Stars, revivals, and musicals conjured from films will continue to dominate Broadway in the coming months, as sure as rising ticket prices and limited runs. The resulting high expectations were frequently met in 2014, if sometimes with accompanying scratching of head and furrowing of brow. Jez Butterworth’s slim provocation The River—despite or possibly because of Hugh Jackman’s performance in one of Broadway’s smallest theaters—is a good example.
Playing Janus, I’ll look back at the year just ended before looking ahead to the coming season’s pre-eminent box-office bait.
ASTONISHMENTS: Audra McDonald sang her heart out as Billie Holiday in a revival of Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill, a performance that easily earned the approbation mesmerizing, as well as her record-breaking sixth Tony Award. Watch for HBO’s upcoming telecast of the show…Neil Patrick Harris was a fury and a vision in the title role of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, playing a transsexual rock semi-star. Not only did he bring down a Broadway house in delirious punk glory, he helped draw an elusive younger audience to the Street…Emma Stone rolled into town on the high of her smashing performance in Birdman and shocked me (I was hardly alone) with her ferocious, sexy-sad portrayal of Sally Bowles in Cabaret, charging the Alan Cumming-led cast with a jolt of power and emotion absent from this revived revival…Kenneth Branagh commanded the black hole that is the main hall of the Park Avenue Armory with his bravura performance in the title role of Macbeth. The production was all but life-size in that vast space, but Branagh managed to make it spittle-spatteringly intimate.
REVELATIONS, Play Division: On Broadway, no play, new or revived, equalled the drama, inventiveness and sheer emotional power of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Simon Stephens’ adaptation of the best-seller by Mark Haddon about a brilliant and special boy is staged by Marianne Elliott on an ingenious environment devised by Bunny Christie. The show of the year…Ayad Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize last year for Disgraced and showed he has a lot more to say about the intersection of love, politics and power with two shows beautifully realized off-Broadway: The Who And The What at Lincoln Center Theater, and The Invisible Hand at New York Theatre Workshop…Playwrights Horizons struck gold with Robert O’Hara’s hilarious raw nerve of a coming-of-age comedy, Bootycandy…and I won’t forget the bristling post-pubescent perverseness in the poetry of Irish playwright Dylan Coburn Gray’s Boys And Girls, at the reliably surprising 59E59 Theaters…finally, no list of highlights could be complete without Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside And Crazy, and if you have any doubts, test me when the Atlantic Theatre Company production re-opens in January at Second Stage.
REVELATIONS, Musical Division: The Public Theater has reclaimed its position as the country’s pre-eminent nonprofit theater with a slew of new musicals, the best of which is Broadway bound (see below). Right up there was Fortress Of Solitude, based on the Jonathan Lethem roman a clef about a white boy growing up in black Brooklyn…Broadway had no show to compare with the revival of On The Town, because no other show could boast a 30-piece orchestra playing the joy-inducing songs of Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden & Adolph Green…the best musical on Broadway however was a Roundabout Theatre Company revival that really wasn’t a revival (unless you were among the handful of folks who saw the brief run off-Broadway 15 years ago)—Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s Violet with a shatteringly beautiful performance in the title role by Sutton Foster…Finally, the invaluable City Center reprised all-too-briefly the late Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…BOOM! with the amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda brilliantly cast in the lead role of a struggling, self-doubting artist.
MOVING RIGHT ALONG TO 2015, Broadway’s obsession with classic movies continues apace, with the Tony Danza-starring Honeymoon In Vegas about to open at the Nederlander after garnering critical laurels last year at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. Also coming: Ageless boy Harvey Weinstein’s lead-producing debut with Finding Neverland, along with three iconic works: a musical adaptation of Doctor Zhivago and stage versions of two musical films, the Gershwin brothers’ An American In Paris and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Gigi. Also topping the list of great expectations is Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I, starring Kelli O’Hara as I and Ken Watanabe as the King.
Two of the most breathlessly anticipated new musicals of the new season both come from the Public Theater: Broadway will see the uptown transfer of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s comic-book style graphic memoir. Down at the Public’s East Village HQ, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton tells the story of the first U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, born in the West Indies and killed in New Jersey. You know Miranda as the creative force behind the Tony-winning In The Heights. Expect American history as never fashioned before.
In the non-musical arena, Broadway in March at the Golden Theatre will get one of London’s most laureled revivals of last season, David Hare’s superb drama Skylight, starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan and staged by Stephen Daldry. Two other big revivals hold promise as well: Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, will run at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music for six weeks beginning February 5. Also in February, at the Music Box Theatre, Elisabeth Moss takes on the lead role in the late Wendy Wasserstein’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning dramedy The Heidi Chronicles, a role originated by Joan Allen, in one of the most engaging plays of its time.
As for newcomers, all eyes will be focused in March on the Cort Theatre, when Larry David makes his Broadway debut writing and starring in Fish In The Dark, directed by Anna D. Shapiro and co-starring Rosie Perez, Rita Wilson and Jonny Orsini. It’s a comedy, about death—and you know what they say about those two. After several weeks of previews, Jake Gyllenhaal is just days away from his Broadway opening at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre with co-star Ruth Wilson in Nick Payne’s Constellations. The Nightcrawler star proved his considerable stage chops a few years back in Payne’s somewhat loopy If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.
Two more London imports will top the list of likely Tony contenders come June 7: In April at the Schoenfeld, Peter Morgan’s The Audience brings Oscar winner Helen Mirren back to Broadway (along with the great Dylan Baker and Judith Ivey) as Queen Elizabeth II, directed by the ubiquitous Daldry. And, recalling the days long past of the two-parter The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby, now comes Wolf Hall, Parts One and Two. Like Nick/Nick, Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies comes from from the Royal Shakespeare Company. The show at the Winter Garden, directed by Jeremy Herrin, features Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and five-plus hours of that palace intrigue beloved by Brits and colonists alike. Happy new year!