As is usually the case, this summer’s theater season was especially limited in quantity and disappointing in quality. The Shakespeare in the Park revival of Into the Woods, which everyone assumed would be a smash that would transfer to Broadway, was sort of a disaster. No worthy new musicals came out of the increasingly amateurish New York Musical Theatre Festival. Even the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Uncle Vanya with Cate Blanchett was marred by being staged in the oversized City Center.
But have no fear. The fall theater season is finally upon us, with many new Broadway shows about to open and all the not-for-profit Off-Broadway companies ready to launch new shows for their subscribers. But strangely enough, the fall season will begin with a humorous look back at last year’s musicals.
After a three-year hiatus, Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini’s frequently brilliant parody of both classic and current Broadway musicals has returned for its 30th anniversary. Its new targets are expected to include Once, Newsies, Spider-Man, The Book of Mormon and the revivals of Follies, Porgy and Bess and Evita.
David Mamet will be represented on Broadway with a revival of his Pulitzer-winning drama Glengarry Glen Ross – in which Al Pacino will graduate from playing hotshot real estate agent Ricky Roma to the desperate Shelly Levene – and his new play The Anarchist, which will star Patti LuPone as a prisoner who was once a political radical.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will also return to Broadway for its 50th anniversary in a new revival courtesy of playwright-actor Tracy Letts and actress Amy Morton, who both rose to fame five years ago with August: Osage County.
Lincoln Center Theater, which revived Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! back in 2006, will now take a crack at Odets’ boxing drama Golden Boy, which is probably now better known for the Charles Strouse musical version. Another intriguing revival is The Heiress, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square, which will feature Jessica Chastain (The Help), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) and Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”).
One quite unnecessary revival is Cyrano de Bergerac, which comes just five years after a production with Kevin Kline that was even filmed for television. You can blame it on the Roundabout Theatre Company’s lack of imagination. At least Roundabout is also reviving the merry murder mystery musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Annie, which became a huge musical hit in the late 1970s, allowing audiences weary of Watergate and Vietnam to indulge in its cheeriness and optimism, will return to Broadway in a new production directed by James Lapine, who is commonly identified with Sondheim musicals like Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George. Two-time Tony winner Katie Finneran, who was the highlight of the recent revival of Promises, Promises, ought to knock the role of Miss Hannigan out of the park.
It’s hard to imagine exactly why Chaplin, which previously played the New York Musical Theatre Festival under the title Limelight, is going to Broadway. And while I foresee it being a quick flop, at least it provides the relatively unknown but very talented Rob McClure with a starring role.
Theresa Rebeck, fresh from being kicked off the set of the television series “Smash,” will come back to Broadway with her new play Dead Accounts, which will star the newly single Katie Holmes plus two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz. In light of the quality of her recent play Seminar, I don’t have high hopes for this one. A far more interesting new play is The Performers, where “The Fonz” Henry Winkler and Cheyenne Jackson will play stars of the adult film industry.
Ibsen’s rarely revived drama An Enemy of the People, which depicts the conflict between a doctor who attempts to expose a local scandal and the community hell bent on hiding it in order to protect its economic future, will be produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club with Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas.
The Off-Broadway season is also full of diverse and very intriguing offerings. Assuming the recent Into the Woods revival hasn’t turned you off from Sondheim completely, the Keen will present a revised version of Marry Me a Little, a revue comprised of rarely heard Sondheim songs.
Jake Gyllenhaal will make his New York stage debut this fall in If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, a new play by Nick Payne to be produced Off-Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company. It is described as "an entertaining look at a regular family stuck somewhere between knowing what the problem is ... and doing something about it," whatever that means. Gyllenhaal will play the estranged, potty-mouthed uncle of an overweight teenage girl.
As part of the Irish Repertory Theatre’s 25th anniversary Off-Broadway season, John Malkovich will direct actor Julian Sands (Room with a View, The Killing Fields) in A Celebration of Harold Pinter, a tribute to the late, extremely distinctive playwright that has previously played San Francisco and the Edinburgh Fringe. Last season, Malkovich appeared in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a serial killer at BAM.
David Schwimmer and Amy Ryan will headline the New York premiere of Detroit, which was originally slated to play Broadway but will instead be produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. Lisa D’Amour’s high-profile drama, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, explores how a suburban couple is affected by its new neighbors over the course of barbecues.
Eight years ago, Bare, a vigorous rock musical about gay teens at boarding school, was supposed to inaugurate the Off-Broadway complex New World Stages, which was then named Dodger Stages. (Altar Boyz, which opened in its place, ran for five years.) With a new creative team onboard, a revised version of Bare is finally going to open at New World this fall. Well, better late than never.