Seeing Double: A Preview of the Fall 2009 Broadway Season

Special Features   Seeing Double: A Preview of the Fall 2009 Broadway Season
The double feature is back in fashion this fall on Broadway.
Neil Simon and David Mamet
Neil Simon and David Mamet Photo by Aubrey Reuben (Mamet)

For most mortals, the reality of having a single play on Broadway is enough to keep one on Cloud Nine. But Neil Simon and David Mamet can tell you, you simply haven't arrived unless you have two plays crowding the Rialto at the same time.

The more impressive of these double acts is arguably Simon's. Under the umbrella title of "The Neil Simon Plays," his autobiographical Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound will be revived in repertory. (Missing from the original Brighton Beach Trilogy will be the army-set Biloxi Blues.) Noah Robbins and Josh Grisetti will play, at different ages, Simon's alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome. Laurie Metcalf will be their stage mother. Director-of-the-moment David Cromer (The Adding Machine, Our Town) has been given the reins to the ambitious effort, which is produced by Simon's longtime advocate, Emanuel Azenberg. Previews begins at the Nederlander on Oct. 2, and then again on Nov. 18.

For Mamet, meanwhile, 2009-10 may seem like a replay of 2008-09. Last season, he saw both his American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow revived. The first was quickly felled by unimpressed critics; the second was nearly done in by Jeremy Piven's love of brain food (that is, fish). Now, the playwright is back with one of his oldies-but-goodies, Oleanna (making its Broadway debut), and one newbie, Race. The plot of the latter has been kept under wraps, but it's a safe bet that it's not about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. James Spader, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier and Richard Thomas star and Mssr. Mamet himself will direct. Previews begin Nov. 16 at the Barrymore.

Even back before Mamet became a Republican, he still didn't like political correctness much, as is amply illustrated in the professor-student duel at the center of Oleanna. William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mrs. Mamet) starred in the original Off-Broadway production, which was notorious for sending theatregoers out onto the sidewalk arguing with one another. On Broadway, Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles will go head to head, with the dependable Doug Hughes directing. Previews begin Sept. 29 at the Golden. Look for a lot of heated discussions on 45th Street.

Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman; playwright Keith Huff (inset)
photo by Greg Williams

Making his Broadway debut with A Steady Rain will be playwright Keith Huff. But, with all due respect to the writer, nobody will be talking about him. The media and audience focus of that production will be its two handsome, red-hot, movie-star leads, Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackson. The Brit and the Aussie will play two Chicago cops (Hello: dialect coach!), who are having a few bad days. John Crowley will direct. The paparazzi start gathering around the Schoenfeld Theatre on Sept. 10. Also set in Chicago is Tracy Letts' new play, Superior Donuts, which begins previews at the Music Box (home of Letts' recent August: Osage County) on Sept. 16. Like August, it began life at the Steppenwolf Theater Company. The original cast has been retained, including Michael McKean, who plays Arthur Przybyszewski, owner of a decrepit donut shop which Franco Wicks, a black teenager who is his only employee, wants to change for the better. (No, Will Franco will not, à la Amy Morton in August, shout at some point "I'm running things now!")

Jonny Lee Miller and Sienna Miller
photo by Jason Bell

Completing the roster of new plays this fall are British playwright Patrick Marber's three-character After Miss Julie, a new take on August Strindberg's famous play about class and relationships, beginning Sept. 18 at the American Airlines Theatre; In the Next Room or the vibrator play, the new play with the giggle-inducing title that will put rising dramatist Sarah Ruhl on Broadway, beginning previews at the Lyceum Theatre Oct. 22; and Wishful Drinking — in which Carrie Fisher will explain to us that it's not easy being the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, the wife of Paul Simon, and Princess Leia, all in the same lifetime — starting at Studio 54 Sept. 22. The first and third are courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company, the second by Lincoln Center Theater. Broadway's third big nonprofit, Manhattan Theatre Company will be reaching back into the canon for its fall offering, Kaufman and Ferber's send-up of the Barrymore clan, The Royal Family. Doug Hughes directs a cast that's pretty regal on its own: Rosemary Harris, Stephen Collins, John Glover, Tony Roberts, Jan Maxwell and Reg Rogers. Previews at the Friedman begin Sept. 15. Playing the role that once redeemed John Barrymore's reputation (albeit briefly) will be an actor who's almost as handsome, Jude Law. He will bring his London Hamlet to Broadway this fall. Michael Grandage will direct the film fave at the Broadhurst beginning Sept. 12.

The most talked-about new musical of the fall will likely be the most ambitious: Fela!. The new musical based on the life of groundbreaking African composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti was acclaimed when it played a limited engagement in fall 2008 at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts — enough so that it will begin previews at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre Oct. 19. Bill T. Jones, who won a 2007 Tony Award for his Spring Awakening choreography, directs and choreographs Fela, and Sahr Ngaujah, who starred in the title role Off-Broadway, will again star on Broadway.

Also new is Memphis, the Joe DiPietro-David Bryan (the latter a member of the rock band Bon Jovi) rock musical, which will begin previews on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre Sept. 23. The pulpy plotline is worth quoting: "In the smoky halls and underground clubs of the segregated 50's, a young white DJ named Huey Calhoun fell in love with everything he shouldn't: rock and roll and an electrifying black singer. Memphis is an original story about the cultural revolution that erupted when his vision met her voice, and the music changed forever." Sounds like a page-turner.

Gina Gershon and John Stamos
photo by Aubrey Reuben

For lovers of classic musicals, Broadway has three choices. People seem inordinately excited about the return of the 1960 Charles Strouse work Bye Bye Birdie to the stage. Could it be our current obsession with the "Mad Men" territory of the early sixties? Roundabout Theatre Company has invited director Robert Longbottom to direct the likes of Nolan Gerard Funk, John Stamos, Gina Gershon, Bill Irwin and Dee Hoty. It all begins at Henry Miller's Theatre on Sept. 10. Many musical enthusiasts thought the one-time 1949 hit Finian's Rainbow too hard a nut to crack in modern times, what with its tricky, bordering on ridiculous, plot. But Encores! did a fine job with it during their recent season, earning applause from the critics. So the production was shipped, director (Warren Carlyle), cast (Cheyenne Jackson, Kate Baldwin, Jim Norton) and all, to Broadway. If you don't count a couple brief City Center productions, this is the first Broadway revival since the original. The St. James gets it Oct. 8. The third revival didn't take as long getting back to town. It's Ragtime, which debuted on Broadway only back in 1998. The Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens-Terrence McNally musical blew many people away at the time. It had a huge cast! A huge set! It had sweep! It had grandeur! But it also had future felon Garth Drabinsky as a producer (uh-oh), and The Lion King across the street as competition (yikes!). It closed after a two-year run that many people thought should have been longer. The new staging, beginning Oct. 23 at the Neil Simon, is a transfer of the recent Kennedy Center production. Marcia Milgrom Dodge directs and choreographs. Starring are Stanford White, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Ford. Now, those are what I call headliners!

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