News Column

Fall Broadway Preview

September 8, 2013

YellowBrix

For Broadway's fall season, the emphasis, to borrow a handy phrase, is on the tried and true: well-known actors in substantial plays.

Among the bold-faced names are Daniel Craig, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crystal, Rachel Weisz, Ian McKellen, Billy Crudup, Cherry Jones, Mary-Louise Parker and Norbert Leo Butz, along with such up- and-comers as Zachary Quinto and Condola Rashad.

Mark Rylance, Ethan Hawke and Orlando Bloom will all be tackling Shakespeare (the season's hot author, with four shows).

To add a little spice, there'll also be a half-dozen new works, including four musicals.

The season begins later this month on a seriously romantic note with "Romeo and Juliet," with Bloom ("Pirates of the Caribbean") playing opposite Rashad ("Ruined," "The Trip to Bountiful").

The already fraught relationship between the young lovers' warring families figures to be ratcheted up by director David Leveaux's addition of a racial element: The Capulets, Juliet's family, are black, while the Montagues, Romeo's, are white.

A week later, there'll be the opening of a classic American play, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," with Jones ("Doubt") playing the formidable matriarch Amanda Wingfield and Quinto ("Star Trek Into Darkness") as Tom, her aspiring-writer son and the play's narrator.

The busy Celia Keenan-Bolger ("Peter and the Starcatcher," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee") will play Tom's delicate sister, Laura.

In October, the married Craig and Weisz will play a wedded pair in the revival of "Betrayal," one of Harold Pinter's most accessible and (relatively) naturalistic plays.

Moving backward in time, the drama covers the seven years of an affair that Emma, the wife, is having with husband Robert's best friend, Jerry (Rafe Spall). The play will be directed by Mike Nichols.

The British Rylance, who already has two best-actor Tonys (for "Boeing-Boeing" and "Jerusalem"), will be in a pair of Shakespeare's plays that'll be performed, Elizabethan-style, by all-male casts.

Performing in repertory, Rylance will have the challenging title role in the history play "Richard III" and also portray the beautiful, but mournful, Olivia in the comedy "Twelfth Night."

Also opting for repertory -- it's rare to have one set of alternating productions in a Broadway season, much less two -- will be Stewart, McKellen, Crudup and Shuler Hensley, who will appear together in a duo of absurdist plays.

A reliable presence

The more familiar one is Samuel Beckett's landmark "Waiting for Godot," in which two men linger, endlessly, in the hope that the unknown Godot will arrive.

The second play is Pinter's "No Man's Land." It centers on an encounter between an alcoholic writer and a man -- either an old acquaintance or a devious stranger -- who tries to insinuate himself into the writer's life.

Hawke, a reliable presence in New York theater, will take the title role in "Macbeth," under the direction of Jack O'Brien, whose staging 10 years ago of "Henry IV" -- in which Hawke played Hotspur - - was one of the most exhilarating Shakespeare productions in memory.

Another revival is Terence Rattigan's 1946 drama "The Winslow Boy," based on a true story about an injustice in Edwardian England. When a young cadet at the Royal Naval College is expelled for stealing, his family fights to clear his name.

Crystal is returning in "700 Sundays," his remarkably successful one-man show of nine years ago, in which he got big laughs and also induced a few tears as he described growing up on Long Island and his close relationship with his father.

Turning to the new shows, the first up, in early October, is "Big Fish," a musical based on the 2003 film fantasy directed by Tim Burton.

A man (Butz) has spent his life telling seemingly tall tales about his remarkable adventures, spurring his son to set out to discover the truth. The songs are by Andrew Lippa ("The Addams Family"), with a book by John August, who wrote the screenplay. Susan Stroman ("The Producers") directs.

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" is a darkly comic musical about a member of a disinherited branch of a noble family who plans to gain an earldom by murdering the eight heirs -- all played by Jefferson Mays ("I Am My Own Wife") -- who stand ahead of him in the line of succession. It's based on the same novel as the 1949 Alec Guinness film "Kind Hearts and Coronets."

The other two musicals, a revue and a concert show, are officially "new" because they're on Broadway for the first time, but they've been around for several years and have been produced elsewhere.

Harlem shines

"After Midnight," previously called "Cotton Club Parade," is a re- creation of a floor show at the famed Harlem nightclub in its 1920s and '30s heyday, and features the music of Duke Ellington.

"A Night With Janis Joplin" is essentially a concert performance featuring the songs made famous by the rock legend, who'll be portrayed by Mary Bridget Davies.

There'll also be two new plays.

Parker stars in "The Snow Geese," a drama by Sharr White (last season's "The Other Place") that's set during World War I.

She portrays a recent widow who takes her two sons on the family's annual upstate New York hunting trip, even as changes in the world threaten to drastically affect their lives. Victoria Clark and Danny Burstein co-star.

"A Time to Kill" is in one of the theater's most popular genres: the courtroom drama.

Rupert Holmes ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood") adapted it from John Grisham's first novel, about a young, idealistic lawyer in a small Mississippi town who defends a black man accused of murdering two white men who had raped his young daughter.

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