Broadway and Off-Broadway season – we preview what’s ahead

OTT Key ArtRon Cohen writes: It’s almost autumn in New York but the thrill of first-nighting (as Vernon Duke expressed it in his classic song) won’t be felt on Broadway – at least as far as musicals are concerned – until mid-October when the first one of the fall opens, a revival of the enduring 1944 landmark On the Town.

The production comes from Barrington Stage Company, a theatre nestled in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts, where in June of 2013 it wowed the all-powerful critic of the New York Times. He found it to be “one of those rare revivals that remind us what a hit show from long ago was originally all about”. Let’s hope he’s right. In its last time on Broadway in 1998, the piece failed to jell, running for only 69 performances after 32 previews. This was despite the thrilling music of Leonard Bernstein matched perfectly to the smart, sometimes poignant lyrics of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, giving emotional weight to the two writers’ frothy book.

In case you’ve forgotten, On the Town concerns three sailors searching for romance – or at least dates – while on a 24-hour leave in Manhattan. John Rando directs and Joshua Bergasse follows in the gigantic footprints of Jerome Robbins as choreographer. Several of the principal roles are being retained by the Barrington company, including Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Tony Yazbeck as the seagoing trio. After nearly a month of previews, the first-night curtain goes up on 16 October.

Making a splash…

There’s a nautical theme of a different sort in the next show on the schedule, a brand new musical culled from the childhood background of the formidable Sting. It’s called The Last Ship, and deals with an English shipbuilding town – Wallsend in Newcastle – faced with the shutdown of its shipyard. Along with Sting’s original score, the show boasts an impressive creative team: book writers John Logan (Red) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), director Joe Mantello (Wicked) and choreographer Steven Hoggett (Once). The cast includes some Broadway stalwarts, including Michael Esper and Aaron Lazar. A tryout in Chicago this past summer garnered mixed reviews, but there’ll be a batch of New York previews starting 29 September before the official opening on 26 October, enough time to get things ship-shape.

Side by side on Broadway

November will bring the third and final Broadway musical opening of the fall, a revival of the 1997 Side Show. The original production, layered with dark overtones, attracted dedicated fans, but not enough of them, struggling through 91 performances after 31 previews. This upcoming redo, coming in after a well-received run at the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, is touted as being reinvented and revitalised. It tells the story of the conjoined twins, Violet and Daisy Hilton, who became a popular circus and vaudeville act in the 1930s. Henry Krieger wrote the music and Bill Russell the book and lyrics. Bill Condon directs and also supplied some additional material. Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, who led the Washington company, continue portraying the twins. Side Show opens on 17 November, with previews starting 28 October.

Three’s a crowd

While it won’t open officially until 15 January, Honeymoon in Vegas should add to the joyful holiday mood, with previews starting on 18 November. The show garnered bright notices when it played the Paper Mill Playhouse in nearby Millburn, New Jersey, last year. Based on the 1992 movie, it tells of a couple who head for Las Vegas for nuptials and honeymoon, but things go awry when a high-rolling gambler falls for the bride-to-be. The book is by Andrew Bregman, who wrote the screenplay, and the score is by Jason Robert Brown, who won a Tony this year for The Bridges of Madison County. Gary Griffin directs, Denis Jones choreographs, and continuing in the lead roles are television favourite Tony Danza as the gambler, and Rob McClure and Brynn O’Malley as the couple.

And that’s it for Broadway through the end of 2014, and if the line-up seems a little scanty, there’s always the hubbub of Off-Broadway to fill any unsated appetites. Here are just some of the Off-Broadway highlights:

The Fortress of Solitude. This is a chronicle of the coming-of-age of two teen boys, one black and the other white and both obsessed with superheroes and the possibility of flying, Conceived and directed by Daniel Aukin, this production from the Public Theater is based on a novel by Jonathan Lethem. The book is by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Previews start 30 September for a run 22 October–2 November.

Allegro. John Doyle directs and designs sets for this revival of this 1947 Rodgers and Hammerstein somewhat experimental (at least for 1947) look at the medical profession. Previews start 1 November for a limited run 17 November–7 December at Classic Stage Company, where Doyle last year put together an enthrallingly intimate revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. Claybourne Elder plays Allegro’s central character, a young doctor faced with career choices.

The Band Wagon. It’s a stage version of the 1953 MGM classic, loaded with great Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz tunes. It will have Broadway heartthrob Brian Stokes Mitchell – acclaimed for his grand baritone voice but with rarely a word about his dancing – stepping into the awesome shoes of Fred Astaire as a Hollywood has-been looking for a comeback on Broadway. Douglas Carter Beane is redoing the Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay, and Kathleen Marshall directs and choreographs. It’s being presented as a special attraction of the Encores! series at New York City Center for a very brief run 6–16 November. I wouldn’t be surprised if it should somehow find an extended life.

Into the Woods. And finally, you don’t have to worry: the year will see a Sondheim revival. At least, previews will start 18 December for an opening on 22 January for this wondrous Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine fairy tale mashup. It’s a stripped-down reinvention by the highly imaginative Fiasco Company, which is scheduled to play the Off-Broadway venue of Roundabout Theatre Company through 22 March. It comes in with ten actors, one piano and strong notices from its run earlier this year at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey. And if you want more spectacle, you can always catch the move version of Into the Woods opening round Yuletide.

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