Zoo Story: A Preview of the Fall 2008 Broadway Season

By Robert Simonson
September 8, 2008

Horses. Buffaloes. Seagulls. Ogres. Teenagers.

All sorts of strange animals will be herded through Broadway's many stages during the coming autumn months. Human animals, too, of course, though some will take the seeming form of sacrificial lambs (Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities and Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons), sharks (everyone in Speed-the-Plow), and a wolf and foxes (Joey and his various female prey, respectively, in Pal Joey).

If there is a king of this jungle, it is playwright David Mamet. He will see two of his best-known plays, American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow, revived almost simultaneously. The former tale of a failed coin heist will begin previews Oct. 31 at the Belasco. The latter story of a failed film pitch (lower stakes, certainly, but not if you talk to a Hollywood type) will begin previews Oct. 3 at the Barrymore. Both efforts are chock-full of marquee names. Plow will feature Broadway regular Raúl Esparza and "Entourage" star Jeremy Piven as the Hollywood cutthroats, and Elisabeth Moss from AMC's "Mad Men" as the secretary who almost scuttles their friendship. Neil Pepe will direct. Buffalo's trio of small-time crooks include John Leguizamo, Haley Joel Osment and Cedric the Entertainer. Robert Falls does the staging.

 

David Mamet
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Play revivals are in healthy supply this fall. In addition to the two Mamets, Broadway will see revisitations of works by Peter Shaffer, Anton Chekhov, Robert Bolt and Arthur Miller. First up is Shaffer's Equus. The London import, which began previews Sept. 5, will furnish a good share of the season's fireworks. The reason? Two words: Daniel Radcliffe. Theatre devotes might like to say its popularity is due to four words: Daniel Radcliffe and the redoubtable stage veteran Richard Griffiths. But they know that it's Harry Potter's (at times naked) Broadway debut that will be creating the media frenzy outside the Broadhurst. The London run played to sold-out crowds.

Another talked-about London transfer is the Ian Rickson production of The Seagull, which co-stars film actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard. Thomas has transformed herself into a London stage star in recent years with acclaimed performances in plays by Chekhov and Pirandello. The revival begins Sept. 16 at the Walter Kerr. American stage stars to equal Griffiths and Thomas can be found in new productions of Bolt's historical play of the ethical clash between Thomas More and King Henry VIII, A Man for All Seasons, and Miller's first great success, the post-World War II drama about guilt and accountability, All My Son. Doug Hughes will direct three-time Tony winner Frank Langella as More, a part made famous by the recently deceased Paul Scofield. Simon McBurney, meanwhile, will guide John Lithgow through the moral dilemma of Joe Keller. Also in the cast are Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and, for tabloid fodder, Tom Cruise spouse Katie Holmes.

 

Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard
photo by Colin Bell

Occurring during World War II will be To Be or Not to Be, a new stage version of the 1942 Lubisch film of the same name, in which a Polish acting troupe attempt to foil the machinations of the invading Nazis. Nick Whitby penned the adaptation. David Rasche and Jan Maxwell star as the husband-and-wife leaders of the acting company. Casey Nicholaw directs at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Friedman Theatre beginning Sept. 13.

Steady Off-Broadway force Primary Stages will see its hit production of Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate cross over to Broadway, with some help from Lincoln Center Theater. The run will begin Oct. 23 at the Booth Theatre, with much of the same cast intact: Elizabeth Ashley, Arthur French, Hallie Foote, Penny Fuller and Gerald McRaney. Michael Wilson directs.

Kids feature prominently in this fall's line-up of new musicals, nowhere moreso than in 13. Composer Jason Robert Brown and librettists Dan Elish and Robert Horn's show features a cast and an orchestra all of whom are under drinking age, and most of whom are under voting age. The story concerns one newly relocated boy's efforts to negotiate "the minefield of high school." Previews begin Sept. 16 at the Bernard Jacobs.

Youngsters will also perhaps see a little bit of themselves in the Broadway debut of the smash London musical, Billy Elliot, which begins Oct. 1 at the Imperial. Alternating in the title role of Elton John and Lee Hall's show about a working-class English boy's dream of becoming a ballet dancer will be David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik. Stephen Daldry, who directed the motion picture that inspired the musical, also directs the stage production. The London production won Best New Musical at the 2006 Olivier Awards and elicited heraldic reviews; New York producers are doubtless hoping for similar success here.

 

Brian d'Arcy James as Shrek
photo by Andrew Eccles

The other mega-musical of the fall is also based on a movie — not one about a kid, but one that was definitely kid-friendly. Shrek, based on the Dreamworks franchise, has been in the works for a couple years. The writing is in the experienced hands of David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) and Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change). And director Jason Moore, of Avenue Q fame, was given staging duties. The cast of the tongue-in-cheek fairly tale includes Brian d'Arcy James as the title ogre, Chester Gregory II as Donkey, Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona and Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad. Now in Seattle, previews begin Nov. 8 at the Broadway Theatre.

Musical geeks will be eyeing closely the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Rodger and Hart's Pal Joey, one of the flawed sacred cows in the musical theatre pantheon. Trying this time around to get the tricky story of a professional cad right are director Joe Mantello, book-reviser Richard Greenberg and actors Stockard Channing, Christian Hoff and Martha Plimpton. Previews begin Nov. 14 at Studio 54.

Rounding out the musical line-up are Tale of Two Cities, a new musical adaptation of Dickens' classic, playing the Hirschfeld; and Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the holiday attraction based on the Hollywood film classic. After playing much of the nation over the past few years, it will land in New York Nov. 14 at the Marquis. Walter Bobbie will direct the yuletide franchise. Brian d'Arcy James starred in previous mountings of the touring. But, as indicated above, he'll be having a green Christmas this year.