PLAYBILL PICKS: Playbill Contributors Share Titles They're Eager to See in Spring 2014
By Playbill Staff
Playbill editorial staffers put together individual lists of productions we're especially looking forward to seeing this spring in New York City and London.
The 2014 theatre season continues with a fresh crop of productions popping up in New York, London and across the country. As we head into the busy theatrical awards season, Playbill.com staffers offer a look at what's piqued our interest in New York and London. Also check out our season previews below to see what's in store this spring.
Click through to read our individual lists.
MATT BLANK, Playbill.com Photo Editor
The new Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Not terribly original of me, but I'm of that generation where I may never have fallen in love with theatre were it not for this show. It was the very first musical I was taken to as a child (well, the first one I enjoyed anyway) and it's been something of a life-long obsession - in the healthiest sense of the word. I saw the original staging countless times, produced one of the first "School Edition" productions when I was 20 and have gone out of my way to see regional stagings any chance I could get. A new production in that classic old house, with such a fantastic lineup of talent… that's all I need.
Aladdin. Love the movie, love the music from the film, love the new songs, love the casting. Disney always turns out a good product, and I've little doubt this will be another exciting stage transfer.
Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig. Another movie I unexpectedly fell in love with when I was dragged to a screening toward the end of high school. The material remains beautifully resonant and I never have tired of that music. I was lucky enough to see Kevin Cahoon star in the stage production during its stay in San Francisco, followed by a very cool black box "cabaret" presentation of the show at my college (starring the super-talented Michael Keyloun). To finally see it in a shiny new incarnation on the New York stage, headlined by NPH, is very exciting.
I missed it Off-Broadway, but I'm really looking forward to the Main Stem bow of Eric Simonson's Bronx Bombers. New York being my adoptive city, I've since been an unapologetic Yanks fan. I've admired Simonson's vigilant work bringing the drama of sports to the Broadway stage as in Lombardi and Magic/Bird. I'm eager to see his treatment of so many of the greats to don the Yankees pinstripes.
I'm not really sure what to expect, but I'm probably most intrigued and curious about Rocky. The story, of course, is iconic on so many levels. And, for my money, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens have never written a score that is anything less than brilliant. I'm very happy to see Andy Karl finally get his due as a perfectly-cast leading man and equally thrilled that Terence Archie (who was so great in Chad Deity and Philly's Threepenny Opera) will reprise his performance as Apollo Creed.
ANDREW GANS, Playbill.com Senior Editor
The Bridges of Madison County
Bullets Over Broadway
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Mothers and Sons
The Realistic Joneses
Cabaret. Although I've always known Kander and Ebb's iconic score, the first production of Cabaret that I saw was in college at Montclair State University. The production at MSU was inspired by the 1998 Tony Award-winning revival, so I'm thrilled that audiences will get the chance to relive that production and see Alan Cumming's award-winning turn as the Emcee.
Aladdin. I'm such a Disney kid at heart, and "Aladdin" was one of my favorite childhood movies. The movie's score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice is one of the best for animated film. Plus, Courtney Reed and Adam Jacobs seem like perfect matches for Jasmine and Aladdin. I can't wait to hear them sing "A Whole New World"!
Les Misérables. I love Les Misérables — it's such an epic musical and an American Musical Theatre staple. I also have such a special relationship with the show (read about it), and I can't wait to have it back on Broadway. There are some knockout talents in the cast, and I'm especially looking forward to Keala Settle's "Master of the House."
The Bridges of Madison County. I'm always excited for a new Jason Robert Brown musical. Enough said.
If/Then. I was a huge fan of Next to Normal, so I'm very excited to hear a new score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. With a stellar cast that includes Idina Menzel, LaChanze, Anthony Rapp, Jerry Dixon, Jenn Colella, Jason Tam, Tamika Lawrence, Ryann Redmond and more, how could you possibly go wrong? Plus, I've heard wonderful things about the show from If/Then swing Janet Krupin!
