Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 Fall Preview: The Play Revivals

Tony winners Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are 2 of the many, many celebrities coming to Broadway this fall in limited run revivals.

The 2014-2015 Broadway stealthily began the week after the Tony Awards with the premiere of the ill-fated musical Holler If You Hear Me, something that already seems like a non-event in the grand scheme of things.  But we are getting ready to start the season proper, with several new productions beginning previews this month and many more scheduled from now until the lucrative holiday season.  And so I will be writing a three-part series previewing the upcoming season, examining all of the announced productions and giving a brief assessment of the probable level of success, both artistic and commercial.

We start with the plays, and like last year this coming season is jam packed with celebrity-led revivals.  Not everyone appreciates these shameless cash grabs (which can sometimes be of dubious artistic merit), although enough of them turn out well that I'm not about to dismiss the trend out of hand.  The productions also have a pretty good track record of making money, which the producers will hopefully pour back into riskier projects and not solely into more celebrity-led revivals.  So what revivals can star-struck theatregoers who need a break from singing and dancing look forward to this coming fall?  Find out below.

This Is Our Youth
Previews begin 8/17; Opening Night 9/11

This is one of those awkward situations where producers seem to think they've booked name talent but actually haven't.  Michael Cera is the biggest "name" here, and even in his home medium of film he has never been a consistent draw (the one-note screen persona he's cultivated probably doesn't help matters).  Cera and costars Kieran Culkin (younger brother of Home Alone's Mucauley Culkin) and Tavi Gevinson don't have nearly the drawing power as a Denzel Washington, Neil Patrick Harris or even a James Franco, which means that director Anna D. Shapiro better work the same kind of magic she did with August: Osage County if the show's to be successful.  The play, which explores themes of adolescence and maturity, sounds promising, but I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to this work.  If the buzz is good, I'm more likely to give it a chance.

You Can't Take It With You
Previews begin 8/26; Opening Night 9/28

This revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy has a much starrier cast than This Is Our Youth, headlined by the always engaging James Earl Jones.  Jones plays the head of the eccentric and slightly unhinged Sycamore clan as they entertain the more conventional family of their daughter's boyfriend.  The play, with a premise ripe for scene-stealing supporting turns by a cast of theatrical veterans, certainly has my interest, although it lacks the "it factor" which makes me feel compelled to buy a ticket.  Unless something goes horribly wrong, I expect this play to do good business and win decent reviews, although it remains to be seen if it will have the kind of legs to merit an extension and/or any serious Tony talk.

It's Only a Play
Previews begin 8/28; Opening Night 10/9

Terrance McNally's last Broadway outing Mothers and Sons left me cold, but the upcoming revival of his 1982 comedy It's Only a Play is one of my most anticipated productions of the fall season.  The cast assembled by the producers and director Jack O'Brien is stacked with name talent, most of whom have at least one Tony nomination (if not a win) to their name.  The idea of seeing such noted clowns as Nathan Lane, Megan Mullaly, and Matthew Broderick ham it up in the farcical-sounding work (about a Broadway producer anxiously awaiting the reviews for his latest play) is exactly the kind of thing I and a lot of people would be willing to pay big bucks for.  Unless it gets absolutely terrible reviews, I suspect this will be one of the theatrical events of the fall.

Love Letters
Previews begin 9/13; Opening Night 9/18

An last minute addition to the fall season, this revival of the A.R. Gurney drama about the lifelong friendship between an artist and a politician sounds like a complete snoozefest.  The entire play is told via a series of letters the pair exchange, meaning it is essentially a series of monologues read aloud to the audience.  I have never enjoyed Gurney's work; he focuses so specifically on the concerns of upper class whites it can be hard to relate to his plays if you don't come from a similar background.  The gimmick of this revival is that it will feature a rotating cast of name actors, starting with Brain Dennehy and Mia Farrow and eventually including the likes to Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, and Diana Rigg.  I personally think this revival is ill-advised (the rotating guest stars didn't do much to help After Midnight's sales, and these stars have even shorter runs that will be almost impossible to properly advertise) and likely doomed to failure.  I will certainly be skipping it.

The Real Thing
Previews begin 10/2; Opening Night 10/30

Roundabout's productions have been incredibly hit or miss over the past several seasons, so without more information it is impossible to know where this revival of Tom Stoppard's heady drama will land on the quality spectrum.  It does have the appealing prospect of Ewan McGreggor in his Broadway debut, with a supporting cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhall and Cynthia Nixon to give it both theatrical credibility and even more Hollywood sheen.  I'm expecting a competently staged and acted evening at the theatre, although I will admit that it isn't very high up on my list of things to see.

A Delicate Balance
Previews begin 10/20; Opening Night 11/20

Along with It's Only a Play, A Delicate Balance looks poised to become one of the more buzzed about Broadway productions of the fall.  Featuring Glenn Close's first Broadway appearance in 20 years, Tony-winner and multiple Oscar-nominee Close is joined by Tony- and Emmy-winner John Lithgow in this Edward Albee drama.  Directed by Pam MacKinnon, who worked wonders with the 2012 revival of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this production contains great actors tackling a great script under the helm of a great director.  Assuming the stars are available and willing, I can easily see this extending for a month or two past its planned February closing date (which will give me more time to actually go see it).

The Elephant Man
Previews begin 11/7; Opening Night 12/7

This production is a wildcard for me.  On one hand, Bradley Cooper has racked up multiple Oscar nominations over the past couple of years, proving he is a much more versatile actor than his lowbrow performance in The Hangover would lead you to believe.  The Elephant Man is a respected property in the theatrical world that is a major showcase for its star, who plays the deformed John Merrick without the benefit of prosthetics or makeup.  But I wonder if director Scott Ellis, who is also directing You Can't Take It With You and On the Twentieth Century next season, is perhaps stretching himself too thin to really give this project the level of focus it deserves.  Cooper's name is probably enough to ensure good box office, but I am very curious to see what the verdict is on the artistic merits of this production.

And those are all the play revivals you can look forward to between now and Christmas.  Check back soon to see my take on this fall's upcoming new plays.

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