27 December 2014
For theatre fans, the holiday season means more in New York than jam-packed stores, high-kicking Rockettes, and the dreaded SantaCon. The new year brings with it the uplifting promise of hope – hope that the spring season will bring unique, creative, and unforgettable new productions to the Broadway stage. You see, there is a certain expectation that productions opening in the spring will be of a higher quality than those that open in the fall. Or, that spring productions are, at the very least, award bait. Many shows that open and close in the fall are victims of scheduling when it comes to Tony Award nominations, which are announced in the spring. As I have explained in previous posts, winning a Tony Award can draw crowds to an otherwise struggling show – a Tony is bankable. A Tony Award will do more good for an open production than a closed one.* Therefore, to ensure greater visibility and consideration during award season, producers who believe that they have high-quality shows often wait until the spring to open.
With this in mind, I have compiled a list of the most highly anticipated new works of the 2015 Broadway season.
Constellations (Play – Jan. 13). Following in his sister Maggie’s footsteps, Jake Gyllenhaal will make his Broadway debut this season in MTC’s production of Contellations with Ruth Wilson (who I loved as the sassy and psychopathic murderess Alice on BBC’s Luther). It’s your classic love story – a beekeeper meets a quantum physicist and their relationship is explored in multiple parallel universes. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite your classic love story.
Honeymoon in Vegas (Musical – Jan. 15). This new musical (based upon a Nicolas Cage movie) made my list strictly because Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years) wrote the music. I recall very little about the movie this musical is based upon except that one scene involves a troop of skydiving Elvis impersonators. Despite solid reviews when Honeymoon in Vegas did its out of town try-out, there are already rumors abound that this musical will close before it even opens. Star Tony Danza has been personally encouraging ticket-buyers in Times Square to check out the show, but time will tell if Danza can pull in the crowds.
Fish in the Dark (Play – March 5). Funnyman Larry David has written a new comedy about fifteen or so people centered around a family death. While the plot remains nebulous and not particularly unique, David has a gift for dark comedy and, with Rita Wilson joining the cast, this new play has promise. Tickets are already going quick for this one so buy soon if you want to see it.
The Audience (Play – March 8). Admittedly, I already have my tickets for this one. It has been 14 years since Dame Helen Mirren graced the Broadway stage, and she is returning in the role that has already won her numerous accolades – Queen Elizabeth. This hit West End play is making the jump to New York this March, and it is a good bet that Ms. Mirren will turn out a Tony-worthy performance.
On the 20th Century (Musical – March 12). I approach On the 20th Century with caution. This musical is based upon several works from the 1930’s and originally opened on Broadway to mixed reviews. This little known musical takes place on a luxury train traveling to NYC from Chicago, where a bankrupt theatre producer (portrayed by Peter Gallagher) attempt to convince a celebrated actress (Kristin Chenoweth making a much-anticipated return to Broadway) to play the lead in a new, non-existent play. My guess is that Chenoweth will draw some audiences to this Roundabout production, but it may be an uphill battle getting the crowds to come.
Wolf Hall Parts I and II (Play – March 20). You couldn’t walk one block last year without running into a theatre hosting a Shakespeare production last season. Apparently Bill has been evicted from NYC because this production of Wolf Hall Parts I and II performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and fresh from a critically praised run in London is as close as we get to Shakespeare on Broadway this year. Wolf Hall is an adaptation of several novels about Henry VIII and his court, and both parts combine for approximately 5.5 hours of stage time. I’ve been training by binging on the Serial podcast and re-watching the West Wing on Netflix.
The Heart of Robin Hood (Play – March 29). I have a soft spot in my heart for the legend of Robin Hood. Perhaps it’s the Marxist/Libertarian/Liberal/Socialist underpinnings (or simply the fight between people trying to discern the deeper political or philosophical meaning in a folk story). Perhaps I simply appreciate selfish heroes with epic archery skills. Or maybe I just saw Robin Hood: Men in Tights too many times in my youth. Whatever the reason, I am looking forward to A.R.T.s take on this classic tale, which was previously produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Hand To God (Play – April 7). This. Play. Is. Great. I am beyond thrilled that Hand to God is making the leap to Broadway after a highly successful run at the Lucille Lortel theatre last spring. Stephen Boyer will be reprising his role as tormented adolescent Jason whose sock puppet, Tyrone McHansley, is just a bit too real (and perhaps just a tad evil). Hand to God is dark theatrical comedy at its best.
An American in Paris (Musical – April 12). Not to be confused with American Psycho the Musical, which opened in the West End last year (you will be sorely disappointed if you do), An American in Paris is based upon the 1951 film with Gene Kelly and has a Gershwin score. Yet another “based on a film” stage adaptation, this love story set in Paris with classics like “I Got Rhythm” will likely find an audience in older generations of theatregoers. It remains to be seen if younger audiences will be as interested.