DAVID GEWIRTZMAN, Playbill Special Projects
The Tribute Artist. Female impersonator Charles Busch stars in a play about a female impersonator, written by Charles Busch. What's not to like? If this new play is even half as good as the past two comedies Busch wrote and starred in (Judith of Bethulia and The Divine Sister), then it can’t help but be the funniest play in New York this spring. That the always-hilarious Julie Halston is also in the cast; just further goes to guarantee a certain laugh riot.
The Few. Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale was one the best plays I saw last season. Based on the strength of that, I’m making it a point not to miss anything new he writes. This is Hunter's first new play to hit New York since The Whale, and with pretty encouraging reviews following its premiere in San Diego this past fall, I see no reason not to make this a must see.
Too Much Sun. Playwright Nicky Silver and Linda Lavin reunite following the huge success of The Lyons. This sounds like another great, juicy role for Lavin, who this time will be playing an actress who "unravels completely while preparing for a new production of Medea."
Rocky. I admit to being a bit skeptical that the movie "Rocky" could possibly be turned into successful musical. But I also can’t imagine that anything written by Thomas Meehan, Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and directed by Alex Timbers could be anything less than interesting. I’m very curious to see how this one turns out.
Werther. This was an easy one to pick: just look through the Met's schedule until the name Jonas Kaufmann pops up and then click 'buy.' To celebrate Kaufmann performing the role in New York, the Met is putting together a new production directed by the great theatre director Richard Eyre. I can't wait.
ADAM HETRICK, Playbill.com Editor in Chief
If/Then. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Next to Normal was one of those musicals I returned to again and again. They've reunited with director Michael Grief on this ambitiously structured new musical. Idina Menzel stars as a woman seeking a fresh start in New York City where her potential life choices play out as the "If" and "Then" unfold.
The Bridges of Madison County. I admit, I wasn't a fan of the film and the book's popularity always left me feeling that this was one of those typical book-of-the-month romance novellas. However, director Bartlett Sher, composer Jason Robert Brown and book writer Marsha Norman offered members of the press a dazzling preview of their new musical adaptation that brings new depth and context to what promises to be an emotionally-rich theatrical experience starring Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale.
Rocky. This stage production of the 1976 Academy Award-winning film about the heavyweight boxer is a must-see season curiosity for me in the best of possible ways. I don't count myself among those who grew up with this film, but director Alex Timbers continues to reshape the way audiences view and experience live theatre, and few writers deliver the kind of melodically and emotionally satisfying musicals the way Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty do. I have a feeling, and pardon the pun, that Rocky is going to be a theatrical knock-out.
Act One. Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright director James Lapine has adapted Moss Hart's 1959 autobiography into this stage production that will chronicle the life of the legendary writer-director from his childhood on the Lower East Side to his glittering Broadway success with George S. Kaufman. Santino Fontana and Tony Shalhoub will portray Hart at various stages in his life.
Bullets Over Broadway. Woody Allen has teamed up with director-choreographer Susan Stroman on this stage musical adaptation of his backstage Broadway comedy that will be filled with period songs from the 1920s and 30s. I'm especially looking forward to seeing a whole new side of Marin Mazzie as tempestuous diva Helen Sinclair.
CAREY PURCELL, Playbill.com Features Editor
Tales from Red Vienna. This play sounds fascinating. Exploring the effects that war has on women through the story of Heléna, who is struggling to survive financially after losing her husband in World War I, it's a story I think needs to be told. And who better to tell it than the force of nature that is Nina Arianda? One of the most entertaining and compelling women I've seen perform live, Arianda's return to the stage is eagerly awaited. After seeing her in Born Yesterday, where she made me laugh simply by screwing her face into different expressions while playing cards — without saying a single word — and her tour-de-force performance as Vanda in Venus in Fur, I can't wait to watch her take on a darker and more serious role.
A Doll's House. I've never seen Ibsen's story of maritial discontent and blackmail performed before, but I've wanted to since I read the play in high school English class. I still remember cheering when Nora slammed the door on Torvald, and I am thrilled the play is coming to Brooklyn Academy of Music. (I'm also excited that it's directed by a woman — Carrie Cracknell.) Given the evolving role that marriage plays in present-day society, as well as the ongoing debate about the roles of men and women, I think A Doll's House couldn't be more timely, and I can't wait to hear Nora slam that door in the Harvey Theater.
