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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Fall Broadway Preview

August 3rd, 2011

Danny Burstein in "Follies". Photo by Joan Marcus.

It’s August on Broadway, which means the tourists are risking second degree burns in the TKTS line and little puddles of melted stage make-up dot the sidewalks from the Theater District to Hell’s Kitchen. (Hell’s Kitchen is the neighborhood where half the chorus boys live–hence its very appropriate nickname “The Dance Belt”.) And, for our purposes, August also means there’s a calm before the September storm of openings and big news. So instead of our usual review round-up, let’s look ahead at three musicals and two plays worth getting excited about in the months ahead…

THE MUSICALS: After an usual fertile 2010-2011 season stuffed with new musicals, the pendulum swings back to revivals this autumn…

  • Ron Raines & Bernadette Peters. Photo by Joan Marcus.

    Kicking things off September 12 is the much-discussed return of Sondheim and Goldman’s masterpiece about mid-life regret at a Ziegfeld-girl reunion, Follies, moving up the coast after its run at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Some reviews from D.C. suggested that, after a somewhat sluggish first act, the musical roared to life with a devastating second act; I’ll be curious to see if they’ve found a way to tighten up the opening. But with some of the most popular songs in the modern musical cannon (“I’m Still Here,” “Broadway Baby,” “Losing My Mind”) and powerhouse leads Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell, I’ll be there no matter what.

  • On the opposite end of the spectacle spectrum, a scrappy revival of Godspell (a loose retelling of the Gospel of Matthew) heads to the Great White way on the shoulders of an unusual populist campaign. After an earlier attempt fell through from lack of funding, this 40th anniversary production directed by Daniel Goldstein and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli reached out to a pool of “community producers” (instead of the usual big money investors) putting up as little as $100 each for shares in the show. It’s hard not to root for this little show that just might.
  • Getting an intriguing update, Lerner and Lane’s reincarnation tuner On a Clear Day You Can See Forever opens this fall starring the very swinging Harry Connick, Jr. What’s worth noting here is that the show has a new book by playwright Peter Parnell (QED) which flips the sex of one character. Now, instead of playing a psychiatrist treating a woman and falling in love with one of her past incarnations (mmhmm, that’s the plot), Harry will be treating a gay man and romancing his past-life alter-ego. The alter-ego is still a woman but the sexual confusion should add some spice to the mix (and provide many a swoon moment for gay men who’ve fantasized about joining Harry’s big band.)

THE PLAYS: You’ve got to have star-power to sell a play these days (or so conventional wisdom goes) so watch big names hit the stage like Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) in Private Lives and Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and…) in Seminar. But I’m most excited about a relative newcomer heading back to Broadway this fall…

  • Nina Arianda in "Venus in Fur". Image via Boneau/Bryan-Brown.

    If you’ve read my posts over the last few months, you know I adored Nina Arianda in her Tony-nominated Broadway debut as Born Yesterday‘s Billie Dawn. Now she’s headlining Venus in Fur, a juicy play by David Ives about a game of seduction and power between a director and an actress. What makes this particularly exciting is this is the role that Arianda played Off-Broadway to such acclaim in 2010 that it catapulted her into Born Yesterday and films (Midnight in Paris). Now we can see for ourselves what those original fans saw.

  • You want names? How about the towering Angela Bassett (Oscar-nominated for What’s Love Got to Do With It) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction)? They come to New York in The Mountaintop, a reimagining of the final night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best Play. I hope this brings the stunning Ms. Bassett back to the top where she belongs after a strangely haphazard reception from Hollywood.

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