Broadway Musical Theatre Preview – a starry first half to 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-19-15-33Don’t forget sunglasses if you’re headed for New York. Broadway musical marquees will be freshly and blindingly ablaze with a constellation of star names during the first half of the New Year.

New productions headed for the Main Stem boast such legendary luminaries as Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Patti LuPone and – yes, even a male movie star ready to grab his Broadway musical medals, Jake Gyllenhaal.

In addition to these biggies, a whole host of celebrated Broadway denizens will be hitting the boards in new productions: Donna Murphy, Christian Borle, Christine Ebersole, Annaleigh Ashford, Andy Karl and Laura Osnes, among them.

Eleven musicals are set to open during 2017’s first half; seven of them are new titles coming to meet their Broadway fates after premieres elsewhere. And, of course, all the shows will have seen their official openings nights by 27 April, the cut-off date for Tony Award eligibility for the 2016-17 season.

Tony nominations will be announced on 2 May, and those prestigious, box-office-bolstering prizes will be handed out on 11 June.

Here’s the line-up of incoming musicals, listed chronologically by scheduled first preview:

Glenn Close and Michael Xavier in Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close and Michael Xavier in Sunset Boulevard. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

Sunset Boulevard – This revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical noir stars Glenn Close, re-creating her triumphant turn as Norma Desmond, the long-forgotten and now lethally looney queen of silent movies.

Close won a Tony in 1995 doing Desmond in the first New York mounting and more recently – just last year, in fact – garnered more acclaim in London in the English National Opera’s trimmed-down version of the epic.

It’s this production, directed by Lonny Price, that’s bringing Close back to Broadway. Cast members joining Close from London include Siobhan Dillon, Fred Johanson and Michael Xavier, all making their Broadway debuts. The first preview is to be 2 February, with the official opening 9 February. It’s a limited engagement set to close 28 May.

Sunday in the Park with George – The ecstasy that greeted a concert staging of this Pulitzer Prize-winning Stephen Sondheim masterpiece – starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the painter George Seurat – as a benefit for New York City Center this past fall has prompted this Broadway revival.

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-19-30-05Accompanying Gyllenhaal to Broadway will be his City Center co-star, Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford. Sarna Lapine directs. She is the niece of James Lapine, who wrote the book for the show and directed the original production, which premiered on Broadway in 1984.

The upcoming show marks the show’s second Broadway revival; a mounting from London’s Chocolate Menier Factory played in 2008.

The new revival is also noteworthy in that it will reopen the extensively restored Hudson Theatre, taken over in 2015 by the UK’s Ambassador Theatre Group, as a Broadway showplace.

The Hudson dates back to 1903 but in recent years it was used as a conference centre, television studio and venue for special events.

Sunday in the Park begins previews on 11 February for a 23 February opening. Coming in as a limited engagement, its closing is scheduled for 23 April.

Come from Away – This new musical is based on one of the aftermaths of the terrorist destruction of New York’s World Trade Towers on 11 September, 2001.

With the shutdown of US air space, the tiny Newfoundland town of Gander found itself playing host to the passengers and crews of 38 commercial aircraft forced to land at their airport. How the town and its sudden deluge of guests interacted to validate humanity in the wake of such tragedy is the show’s meaningful tale.

The show began as the brainchild of a Canadian lawyer and producer Michael Rubinoff, but was later developed at various venues. Book, music and lyrics are by Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein.

Christopher Ashley, who’s garnered Tony nominations for his work on such shows as Memphis and Xanadu, directs. The 16-person cast includes Jenn Colella, who’s had Broadway turns in such shows as Chaplin and If/Then, and Chad Kimball, whose Broadway credits included his Tony-nominated Huey in Memphis. Previews start 18 February for a 12 March opening.

Eva Noblezada as Kim (2) in 'Miss Saigon The 25th Anniversary Performance''

Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon – Producer Cameron Mackintosh is bringing his 2014 London revival of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s romantic rendering of the Vietnam War to Broadway for a limited run.

The production is directed by Laurence Connor, who also staged Mackintosh’s revamping of the same team’s Les Misérables, which closed on the Main Stem this past September.

