Previews begin at the American Airlines Theatre in April.
|photo by Chris Bennion|
With Catch Me If You Can, composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman finally offer a follow-up to Hairspray, their smash musical of nearly a decade ago. Like that work, the new one is based on a film, Steven Spielberg's caper about renowned con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. and his real-life Javert, FBI agent Carl Hanratty. The Hairspray team of director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell is back, as is Hairspray's old home, the Neil Simon Theatre. It begins in March.
Cinema's Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, makes his second Broadway appearance, in February at the Al Hirschfeld, playing a sort of stage predecessor of Abagnale: J. Pierrepont Finch, the cheerfully conniving ladder-climber of Frank Loesser's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Rob Ashford directs and choreographs what is being billed as the 50th-anniversary revival of the satiric, Pulitzer Prize-winning show.
Another high-profile musical revival has Sutton Foster inheriting a role previously played on Broadway by Ethel Merman and Patti LuPone: Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter's Anything Goes, a show not seen on Broadway in more than 20 years. Kathleen Marshall will direct and choreograph. Classics such as "You're the Top" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" will be belted from the stage of the Roundabout Theatre Company's Stephen Sondheim Theatre starting in March.
Other new musical productions due this season include Sister Act, a stage adaptation of the nun-filled Whoopi Goldberg film comedy, by songwriters Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, at the Broadway Theater in March; Wonderland, composer Frank Wildhorn's modern twist on the classic "Alice in Wonderland," playing the Marquis Theatre in March; and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, an Australian jukebox musical import, based on the film of the same name about three pals on a trip in the outback, commencing February at the Palace Theatre.
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire delivers Good People, his first new play since winning the Pulitzer Prize for Rabbit Hole in 2007. He sets the play in his native neighborhood of Southie, Boston, where struggling Margie Walsh turns to an old flame made good to help solve her mounting financial woes. Daniel Sullivan directs the drama at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre beginning in February. Frances McDormand, Estelle Parsons and Tate Donovan star.
Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Annabella Sciorra, Yul Vazquez and comic Chris Rock will assemble for the Broadway premiere of Motherf**ker with the Hat, which is just exactly the sort of title you'd expect the edgy, often profane downtown playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis to come up with for his Broadway debut, in March at the Schoenfeld Theatre. The play is about a longstanding couple, one clean and sober, one not, and the sobriety sponsor who comes between them.
Runner-up to the Guirgis play for the most unusual title of the spring is Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, at The Richard Rodgers Theatre in March. But we're guessing people will learn to say the name of Rajiv Joseph Iraq-set play since it marks the Broadway acting debut of Robin Williams. He plays, uh, the tiger. Seriously. Moises Kaufman directs.
Keeping things in the family, actor Jason Patric will star in a revival of the drama That Championship Season, which was written by his late father Jason Miller. Kiefer Sutherland will also star in the production, due at Jacobs Theatre in February. Gregory Mosher, who had a big hit with the recent revival of A View From the Bridge, will direct.
Edie Falco, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ben Stiller will star in John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, the first Broadway staging of the 1971 work since a 1986 Lincoln Center Theatre revival reestablished its reputation as a modern classic. Stiller co-starred in that staging as angry young Ronnie Shaughnessy. This time he'll play Ronnie's hard-luck, songwriter dad Artie. David Cromer (Adding Machine, Our Town) directs, starting April at the Walter Kerr.
Also making a homecoming will be Billy Crudup, who in 2001 will return to the play that made him a star, Tom Stoppard's time-warping Arcadia. Stoppard expert David Leveaux will pilot a production in February at the Barrymore of the 1993 work, which is set in the same stately English home, but in two time periods 200 years apart. Crudup, who first played the puckish Septimus Hodge, will graduate to the elder role of pompous Bernard Nightingale.
|photo by Simon Annand|
Mark Rylance, who appeared on Broadway this past fall as part of La Bete, makes a quick return in Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, which won the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play. Rylance plays a former daredevil motorcyclist and modern-day Pied Piper who has a host of troubles to contend with. Previews will begin in April at the Music Box Theatre.
Comedian Dane Cook will make his Broadway debut this season in Neil LaBute's Fat Pig, which first debuted Off-Broadway in 2004. The play, like LaBute's previous Broadway outing, reasons to be pretty, brutally examines how important, exactly, looks are in modern society. Stage vet Josh Hamilton will co-star as a man who finds both happiness and trouble when he falls for an overweight woman, with LaBute himself directing. No dates or theatre as of press time.
|photo by Aubrey Reuben|
Also hopeful of reaching Broadway this season is The Old Masters, which would be the first Simon Gray play to reach Broadway since the British author's death in 2008. It stars Brian Murray and Sam Waterston as an art historian and an art dealer who argue over the value of art and money in Mussolini's Italy. Michael Rudman directs.
One of the more unusual entries of the spring, War Horse, will find a pretty stable in Lincoln Center Theatre's Vivian Beaumont come March. The show, based on Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel about a boy and his horse over the course of World War I, was a huge hit for the National Theatre in London, transferring to the West End. The show features seven-foot-tall puppet horses and a cast of more than 30 performers. "This level of puppetry hasn't been seen on Broadway before, and this is what audiences are going to find riveting," puppet designer Basil Jones has said. Has Julie Taymor been told?
Speaking of Taymor, her Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, which was part of the Playbill.com Fall Broadway Preview, is back again for the spring preview. That's because a series of mishaps and delays — all very well covered in the news — have caused the mega-musical to push back its opening several times. The most recent announced opening date, at the Foxwoods Theater, is Feb. 7.
(Robert Simonson has been Playbill.com's senior correspondent since 2006. Prior to that, he was the editor of Playbill.com for seven years. His most recent book, "The Gentleman Press Agent," was published by Applause Books in June. Contact him at email@example.com.)