Violet. I was so moved by Violet when I saw it at City Center as part of the Encores! Off-Center series. The story, the music AND the Sutton. Sutton Foster's charm and charisma are so well-suited to the role of Violet, to say nothing of her incredible voice. The themes of the story — inner and outer beauty, faith, superficiality — are timeless, and Foster portrays Violet's loving spirit, as well as her insecurity and anger, so wonderfully. I can't wait to hear her sing "On My Way" in the American Airlines Theater.
Cabaret. Alan Cumming as the Emcee. Need I say more? I probably don't, but I will. Everything about this production excites me. Michelle Williams has given amazing performances in her recent movies and I'm incredibly excited to see her take on Sally Bowles, and I think Danny Burstein is one of the best actors onstage in New York. The story and the music are just as exciting as the cast. And it's all coming back to Studio 54.
Macbeth. No, I'm not sick of Macbeth yet. I love the play, and I've enjoyed something about every production of it I've seen in the past two years. I always find something new to think about after seeing this story of ambition and murder, and I'm confident Kenneth Branagh, one of the world's greatest interpreters of Shakespeare, won't fail to bring something new to his production. I'm sure Branagh and co-director Rob Ashford will find exciting ways to present the play in the vast setting that is the Park Avenue Armory.
I'm also looking forward to Frank Langella take on King Lear, Neil Patrick Harris strapping on some heels in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Harvey Fierstein's new play Casa Valentina and Idina Menzel's return to Broadway in If/Then.
BEN RIMALOWER, Playbill.com Contributor
Without a doubt, I am most excited for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s upcoming revival of their 1998 revival of the John Kander/Fred Ebb/Joe Masteroff classic, Cabaret, once again directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall and once again starring Alan Cumming. My timing the first time around prevented me from catching Cumming’s Tony-winning turn (I moved to New York City mere weeks after he left the cast) and though I enjoyed fabulous performances by several of his replacements, I have long dreamed of witnessing Cumming’s star-making triumph in person.
One of the brilliant stars I saw as the Emcee in Cabaret the last time was the versatile Neil Patrick Harris. Between his numerous acclaimed performances on television and in theatre, as well as his successful outings as an award show host (not to mention his status as a prominent, out gay man), Harris is an icon of my generation, if anyone is. For him to be taking on a part as dynamic and risky as the Hedwig in the show’s forthcoming Broadway premiere is truly brave. Hedwig And The Angry Inch is one of the top handful of shows I’ve ever seen onstage and I’m thrilled that this production with Neil Patrick Harris will finally give this major work the mainstream exposure it so deserves.
Another upcoming production full of superlatives is the new Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey musical, If/Then. Their last collaboration, Next to Normal, was a riveting and devastating original musical that tackled modern life with groundbreaking honesty and sensitivity. And they know how to write for divas—I am forever changed by Alice Ripley’s stunning (Tony-winning) performance in Next to Normal. I cannot wait to see (and hear!) what this talented pair is cooking up for Idina Menzel in If/Then. Menzel’s Broadway performances may be few in number, but she’s two for two giving knockout performances originating lead roles in mammoth hits, with Wicked and Rent. If/Then is bound to be thrilling!
If/Then isn't the only new musical I’m looking forward to seeing on Broadway this season. Fan favorite songwriter Jason Robert Brown is teaming up with veteran playwright Marsha Norman on a Broadway musical adaptation of the hit novel-film, "The Bridges Of Madison County." The intimate and complicated love story is an excellent fit for Brown, as the composer and lyricist of the song cycle, The Last Five Years, and opening up that format with a full cast and as accomplished a collaborator as Norman bodes very well for this piece. I’m especially eager to see the gorgeous and talented Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in the lead roles.
