LONDON SPRING PREVIEW 2012: In the West End and Beyond, Expect Susan Boyle, Mark Rylance, a Musical Bridget Jones' Diary and More
By Mark Shenton
Looking ahead to the 2012 spring theatre season in London and the U.K., the forecast includes the musicals Bridget Jones' Diary, Top Hat, Sweeney Todd and Susan Boyle in I Dreamed a Dream, plus projects for Cate Blanchett, Simon Russell Beale, Jonathan Pryce, Laurie Metcalf, Lindsay Duncan, Mark Rylance.
Danny DeVito, Zach Braff, Laurie Metcalf, Cate Blanchett and Juliette Binoche are amongst the international roster of stars heading to London theatre this year, while homegrown returning stars include Mark Rylance, Simon Russell Beale, Jonathan Pryce, David Suchet, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Northam, Imelda Staunton, Michael Ball, Antony Sher, Richard Griffiths, David Haig, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Katherine Kelly and Tara Tointon.
On the musicals front, a bunch of new homegrown commercial musicals are in development, though all are waiting until after the summer Olympics before daring to show their hand. Amongst them are Viva Forever that seeks to do for the Spice Girls what Mamma Mia! did for ABBA, and is being developed with a book by Jennifer Saunders. Musical versions of Bridget Jones' Diary and the films "The Bodyguard" and "The Commitments" are also on the cards, while the much-lauded Broadway hit The Book of Mormon is looking to land in London, too.
But this side of the Olympics, there are not one but two transfers from the last Chichester summer season: Singin' in the Rain comes to the Palace (from Feb. 4) with Adam Cooper, Daniel Crossley, Scarlett Strallen and Katharine Kingsley; and Sweeney Todd, starring Michael Ball in the title role with Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Lovett, heads to the Adelphi (from March 10). The stage premiere of Top Hat comes to the Aldwych (from April 19), starring Tom Chambers and another Strallen sister (Summer, not the season but the person), following a hugely successful regional tour.
The Aldwych also hosts a filler ahead of that with a West End season for the touring dance show Midnight Tango (from Jan. 20), with Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, stars of TV's "Strictly Come Dancing." Following the success of last summer's Rodgers and Hammerstein entry at the Barbican with South Pacific, R&H are back there this summer with Opera North's production of Carousel (from Aug. 15), touring first to Leeds and Salford Quays. The summer will also bring a new production of Ahrens and Flaherty's musical Ragtime to the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park (from May 18).
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess — currently being revived on Broadway in a new production with Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald in the title roles —- is also heading back to the U.K., by way not of Broadway but of Cape Town. A tour of Cape Town Opera's production of the show, which relocates the action to the townships of Soweto, will kick off in Birmingham in June, before ending up at the London Coliseum July 11-21.
Another Broadway classic, Wonderful Town, with a score by Leonard Bernstein (music) and Comden and Green (lyrics), will be seen at the Lowry in Salford Quays; they are joining forces with the Hallé Orchestra and Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre to present a run from March 31 to April 14. Connie Fisher, who won the 2006 TV contest "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" to star in the London Palladium revival of The Sound of Music that year, will lead the cast, and then go on an 11-week nationwide tour with the production.
Also embarking on a U.K. tour is a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's roller-skating musical Starlight Express that ran for nearly 18 years in the West End (kicking off at New Wimbledon Theatre from May 10), joining the ongoing touring production of Lloyd Webber's Evita. A re-designed, newly staged production of The Phantom of the Opera is going on a big U.K. tour, too, kicking off in Plymouth in March 2012, with a cast that will see the current London Phantom John Owen-Jones share the title role at different dates with Earl Carpenter. Featuring a new design and staging that retains Maria Björnson's original costumes, the production is directed by Laurence Connor, with choreography by Scott Ambler and set design by Paul Brown.
Also in the regions, Susan Boyle will appear herself in the finale of I Dreamed A Dream, a new touring musical based on her life story, kicking off at Newcastle's Theatre Royal March 23; a new production of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's Broadway classic Gypsy will be staged at Leicester's Curve beginning March 13, starring Caroline O'Connor as Rose; and the premiere of a brand-new musical Loserville will run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds from June 16. On the fringe, Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's 1994 Floyd Collins will be revived at Southwark Playhouse from Feb. 28, with Glenn Carter (Jesus in the 2000 Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar) in the title role.
Beyond musicals, the West End has a few plays lined up: David Haig reprises his touring role in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III at the Apollo (from Jan. 18), followed at the same address by David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (from April 2). U.S. screen star Zach Braff, best known for his appearances in "Scrubs" and "Garden State," will lead the cast in the West End premiere of his own play All New People, previously seen without him Off-Broadway, at the Duke of York's (from Feb. 22).
