Star System: A Preview of the 2009 Broadway Season

Special Features   Star System: A Preview of the 2009 Broadway Season
A host of Hollywood stars will light up Broadway stages in 2009.
Jane Fonda and Mois
Jane Fonda and Mois Photo by Jemal Countess

Celebrities are just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Rialto, which will see several closings in January and February due to the downward-pointing arrows of most economic indicators. But those newly vacated theatres won't stay empty for long. And, the marquees that are going up are the types that have big names in lights above the title.

The most anticipated star turn of the season will likely be that of Jane Fonda. The legendary three-time Oscar winner hasn't been on Broadway since her sex-kitten days of the early sixties. She will head the cast of 33 Variations, the latest by Moisés Kaufman, the playwright-director whose forays into New York theatre are seldom but always noteworthy. The music-rich play tells the story of Katherine Brandt (Fonda), "a woman racing against time to solve the riddle of a composer's 200-year-old obsession." The 15-week engagement will officially open March 9 at the O'Neill Theatre.

Challenging 33 Variations in star wattage will be Impressionism, written by the little-known playwright Michael Jacobs, and starring the well-known actors Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen. Between the two Tony-winning performers, they've spent 45 years away from the Broadway stage. The drama, directed by ever-dependable Jack O'Brien, is "the story of a world traveling photojournalist and a New York gallery owner who discover each other and also that there might be an art to repairing broken lives." Opening is March 12 at the Schoenfeld.

Hedda star Mary-Louise Parker with Michael Cerveris, Paul Sparks and Peter Stromare

Star performers with a richer and more consistent stage pedigree will rely not on new plays, but classics, for their return to Broadway in coming months. Mary-Louise Parker, classically trained but known as a master of contemporary roles, will essay her first archetypal role on Broadway in a new production of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, opening at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre on Jan. 25. Ian Rickson, who scored a bull's-eye with his recent revival of The Seagull, will direct. Those who like Waiting for Godot will be waiting for tickets for the new revival at Studio 54, which seems to take its casting cues from Mike Nichols' famous 1988 production, by filling it with box-office bait. Why, it even boasts one of the stars of Nichols' production: Bill Irwin, who played Lucky then and here will be Vladimir. Nathan Lane is Estragon, John Goodman is Pozzo, and David Strathairn is Lucky. Englishman Anthony Page will direct the limited engagement, which opens April 30. The classiest vehicle of the season may prove to be Michael Blakemore's revival of Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit, beginning previews at the Shubert Theatre on Feb. 26. Rupert Everett plays a husband beset by two wives, one real (Jayne Atkinson), one spectral (Christine Ebersole). The icing on this cake will be Angela Lansbury, who will play the choice supporting role of Madame Arcati. The supporting players, Deborah Rush and Simon Jones, are no slouches either.

Will Ferrell as George Bush
photo by Mary Ellen Matthews

Will Ferrell will execute his first visit to Broadway solo. He will play the only part in You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W Bush. The "Saturday Night Live" comedian will also, apparently, play himself. Expect anecdotes. The first preview, Jan. 20 at the Cort, coincides with Barack Obama's inauguration. The musical scene this winter and spring is one of big-time revivals of historic shows. Guys and Dolls, West Side Story and Hair, all landmarks musicals of their eras, will all return to Times Square. West Side Story's been in the works for the longest time. The keeper of the keys to this musical treasure is, as always, protective librettist Arthur Laurents, who will direct the piece, opening March 19 at the Palace. The much-talked-about change to the script is the introduction of Spanish dialogue and lyrics for the Puerto Rican gang The Sharks. Jerome Robbins' choreography, meanwhile, will be left as is, re-created by Joey McKneely. The cast includes Matt Cavenaugh, Josefina Scaglione, Karen Olivo, Cody Green and George Akram.

Opening roughly around the same time will be new productions of Guys and Dolls, about a Runyonesque New York City of the 1950s that, as depicted, never really existed; and Hair, about a Hippie-ish New York City of the 1960s that, as depicted, never really existed. The Hair is the same production directed by Diana Paulus that wowed critics in Central Park this past summer. It will open March 5 at the Hirschfeld. The Frank Loesser classic, meanwhile, is directed by Des McAnuff and will star the interesting collection of stage, film and TV talent that is Craig Bierko, Oliver Platt, Lauren Graham and Kate Jennings Grant. Opening at the Nederlander (the Rent home that is free for the first time in 12 years) is March 1.

9 to 5ers: Stephanie J. Block, Allison Janney and Megan Hilty
photo by Justin Stephens

Holding out for a new musical? Well, pickings are slim. But there is 9 to 5, based on the film comedy of the same name. This is the Dolly Parton musical. The country music icon, who starred in the original film, scored the show. The ever-in-demand Joe Mantello directs Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty as a trio of secretaries who plot revenge against their boss. It will open at the Marquis April 30. Less high-profile is The Story of My Life, an intimate two-actor musical about the contours of a lifelong friendship, starring Malcolm Gets and Will Chase, directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. The show, at the Booth Theatre starting Feb. 3, is the work of Neil Bartram (score) and Brian Hill (book), and tells the story of a writer who returns home to eulogize his lifelong friend.

If you are a fan of the jukebox musical form and find the 1960's music of Jersey Boys and the 1970's music of Mamma Mia! too distant, you may want to try Rock of Ages, a 1980s-set Off-Broadway musical that will make the jump to Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre March 20. Written by Chris D'Arienzo, directed by Kristin Hanggi and choreographed by Kelly Devine, it features music by Journey, Bon Jovi, Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Asia and Whitesnake. All in one show!

You like the eighties but not musicals? Lincoln Center Theater has a production for you. On March 19, at the Belasco Theatre, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, the 1911-set August Wilson play that some believe to be his best, will get its first major New York revival in 20 years. Bartlett Sher will direct. No cast has been announced, but Wilson revivals typically attract the cream of African-American acting talent.

David Hyde Pierce

Not quite the eighties, but almost, is Richard Greenberg's The American Plan. The 1990 play is getting its Broadway premiere on Jan. 22 at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre. This is the second time in recent history that Greenberg's fairly recent canon has been raided for promotion to Broadway. (The first instance was the 2006 Broadway revival of Three Days of Rain.) David Grindley, yet another of the many British directors finding work on Broadway this spring, will be in the driver's seat for the tale of curious social mores in 1960s Catskills. Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe star. MTC will follow that with Samson Raphaelson's Accent on Youth, starring David Hyde Pierce, and directed by Daniel Sullivan. Opening is April 29. Set in the good old here-and-now is reasons to be pretty. The MCC Theatre Off-Broadway success of last year will be playwright Neil LaBute's Broadway debut. Terry Kinney will direct. The drama about the importance of physical beauty will open April 2 at the Lyceum. Tovah Feldshuh finds her way back to Broadway in The Directors Company production of Irena's Vow, the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic who, during the German occupation of Poland in WWII, risked her life to save the lives of 12 Jewish refugees. The show, which recently played an extended engagement at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, will arrive on March 10, 2009, at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Finally, British actresses Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter fill the towering lead roles in a new production of Schiller's Mary Stuart, about the battle of wills between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. New York audiences don't see this classic often. It was last on Broadway in 1971. McTeer hasn't been back since winning a Tony Award 11 years ago for A Doll's House. Walter hasn't played Broadway for 25 years, the last time being a 1983 All's Well That Ends Well.

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