MARK SHENTON, Playbill.com London Correspondent
While the West End is still reeling from the disastrous collapse, mid-performance, of ceiling plaster in the 112-year-old Apollo Theatre, a brand-new indoor Jacobean theatre opens in Southwark within the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank. Lit predominantly by candelight, it promises to be a major addition to London's most vibrant theatrical quarter that already also contains the National Theatre, the Young and Old Vic Theatres, the Menier Chocolate Factory, the Unicorn children's theatre, and the fringe Union Theatre and Southwark Playhouse. (I happen to live in the area, too, within walking distance of every single one of those venues, so I'm not complaining!)
The new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, as it will be called in honor of the late Globe founder, it will open with a production of Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (from Jan. 9), starring rising film star Gemma Arterton in the title role who made her professional stage debut at the Globe back in 2007. The opening season will also include a new solo show by my favorite theatrical dame Eileen Atkins, celebrating the career of the great Ellen Terry (from Jan. 13).
The career of another, rather less well-known actor Ira Aldridge — a black American who took over the role of Othello in 19th-century London from Edmund Kean — is celebrated in Lolita Chakrabarti's Red Velvet, which returns to the Tricycle from Jan. 23, ahead of a transfer to New York's St. Ann's Warehouse. It has already won its star Adrian Lester a best actor award and its author the most promising playwright award in the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards.
Classical theatre is always strongly represented in London, of course, and the Shakespeare I'm most looking forward to is Simon Russell Beale reuniting with director Sam Mendes for King Lear at the National's Olivier (from Jan. 14), with a cast that also includes Kate Fleetwood, Anna Maxwell Martin, Adrian Scarborough, Stanley Townsend and Sam Troughton.
I'm also looking forward to the return to the West End stage, for the first time in nearly 40 years, of London-born Angela Lansbury when she reprises her 2009 Tony winning Broadway performance in Blithe Spirit (at the Gielgud from March 1). I've seen Lansbury in the last few years on the New York stage in Deuce, A Little Night Music and The Best Man, but somehow I missed Blithe Spirit, so it will be lovely to complete the set now. (It's an eternal regret that, on my very first trip to New York in 1983, I managed to miss her short-lived run in a revival of Mame by days; when I went to the box office to buy a ticket, I was told it had shuttered the previous weekend.).
But the revival theatre of the year, at least on paper, looks likely to be the Young Vic, with the most exciting program of any venue in town, with productions of Beckett's Happy Days (starring Juliet Stevenson as the woman buried in sand to her neck, from Jan. 23), Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge (directed by the phenomenal Dutch director Ivo van Hove, from April 4), Peter Brook's latest The Valley of Astonishment (from June 20, co-created with Marie-Hélène Estienne), Benedict Andrews directing Gillian Anderson as Blanche duBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (summer 2014) and Katie Mitchell directing The Cherry Orchard (from Oct. 10).
On the new plays front, I'm looking forward to several premieres at the Royal Court (including Abi Morgan's The Mistress Contract, from Jan. 30, Simon Stephens' Birdland from April 3, and Jennifer Haley's The Nether, from July 17), and Donmar Warehouse (including Peter Gill's Versailles from Feb. 20, and James Graham's Privacy from April 10, which asks a very pertinent question: whether there is any such thing as privacy in the 21st-centur?).
At the Barbican, I'm looking forward to seeing another performance I missed on Broadway, when Fiona Shaw reprises her role in Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary at the Barbican Theatre (from May 1), directed by her long-time collaborator Deborah Warner.
On the musicals front, I'm looking forward to the U.K. premieres for two musicals I originally saw on Broadway: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (at the Savoy from March 10, with Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound), and Urinetown (at the St. James from Feb. 22, with Richard Fleeshman, Jenna Russell and Jonathan Slinger). There are also revivals of Miss Saigon (just as Boublil and Schonberg's Les Miserables also makes a Broadway return this season) at the Prince Edward from May 3, and The Pajama Game (by way of Chichester where it was seen last summer, coming to the Shaftesbury from May 1).
And talking of Broadway: looking across the pond I can't wait to see the premieres of If/Then (at the Richard Rodgers, from March 4), scored by the team behind Next to Normal, my favorite musical of the century so far, Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt; Jason Robert Brown's The Bridges of Madison County (at the Schoenfeld from Jan. 17), and Bullets Over Broadway (at the St. James from March 11).
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