Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Most Anticipated of Spring 2014

Idina Menzel and the cast of If/Then.  You just *know* she's belting her face off.

Now that we are officially in 2014, it is time to start looking forward rather than back (which I did in my two Best Of 2013 posts as well as my Worst Of list).  There are 20 new productions opening on Broadway this coming spring, and somewhat surprisingly they are evenly divided between plays and musicals.  Any new Broadway show is cause for celebration, but naturally there are some shows that I'm looking forward to more than others.  So here, in no particular order, are the productions I'm most excited to see in the coming months.


Full disclosure:  Aladdin has always been my favorite Disney film.  I have been hoping for a stage adaptation for the last 10 years, and I will finally get my wish when the show arrives on Broadway in March.  I'm not sure exactly how they'll translate the film's magic to the stage (the Genie's mile-a-minute dialogue and transformations seem like a particular challenge), but 16 years ago no one thought they could make The Lion King work and that show has gone on to gross $1 billion on Broadway alone.  I have full faith in the technical prowess Disney's money can buy, and I also have supreme confidence in the musical comedy chops of director Casey Nicholaw, whose work on The Book of Mormon remains the greatest example of sustained hilarity in the new millennium.  Final bit of disclosure: I bought my orchestra tickets to this show last month. :-D

The Bridges of Madison County

I have zero knowledge or particular interest in either The Bridges of Madison County novel or the film version starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.  But I do have extensive knowledge and admiration for the musical career of composer Jason Robert Brown, who is scoring the musical adaptation set to begin previews on Broadway in a couple of weeks.  Brown is one of the smartest pop-influenced composers working in the theatre, and I have no doubt his score will be a marvel to behold.  The fact that he has enlisted Kelli O'Hara to take on the lead female role makes the entire enterprise even more exciting, as she is one of the most gifted singing actresses of her generation.  Add in the fact that Tony-winner Barlett Sher is at the helm and has described the score as the best one he's ever worked with (remember the Sher introduced the world to Adam Guettel's rapturous Light in the Piazza) and you have the makings of a theatrical event.


10 years after her Tony-winning turn in the smash-hit Wicked, Idina Menzel finally returns to the Broadway stage in If/Then.  That information alone would be enough to pique my interest; the fact that the show is written by Next to Normal's Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, who crafted one of the most fascinating musical dramas of the past decade and wrote an incredible diva role for eventual Tony-winner Alice Ripley, shoots this towards the top of my must see list.  Menzel has some able-bodied support in costars like LaChanze (whom I adored in The Color Purple) and fellow Rent alum Anthony Rapp, and the incredibly talented Michael Grief directing her.  All the ingredients for theatrical magic are there, and I cannot wait to see what this team has come up with.


Two words:  Sutton Foster.  Foster is one of the select few performers who can prompt me to buy a ticket based on her name alone, as she has never been anything less than stellar in every show I've been privileged enough to see her in (even when the actual shows left me cold, as was the case with Little Women).  She has one of the purest belts in the contemporary theatre, along with the acting chops and sheer charisma to hold your attention even when she isn't singing.  And while I know almost nothing about Violet, which had a very brief Off-Broadway run in the 1990s, everyone I know who has actually heard the music raves about it.  Composer Jeanine Tesori also has the distinction of having written Thoroughly Modern Millie, the show that shot Foster to stardom and her first Tony Award, so seeing the two reteam on this new project is doubly exciting.


I am in no way, shape, or form convinced that this adaptation of the Oscar-winning film will actually work as a musical.  In fact, it could be a disaster of epic proportions.  But Stephen Flaherty and Lynne Ahrens wrote one of the greatest musicals of all time (if not THE greatest) in Ragtime, and the rest of their catalogue is equally lovely.  The pair are also famous perfectionists, constantly rewriting and revising their shows in an effort to make them as good as they can possibly be, so I have to believe that there was something about Rocky that drew them to the project.  Good or bad, I think Rocky will be one show the entire industry is talking about come spring, and I want to see it firsthand.  Whether I leave praising its triumphs or deconstructing its missteps remains to be seen.

I wish I could say I was excited about the plays that are opening this spring on Broadway, but the truth of the matter is none of them grab me the way the above musicals do.  Like everyone else, I was blown away by Bryan Cranston's performance on Breaking Bad, and I fully believe he will make an excellent stage actor, but the out-of-town reviews for All The Way were lukewarm (many critics felt the play was too long and unfocused).  I personally thought Denzel Washington was overrated in Fences a couple of seasons back, so the idea of him doing A Raisin in the Sun doesn't thrill me.  And while I find the idea of Debra Messing starring in a comedy by Pulitzer-winner John Patrick Shanely appealing, it isn't a must see for me.  I *am* excited to see Alan Cumming reprise his Emcee in the Roundabout's remounting of their Tony-winning Cabaret (since I missed it the first time around), but at the end of the day they are just dusting off a production from 15 years ago that may or may not still feel relevant.

What are you most looking forward to for the coming spring season?  Feel free to let me know in the comments.  And look for reviews of as many of the spring shows as I can get to in the coming months.

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