Theatre Year in Preview: Playbill On-Line Looks Ahead to the New Year on Broadway

Special Features   Theatre Year in Preview: Playbill On-Line Looks Ahead to the New Year on Broadway There are only four more months until the Tony Award cutoff, and Broadway is offering plenty of awards contenders—musicals and plays, old and new—for the nominators' consideration.
Norbert Leo Butz returns to Broadway with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Norbert Leo Butz returns to Broadway with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Photo by Craig Schwartz

Playbill On-Line took a few moments between Christmas and New Year's to contemplate and encapsulate the activity Times Square can expect during the second half of the season.

***

New musicals were scarce—and scarcely liked (Dracula, Brooklyn)—on Broadway during the first half of the season. But part two of 2004-05 begins with a couple fresh examples of the form, Little Women, opening Jan. 23, and Good Vibrations, opening Jan. 27. With the first, you know the stars (Sutton Foster, Maureen McGovern), but have likely never heard of the songwriters (Jason Howland, Mindi Dickstein). With the second, the opposite is true: the tunes are by a little group called the Beach Boys, while the ensemble contains not a single headliner. The helmsman, John Carrafa, is also an untested quantity, directing-wise.

Good Vibrations and All Shook Up will together test the popularity of the growing genre known as the Jukebox Musical. The latter, due to open on March 24, wraps a vaguely Shakespearean story around a couple dozen Elvis Presley songs. As with Good Vibrations, the leads are largely unknown, thought the director, Christopher Ashley, is an experienced one.

Coming in between The Wilson Brothers and Elvis are what can safely be called two of the most anticipated new musicals of the spring, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Monty Python's Spamalot, opening within days of each other, on March 3 and March 17, respectively. Scoundrels will show critics and audiences how composer David Yazbek follows up the good impression he made with his inaugural effort, The Full Monty. The show also gives star John Lithgow the chance to clown it up after his Tony-winning glowering in Sweet Smell of Success. Spamalot is Python scamp Eric Idle's expansion of his erstwhile comedy troupe's cultish 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." With Tim Curry, David Hyde-Pierce and Hank Azaria on stage and Mike Nichols at the helm, ticketbuyers are rightly anticipating riotous good fun. Another buzz-generating arrival is The Light in the Piazza, the Broadway musical debut of two lustrous names, composer Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas. The tale of a mother and daughter in 1960s Florence will be presented by Lincoln Center Theater, which has a history of playing host to young, experimental theatre songwriters, including Michael John LaChiusa and Jason Robert Brown.

Rounding out the spring musicals is the single visitor from overseas, the London stage version of the children's cinematic favorite, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which opens April 28. The show is Adrian Noble's shot at creating a long-running mega-musical, and revisits the 1980s Broadway world of large, flying props, in this case a magical, winged automobile.

The only major musical revival scheduled is the long-awaited Sweet Charity, which will have to open April 21 without the help of its composer, Cy Coleman, who recently passed away. The production will give Broadway neophyte Christina Applegate the chance to prove she can carry a show and Walter Bobbie an opportunity to show he still has the stuff which made Chicago a hit eight long years ago.

Broadway gets its second dose of playwright Donald Margulies on Feb. 3, when Manhattan Theatre Club opens Brooklyn Boy. The premiere follows last summer's revival of Sight Unseen. Just as that play starred Laura Linney, a Margulies veteran from the first production of Sight Unseen, Brooklyn Boy also features an actor familiar with the writer's work: Adam Arkin, who also appeared in the original Sight Unseen.

British playwright Martin McDonaugh gets his first Broadway production is several seasons with the April 10 opening of The Pillowman, one of Bob Boyett and Bill Haber's imports from the Royal National Theatre of London. The disturbing drama will begin around the time another unsettling work, John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, transfers to Broadway from its MTC Off-Broadway home.

The most anticipated play revival of a period ripe with them is undoubtably Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, opening March 20. This production, starring Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin as Edward Albee's warring George and Martha, is the first Broadway outing for the sparks-throwing play in three decades. As a classic, Woolf won't be lonely in Times Square. Joining it will be a double dose of Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Both will star top drawer actresses. Jessica Lange will open March 15 as Amanda Wingfield, while Natasha Richardson is the Roundabout Theatre Company's Blanche DuBois, premiering April 24. All will compete with none other than the Bard, who, after successful productions of Henry IV and King Lear last season, continues to get about Broadway. Denzel Washington is Brutus in Julius Caesar. Director Daniel Sullivan opens the tragedy on April 3.

The season closes with a couple feel-good comedic dramas, then finishes off with a knockout punch. The crowd pleaser are Steel Magnolias, the '80s Off-Broadway hit which graduates to Broadway with a cast headed by Delta Burke and Christine Ebersole. On Golden Pond, meanwhile, brings James Earl Jones back to the stage after a long absence. The two attractions open April 4 and April 7, respectively. David Mamet, then, yanks Broadway out of its happy place and into the manly, brutal world of his Glengarry Glen Ross, a new revival of which opens May 1. Liev Schreiber and Alan Alda lead the cast.

Finally, he hasn't fared too well in his last couple sallies, but you can't keep Jackie Mason away from Broadway for long. His latest, Freshly Squeezed, opens March 23.

Adam Arkin (left) and Arye Gross will bring South Coast Rep's production of <i>Brooklyn Boy</i> to Broadway
Adam Arkin (left) and Arye Gross will bring South Coast Rep's production of Brooklyn Boy to Broadway Photo by Ken Howard
Today’s Most Popular News: