Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Most Anticipated Shows of Spring 2015

After a fall filled with star-studded plays and nary a new musical in sight (save The Last Ship), this upcoming spring on Broadway is practically overflowing with productions of all shapes and sizes. Things just keep getting added to the calendar, with the Kennedy Center's revamped revival of Gigi having just announced its impending transfer for this coming March. If anyone has any doubts about the health of the theatre industry, the fact 19 productions (20 if you count each part of the Wolf Hall double bill separately) are scheduled to open in the next 4 months shows there are plenty of shows waiting for their chance in the spotlight. And while all are exciting in their own way, here are the ones I'm most looking forward to:

The King and I

The key art for Lincoln Center's The King and I clearly evokes the same feel as the poster for their smash hit, critically acclaimed South Pacific. Coincidence? I think not.

Lincoln Center Theatre's upcoming revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I has me in a tizzy for several reasons. First and foremost, this revival marks the latest leading lady role for the positively sublime Kelli O'Hara, who at this point is second only to Audra McDonald in my personal pantheon of Broadway divas. She reteams with director Bartlett Sher, who helped shape her revelatory performances in South Pacific and The Bridges of Madison County. And like the aforementioned South Pacific, I fully expect Lincoln Center to pour every cent they have into what will surely be one of the most lavish physical productions in years, the mere thought of which has me giddy. Will this year be the one where O'Hara FINALLY wins her long overdue Tony Award? I can't say (only hope), but no matter what I'm sure O'Hara will be perfection in this. I've already got my tickets!

On the Twentieth Century

Roundabout continues its recent tradition of really unfortunate key art; Kristin Chenoweth is virtually unrecognizable despite being this revival's main attraction.

Like many theatregoers, I'm primarily looking forward to this Roundabout revival because it marks Kristin Chenoweth's first Broadway appearance in 5 years. Her last stint on the Great White Way was the horrendous Promises, Promises, a production that wasted Chenoweth's talents and ranks as one of the most frustrating shows I've ever experienced. But her performance in the original cast of Wicked remains a personal favorite, and as her extensive concert work proves Chenoweth is blessed with a formidable voice that can be light as air or shake the rafters. Chenoweth is in danger of becoming a caricature of herself, but this production should bring her back to her musical comedy roots in a role originated by the late, great Madeline Khan. Chenoweth has spoken about her desire to star in the show for years, and seeing a performer tackle a dream role is generally something worth experiencing, which makes me cautiously optimistic for her highly anticipated return.

The Heidi Chronicles

See Roundabout? Sometimes a simple high quality photo is all you need.

I'll admit to being entirely unfamiliar with Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winning play, which put the pioneering playwright on the map; I don't even know the general premise beyond "career woman lives through 3 decades of feminism." But in a landscape dominated by celebrity fronted revivals of Great American Dramas that often feel dusty and dated, its nice to see someone tackle a play that isn't older than the average audience member. As a huge fan of Elisabeth Moss' sterling work on TV's Mad Men, I'm excited to see her make her Broadway debut in a female authored, female directed play about women's issues (a woefully underrepresented viewpoint). Moss may not have the same star power as a Hugh Jackman or Bradley Cooper, but she's every bit as good an actor, and I look forward to seeing her tackle this decades-spanning comedic drama.

An American in Paris

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in the pre-Broadway tryout of An American in Paris.

There are some that question whether Broadway is big enough for this stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film and the similarly dance-heavy On the Town. To these people I say "shut up," because there has been an alarming lack of high level dancing on Broadway in recent seasons. On the Town proved what a shame that is, with a stage full of carefully rehearsed dancers proving just as thrilling as any falling chandelier or flying magic carpet. Yes, this hybrid musical padded out with Gershwin trunk songs will see yet another permutation of "I've Got Rhythm," but considering the song's potential as a showstopper I'll give the creative team a pass. (This will also tide me over until we finally get that Crazy for You revival I've been hoping for). A runaway hit in Paris, I think this American could wind up being one of the highlights of the spring season.

Hand to God

Obie Award winner Stephen Boyer (right) and his foul-mouthed hand puppet Tyrone are just waiting to take Broadway by storm.

This little play that could is coming to the big leagues after critically acclaimed Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway runs. A self-described "hilarious and provocative" dark comedy, the show is about a teen who joins the Christian Puppet Ministry only to have his hand puppet Tyrone take on a vulgar, dangerously irreverent personality seemingly all its own. Foul-mouthed puppets can be comedic gold (Avenue Q continues to run Off-Broadway, even though most predicted it would struggle to last one season back in the early 2000s), and both Hand to God's synopsis and snarky, tongue in cheek marketing campaign have definitely piqued my interest. One can only see The Book of Mormon so many times, and Hand looks poised to strike a similarly comedic/satiric sensibility.

Fun Home

The three different Alisons of Fun Home in the musical's much lauded run at the Public Theatre last winter.

I'm still kicking myself that I didn't make the time to see this critically acclaimed musical during its extended Off-Broadway run back in 2013, so I'm especially excited it's being given a full scale Broadway production featuring almost the entire Off-Broadway cast. One of the rare musicals to make the short list for the Pulitzer Prize, the show is based on the graphic novel memoir of famed lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, which explores her experience coming out and her relationship with her troubled father. Composer Jeanie Tesori hasn't always written my favorite musicals, but she has consistently written interesting ones, with her more dramatic works pushing the boundaries of what a modern musical can be. Fun Home sounds like the perfect opportunity to explore a host of timely LGBT issues from a perspective that is virtually non-existent in contemporary theatre. I expect this to be the critical darling of the spring season and a major competitor come Tony time.

The Visit

Living legend Chita Rivera can't be bothered during the Williamstown Theatre Festival's recent production of Kander & Ebb's The Visit.

One of the last collaborations between the legendary Kander and Ebb, The Visit sounds like just the kind of darkly theatrical show that has always been the pair's bread and butter. Crafted specifically as a starring vehicle for the incomparable Chita Rivera, it's a match made in theatrical heaven (both of Rivera's Tony Awards are for Kander and Ebb roles). Adding to the allure of this production is the fact it's being billed as the 82 year old Rivera's final Broadway appearance, and is therefore likely the last chance I'll ever have to see one of Broadway's all time great actresses in action. I doubt the show has many commercial prospects, so this is definitely one I plan on seeing sooner rather than later just in case its run is as criminally short as the pair's brilliant Scottsboro Boys.

The above list by no means represents all of the shows I'm interested in. I'm certainly curious to see how Doctor Zhivago turns out, but I'm concerned this sweeping literary adaptation will feel like a bygone relic of the 1980s. The insane amount of buzz around Something Rotten certainly demands a closer look, as word of mouth is so strong it convinced producers to skip a planned out of town tryout and open cold on Broadway. The musical's director Casey Nicholaw is one of the best around, but then again the equally talented Susan Stroman's equally buzzed about Bullets Over Broadway disappointed in the exact same theatre a year ago, so I have some reservations. And while I desperately want Finding Neverland to be good, the more I hear about it the more I think producer Harvey Weinstein will ruin it with his misguided, business-oriented meddling (in no universe is Matthew Morrison an improvement over Jeremy Jordan, in either talent or box office drawing power).

Be sure to keep checking this very blog throughout the coming months to see my reviews of the spring Broadway season, and of course my annual and exhaustive coverage of the Tony Awards (which is starting up sooner than you think).

No comments:

Post a Comment