BROADWAY SPRING 2014 PREVIEW: Rocky, If/Then, Denzel Washington, Les MisÚrables, Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and More

By Robert Simonson
December 27, 2013

In the winter and spring months ahead, Broadway offers Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, Idina Menzel in a return to the stage and Bryan Cranston going All the Way.

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Neil Patrick Harris has become a familiar face in New York theatre circles of late. For the last few years, he has been the buoyant, tireless host of the annual Tony Awards ceremony. But Harris hasn't actually appeared in a Broadway show since his 2004 performance in Assassins.

That will change March 29, 2014, when Harris begins previews as the titular East German transgender rock singer in John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's edgy 1998 musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Michael Mayer will direct the Broadway premiere of the show, which has emerged as a modern classic since its scrappy early days at the Jane Street Theatre. It will play the Belasco Theatre.

The 2014 spring line-up will be a feast for theatregoers hungry for new musicals. Nearly every major musical-theatre writing talent, it seems, will be represented with a new Broadway show. First up is composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown's adaptation of Robert James Waller's wildly popular novel The Bridges of Madison County, which will begin previews Jan. 17 at the Schoenfeld. Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale star as the housewife and photographer who fall in love in 1965 Iowa.

Disney's latest offering, Aladdin, features a score by Alan Menken, Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman, who penned the music for the original 1992 animated film. Director Casey Nicholaw will bring the big-budget fantastical tale — genie, magic carpet and all — to theatrical life at the New Amsterdam, where it will begin performances Feb. 26.

Jessie Mueller in Beautiful.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Rocky, yet another musical adapted from a film, takes as its inspiration the 1976 boxing drama that made Sylvester Stallone a star. The sterling team of composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and bookwriter Thomas Meehan were drafted to bring the story to the stage. Already having bowed in Hamburg, Germany, the Alex Timbers-directed show will begin Feb. 11 at the Winter Garden (the first show to win that coveted house since Mamma Mia! blew into town in 2001). Andy Karl plays the title underdog palooka.

It took an original, new musical from the Next to Normal composers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey to lure Tony-winning Wicked star Idina Menzel back to the Broadway stage. In If/Then, which begins previews March 5 at the Richard Rodgers, she plays a woman who, on the brink of her 40th birthday, moves to New York for a fresh start.

The creators of Bullets Over Broadway, based on the Woody Allen film of the same name, decided they didn't need a new score for their show. Instead, they are employing music from the 1920s and '30s. Zach Braff will play David Shayne, the playwright who learns his play is getting the Broadway treatment thanks to a wealthy gangster who insisted on casting his untalented moll, and Marin Mazzie will play stage diva Helen Sinclair. Susan Stroman will direct the show, which begins March 11 at the St. James.

The musical Beautiful takes its entire score from the considerable catalogue of singer-songwriter Carole King, whose life — from modest Brooklyn roots to the Brill Building to solo artist fame — provides the plotline. Jessie Mueller plays King in the show, which opens Jan. 12 at the Stephen Sondheim under the direction of Marc Bruni.

James Franco
Photo by ABC

Harvey Fierstein is a frequent presence on Broadway, though in recent years it's been in connection to musicals, either as a star or librettist. This spring, he returns to his playwriting roots with Casa Valentina, the story of a 1962 Catskills bungalow colony that catered to a very special clientele: Heterosexual men who enjoyed dressing and acting as women. Manhattan Theatre Club presents the premiere, which begins April 1 and is directed by Joe Mantello.

Receiving his Broadway debut this spring is idiosyncratic playwright Will Eno, whose The Realistic Jones will star Michael C. Hall, Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei and Tracy Letts as two neighboring couples who find out they share much more than identical names and houses. Also netting his Broadway debut is writer Eric Coble, whose The Velocity of Autumn will star Estelle Parsons and play the Booth starting April 1. John Patrick Shanley's career has being going on far longer than Eno's and Coble's, but his latest, Outside Mullingar, still represents only his second Broadway outing, and his first since the 2005 success Doubt. The story of Anthony and Rosemary, two introverted Irish misfits approaching 40, it will open at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Jan. 23. Debra Messing and Brían F. O'Byrne star, and Doug Hughes directs. Transferring from Off-Broadway, meanwhile, is Bronx Bombers, the third sports-oriented play in as many seasons from playwright Eric Simonson. Peter Scolari stars as Yogi Berra in the Yankees-related yarn at Circle in the Square beginning Jan. 10.

The new Terrence McNally drama Mothers and Sons stars Tyne Daly as a woman, who having lost her son to AIDS, pays a visit to her late son's ex-partner, who is now married to another man and has a young son. Sheryl Kaller will direct the play that begins Feb. 23 at the John Golden Theatre.

Adding the credit "Broadway actor" to his already heavily hyphenated resume is Hollywood actor James Franco, who will join Chris O'Dowd in a stage rendition of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Previews will begin at the Longacre Theatre March 19, with Anna D. Shapiro directing. Another big name due on the big street is Bryan Cranston, just off the triumph of the final season of TV's "Breaking Bad." He will play Lyndon Johnson in Robert Schenkkan's All the Way, commencing at the Neil Simon Feb. 10. Meanwhile, the biggest name connected to Lincoln Center Theater's Act One, beginning at the Beaumont on March 20, is, arguably, Moss Hart, the theatre man who wrote the deathless memoir that inspires the new stagework. James Lapine did the adaptation.

For those who missed the last Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in 2004, the classic will be back on March 8 at the Barrymore in a production starring the reliable box-office bait Denzel Washington. Also on offer in the way of revivals will be a new production of Sophie Treadwell's expressionistic landmark Machinal, opening at the Roundabout Theatre Company Jan. 16 (the play's first visit to Broadway since it opened in 1928); the Broadway debut of Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley's 1997 musical Violet, with Sutton Foster in the title role, beginning at the American Airlines Theatre March 28; the musical Les Miserables, back for its third visit to Broadway March 1 at the Imperial; and Cabaret, which begins performances March 21 at Studio 54. Those who didn't catch the most recent revival of the Kander and Ebb musical, which won Tony nominations for co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, and a Tony for its star Alan Cumming, you've been granted a second chance. This is the same production, and all three men will be involved.