Finding Neverland (Musical – April 15). Only time will tell if Weinstein’s new musical endeavor, Finding Neverland, received the editing and artistic revisions necessary to turn this relatively well-liked A.R.T. production into a commercial success on Broadway. Going off of Brian’s assessment from the Boston run, I am worried about this production (in large part because, aside from the new musical Amazing Grace, I was most excited for this spring release). Matthew Morrison has confirmed that he will take on Jeremy Jordon’s old role as J.M. Barrie and, ignoring the travesty that was Glee, Morrison has a respectable history on stage. Kelsey Grammar has also joined the cast, which should please any child with fond memories of the animated movie Anastasia.
The King & I (Musical – April 16). The King & I falls squarely in the category of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals that I find both dull and, truth be told, offensive from a cultural standpoint. It is a product of its time. Yet, audiences seem to enjoy this classic musical about a British schoolteacher employed as a governess by the King of Siam who finds herself falling in love with her employer (and her employer’s plethora of children). Kelli O’Hara fans can rejoice as the iconic Broadway actress will be returning to the stage as Anna after her ill-fated outing with Bridges of Madison County last spring, alongside Ken Watanabe.
Fun Home (Musical – April 19). While most are unfamiliar with the new musical Fun Home, theatre fans who had the opportunity to see this critically-acclaimed production at The Public Theatre off-Broadway last year know that this is the new musical to see. Sure, it does not have the flash produced by Harvey Weinstein’s marketing department for Finding Neverland, but it does have one heck of a book (and a little thing called a Pulitzer Prize). In a summary that hardly does the play justice, Fun Home is based upon a memoir and recounts the relationship between a young lesbian and her closeted father. Progressive and innovative, now is the chance to see this critical darling if you missed it the first time.
Dr. Zhivago (Musical – April 21). You read that right. Dr. Zhivago. As a musical. This ranks right above the rumored King Kong The Musical in my book, but what do I know. I wholeheartedly support introducing new audiences to classic films. I am just not sure that turning an epic drama like Dr. Zhivago into a musical stage play is the best way to do it.
Rumored and Fall Productions
Amazing Grace (Fall?). I am waiting with baited breath for the official announcement that this musical will move to Broadway. As an admirer of the movie Amazing Grace and someone who avidly read numerous biographies on William Wilberforce many years ago, I was thrilled to hear that the story behind the iconic song Amazing Grace was getting a stage adaptation. The production opened in Chicago in a pre-Broadway try-out several months ago and reactions to the show have been remarkably positive from audiences (although somewhat mixed from critics). If this production does not find a theatre for the spring, look for it to hit the Great White Way in the fall.
Fiddler on the Roof (Fall). Get your man-shimmy ready, because Fiddler is coming back to Broadway only 10 years since it was last revived. Fiddler falls into my category of musicals that I feel no need to see. Even for a history buff like me, it is dated, and I’ve heard the songs too many times to count. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is to me what “I’ve Got You Babe” was to Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day. However, this is a show that will be revived over and over again. Who knows – maybe I will finally figure out what hypothetically wealthy Tevye would be doing all day long while he “biddy biddy bum[’d].”
Hamlet (Play – Aug. 5). Hamlet is actually being performed in London. However, it’s also the show that I am most excited to see in 2015. In August, numerous news sources named this production the fastest selling London theatre ticket of all time – selling out in minutes. It beat our Beyonce and Jay-Z’s tour. So, why did I get up at 4:30 am and wait over 4 hours to get tickets for a play performed across the ocean?** That requires some explanation.
In 2012, I traveled to my parents’ home to study for the bar exam. I studied over 12 hours a day, every day, for three months straight, which resulted in me being a miserable, stressed-out wreck. Truly, I was a monster. June 6 was my first night off, and my Mom took me to see the broadcast of Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller at the local cinema. I adored it, and, for the first time in weeks, I felt content. That production also solidified my respect for Cumberbatch as an actor. Therefore, when it was announced that he would play the title role in my favorite Shakespearian play, Hamlet, I vowed to go. Frankenstein was great, but I want to see him live on stage.
Orchestra tickets are currently reselling for over $900 more than I paid for each of my two tickets. The truth is, no amount of money could convince me to sell them.
Theresa Raquin (Play – Oct 29). Playbill summarizes this new Roundabout Theatre endeavor as a play about a woman who embarks on an adulterous affair, which leads to violence, madness and revenge. Sounds pretty gripping. Plus, Keira Knightley will be making her Broadway debut in this play, which kicks off Roundabout’s 50th anniversary season.
School of Rock (Musical – Dec. 6). Bringing this popular movie about one man who just wants to rock (and is willing to rock with a classroom of kids in order to do it) to the stage does not surprise me. What profoundly shocked me about this particular musical is the creative team. Andrew Lloyd Webber has teamed up with Julian Fellows to adapt School of Rock for the stage. Lloyd Webber is undoubtedly a polarizing figure, but a dominating one during the 1970s and 1980s, in musical theatre. His latest artistic endeavors have not been well-received (I am referring to all of his work in the past twenty years). Equally as baffling is the inclusion of Fellows as the book writer. Fellows is perhaps most well known to American audiences for penning the hit British drama Downton Abbey (although he also adapted Mary Poppins for the stage). Having seen School of Rock many times throughout high school, there appears to be a disconnect between my vision of the show and the style of these two particular artists.
*We can argue the merits of bestowing awards on productions based upon financial reward versus artistic value another time.