BROADWAY FALL 2013 PREVIEW: A Theatregoer's Guide to Love and Murder

By Robert Simonson
September 2, 2013

The fall season on Broadway offers an abundance of Shakespeare, John Grisham's Broadway debut, Mary-Louise Parker's return to the boards and the dynamic duo of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Here's a guide to Broadway's fall attractions.



John Grisham, the author of countless legal thrillers, long ago conquered the best-seller list with titles like "The Firm," "The Pelican Brief," "The Client" and "The Rainmaker." He subsequently mastered Hollywood, as many of those page-turners were transformed into popular movies. But can the man who has sold more than 250 million books worldwide slay Broadway?

The world will find out this fall, when A Time to Kill, Grisham's debut effort, becomes the writer's first book to be adapted into a stage play. The 1989 novel — about an idealistic Southern lawyer defending a black man who has taken the law into his own hands in answer to an unspeakable crime committed against his daughter — has been placed in the capable hands of playwright Rupert Holmes, who has written a few thrillers himself, both for the stage and the page. Ethan McSweeny directs a formidable cast, headed by Sebastian Arcelus, and also starring Patrick Page, Tonya Pinkins and Fred Dalton Thompson, who, like Grisham, has worn many hats over the years, including actor, attorney and politician. He may very well be the only presidential candidate to ever appear in a Broadway play. Previews begin Sept. 28 at the Golden Theatre.

A Time to Kill is the sole commercial production of a new play on Broadway this autumn. The only other fresh work comes courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club, which will present Sharr White's The Snow Geese at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre beginning Oct. 1. The World War I-set drama is the vehicle of actress Mary-Louise Parker's first return to the Broadway boards in nearly five years. The cast also includes Danny Burstein and Victoria ClarkDaniel Sullivan, who directed Parker to glory in Proof, will stage the tale of newly widowed Elizabeth Gaesling (Parker), who grapples with life-changing issues concerning her two sons, while gathering her family for their annual shooting party in upstate New York.

The London stage will be lacking a goodly number of its best actors, as they bring their talents to Broadway — many of them in plays by their fellow countrymen. Not the least of these scribblers is the Swan of Avon. Shakespeare will own the byline on four of this fall's attractions. Two of those will star Mark Rylance, the British-born, American-raised, British-trained actor whose artistic home lies somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. The multiple Tony Award winner, who remains as ambitious as he was during his days manning London's Globe Theatre, will star in both Richard III, as the title beast, and Twelfth Night, as love-struck noblewoman Olivia. The two will run in repertory at the Belasco, beginning Oct. 15.

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart
Photo by Jason Bell

Other Shakespearean enterprises include the well-known-but-seldom-seen Romeo and Juliet, which will open at the Richard Rodgers Sept. 19. Director David Leveaux makes the differences between the two noble houses of Verona more stark than usual: The Montague household will be white, and the Capulet family will be black. This season's Macbeth — The Scottish Play, apparently no longer thought cursed — is one we're seeing quite often on Broadway in recent years. The latest production will be at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, with Ethan Hawke as the blood-soaked ladder-climber and Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, the ultimate woman behind the man. Jack O'Brien directs the production, which begins performances Oct. 24.

The British love playing in rep. In addition to the Rylance double bill, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart will be showing what they can do with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. The duo will star in Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Pinter's No Man's Land, two modern classics chock full of existential mystery, at the Cort Theatre, starting Oct. 26. Rounding out the casts of the two four-handers will be a couple of not-half-bad Tony winners, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. Sean Mathias directs. Pinter gets more play over at the Barrymore Theatre, where tickets to Betrayal have been selling like hotcakes. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall play out the backward-traveling love triangle in a production staged by Mike Nichols. Previews begin Oct. 1.

A more seldomly produced British author (on these shores anyway) will get an airing when the Roundabout Theatre Company presents a rare U.S. revival of The Winslow Boy, the 1946 family drama by Terence Rattigan. Roger Rees and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio head the cast of the Lindsay Posner-directed piece. Previews begin Sept. 20. 

Kate Baldwin and Norbert Leo Butz in Big Fish.
Photo by Paul Kolnik

Making sure American masterpieces are not neglected are director John Tiffany and actress Cherry Jones, who will together give Broadway its latest Tennessee Williams revival when they present The Glass Menagerie at the Booth Theatre beginning Sept. 5. This production was previously received with acclaim at the American Repertory Theater in Boston, which, under artistic director Diane Paulus, has become a Broadway-transfer machine in recent years. Keeping the kids interested will be the Tom of Zachary Quinto, famous as the new Spock in the recently rebooted "Star Trek" film franchise.

The most anticipated of this fall's musical offerings is Big Fish, a florid bouquet of tall tales based on the 2003 film of the same name. Susan Stroman is directing and choreographing the Andrew Lippa-John August show, which will star Norbert Leo Butz — a born grandstander who's a perfect fit for the story's central yarn-spinner — Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert, and a host of others impersonating various giants, witches and werewolves. The show docks at the Neil Simon Sept. 5.

More dark-hued, but just as far-fetched, is the plot of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, set to begin at the Walter Kerr Oct. 22. Our hero is the Edwardian England-set tale in one Monty Navarro, the black sheep of the D'Ysquith family, whose solution to the problem of being ninth in line to inherit a dukedom is to knock off the other eight relatives. As in "Kind Hearts and Coronets," the 1949 Ealing Studios film starring Alec Guinness that shares its story, those eight heirs are played by the same actor. Perfectly suited to this oddball, bravura task is New York theatre's resident bravura oddball, Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife).

In the concert-as-musical vein are both After Midnight, coming to the Brooks Atkinson on Oct. 18, and A Night With Janis Joplin, arriving at the Lyceum on Sept. 20. The latter has the bluesy rock singer tell of her various musical influences in between songs. Mary Bridget Davies plays Joplin, who died in 1970 at the age of 27. After Midnight is a collaboration between director-choreographer Warren Carlyle, fashion duo Isabel and Ruben Toledo, jazzman Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars. Together, they aim to bring the lavish jazz shows of the Harlem nightclub The Cotton Club to a new generation of theatergoers.

Last, but not least (certainly, in terms of box office) will be a return run of Billy Crystal's autobiographical 700 Sundays, an enormous hit on Broadway back in 2004. Beginning Nov. 5, it will ironically play only one Sunday at the Imperial: Dec. 29. But don't worry; there are dozens of performances on other days of the week.