Ayckbourn's 1974 play Absent Friends will be revived at the Harold Pinter Theatre (from Feb. 9), with a cast that includes Reece Shearsmith (last seen in Betty Blue Eyes), Kara Tointon, David Armand and Katherine Parkinson. Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys is eyeing a West End return in April, starring Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths at a theatre to be announced.
A play by Noël Coward will come to the Coward Theatre for the first time since that theatre took his name, for a production of Hay Fever that will star Lindsay Duncan and Jeremy Northam (from Feb. 9). It will be followed in August by back-to-back runs for the RSC's new Stratford productions of Julius Caesar (re-set to modern Africa, and with a cast that includes Ray Fearon and Paterson Joseph), and Much Ado About Nothing (relocated to an Indian setting, with Meera Syal as Beatrice).
The RSC will also return to the Roundhouse this summer, transferring new Stratford productions of The Comedy of Errors (from June 1), Twelfth Night (from June 5) and The Tempest (from June 9), as part of the World Shakespeare season that the RSC is itself curating around the U.K. during the summer in 2012.
Elsewhere, the World Shakespeare Festival will include Simon Russell Beale appearing in the title role of Timon of Athens for director Nicholas Hytner at the National in July, and Jonathan Pryce starring in the title role of King Lear at the Almeida (from Aug. 31). Shakespeare's Globe will present Globe to Globe, a season of all 37 plays presented in 37 different languages by visiting companies from around the world, over a six-week season (from April 23).
The Globe's own season that follows will see the return of Mark Rylance to the theatre he previously ran for its first decade, to both reprise his award-winning performance as Olivia in Twelfth Night that he previously gave there (from Sept. 22), and star in the title role of Richard III (from July 14). The Globe season will also include Henry V with Jamie Parker in the title role (from June 7), and The Taming of the Shrew (from June 23). At the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, there will be a return to what used to be an annual staple there with a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (from June 2).
Meanwhile, in the shift around of artistic directors elsewhere, Josie Rourke's opening round in charge of the Donmar Warehouse will see her directing Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer (from Feb. 9) and Durenmatt's The Physicists (from May 31), with Peter Gill returning to the Donmar to direct Robert Holman's Making Noise Quietly (from April 19) in between.
Director Nicolas Kent's final season at the helm of North London's Tricycle Theatre, after 28 years in charge, will follow the current return run of Stones in His Pockets (running through Feb. 4) with the two-part play The Bomb (from Feb. 9), a partial history of the nuclear bomb from 1940 to the present day, by commissioned playwrights Lee Blessing, Zinnie Harris and Ron Hutchinson.
At the Royal Court, the main house season in the Jerwood Downstairs features David Eldridge's new play In Basildon (from Feb. 16), an epic family drama whose cast will include Linda Bassett, Debbie Chazen and Ruth Sheen; the London premiere of the prolific Mike Bartlett's Love Love Love (from April 27), and the Royal Court's second Joe Penhall premiere within six months, his latest play Birthday (from June 22), with a cast that includes Stephen Mangan. In the studio Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, the season will comprise Nick Payne's Constellations (from Jan. 13, with Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall), Luke Norris' Goodbye to All That (from Feb. 23), Hayley Squires' Vera Vera Vera (from March 22), Bola Agbaje's Belong (from April 26) and Vivienne Franzmann's The Witness (from June 1).
At the Almeida, as well as the aforementioned King Lear with Jonathan Pryce, the season will include new productions of Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, with the action relocated to Iran and featuring Iranian stage and screen star Shohreh Aghdashio making her British stage debut (from Jan. 19), Eduardo de Filippo's Filumena, starring Samantha Spiro in the title role (from March 15) and the world premiere of Matthew Dunster's Children's Children (from May 17).
At the National Theatre, Antony Sher will return in the premiere of Nicholas Wright's play Travelling Light (in the Lyttelton from Jan. 11, prior to a tour and broadcast internationally as part of National Theatre Live on Feb. 9), Steve Pemberton and "Coronation Street" actress Katherine Kelly star in Jamie Lloyd's production of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (in the Olivier from Jan. 24) and Michael Buffong directs a new production of Errol John's 1953 play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (in the Cottesloe from March 7). The National will also host the London premiere of Can We Talk About This? by physical theatre company DV8 who have been regular National visitors (in the Lyttelton from March 9).
At the Barbican, its re-branded Barbican Theatre and Dance season will include Cate Blanchett returning to London to star in Sydney Theatre Company's Gross und Klein (Great and Small) (from April 13), Juliette Binoche in August Strindberg's Mademoiselle Julie (from Sept. 20), and new productions by Improbable of The Devil and Mister Punch (from Feb. 2), Cheek by Jowl of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (from Feb. 16), Complicite of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (from March 15) and Japan's Ninagawa Company of Cymbeline (from May 29).
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