Coming in from the London production are cast members Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer and Eva Noblezada as Kim. The show will start previews on 1 March at the Broadway Theatre, where the original production of Miss Saigon began its almost 10-year run in 1991. The revival’s opening night is set for 23 March, with a closing scheduled on 14 January 2018.

War Paint – This new confection depicts the rivalry between two formidable ladies of the cosmetic industry, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, embodied, respectively, by two formidable ladies of the Broadway stage, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Playing the men in their lives are Broadway veterans John Dossett and Douglas Sills.

The show had a closely observed tryout run in Chicago last year, and more work presumably followed. The creative team includes several of those who gave us another musical about two formidable if quite different ladies, Grey Gardens. Those creators include Scott Frankel, music; Michael Korie, lyrics; Doug Wright, book; and Michael Greif, director. That show, by the way, won a Tony for Ebersole. Will history repeat…in the face of such formidable competition? War Paint launches previews 7 March for an opening on 8 April.

Amélie, A New Musical – Based on the popular 2001 French film, this show stars Phillipa Soo, who was nominated for a Tony Award for playing Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, in that musical you might have heard of that also happens to be called Hamilton. Here she portrays a Parisian waitress, who takes it upon herself to meddle with all good intentions into the lives of others.

The book is by playwright Craig Lucas, most recently represented on Broadway by An American in Paris. The music is by Daniel Messe, with lyrics by Messe and Nathan Tysen. Pam MacKinnon directs, with choreography and musical staging by Sam Pinkleton, whose work is one of the highlights of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. The show has had tryouts in California and checks into New York with previews starting on 9 March for a 3 April opening.

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-19-21-17Hello Dolly! Bette Midler plays Dolly Gallagher Levi. Need anything more be said? Well, yes, there is plenty more to be said about the upcoming revival of this Jerry Herman blockbuster, which starts previews on 15 March and officially opens 20 April.

For one, there’s the cast that will be surrounding Midler. David Hyde Pierce, the industrious and oft-acclaimed Broadway and Off-Broadway actor who gained mainstream fandom with his long-running toil on the television show Frasier, will be Horace Vandergelder.

Other Broadway notables include Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy and Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl. Jennifer Simard, who had audiences in convulsions portraying a nun making love to a slot machine in the late and unlamented Disaster!, will be Ernestina.

They all will be directed by Broadway farce master Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Warren Carlyle. Then, there’s the interesting hiring of Broadway star Donna Murphy to play Dolly on Tuesday evenings starting on 13 June.

Andy Karl (Phil Connors) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic. Photo by Manuel Harlan (2-72-Edit)

Andy Karl in Groundhog Day. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Groundhog Day This fantastical piece of Americana is, of course, another import from London. After its acclaimed run at the Old Vic Theatre, it’s heading for Broadway with its lead intact. Andy Karl – who has scored on Broadway in such diverse fare as Rocky and On the Twentieth Century – plays the self-important television weatherman who is caught in a time loop and forced to live Groundhog Day – an American fete in which the aforesaid animal in a small town in Pennsylvania predicts the length of winter weather – over and over again until he learns some important lessons about himself.

Taking over the role of his TV producer and eventual romantic interest is Barrett Doss. The musical is an adaptation of the 1993 movie that was a hit for Bill Murray and features a book by Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the screenplay. Music and lyrics are by Tim Minchin, Matthew Warchus directs and Peter Darling choreographs.

As if you didn’t know, those three fellows also worked on Matilda the Musical, which celebrated New Year’s Day by closing its Broadway run. Previews for Groundhog Day start 16 March and it opens 17 April.

Anastasia – This is a musical retelling of the oft-told Anastasia story, the woman who may have been – but probably wasn’t – the surviving daughter of the massacred family of Czar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra. It’s inspired by the 1997 animated film musical of the same name.

The auspicious team of composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens wrote songs for the movie and have greatly expanded the score for Broadway. Esteemed playwright Terrence McNally has written the book. The threesome earlier gave us Ragtime.

The cast includes West End favourite Ramin Karimloo, who made a terrific Broadway debut in 2014 in the latest redo of Les Misérables. Playing Anya-cum-possibly Anastasia is Christy Altomare, who won her Broadway stripes as a Mamma Mia! replacement. Also prominent in the cast will be Mary Beth Peil as the Dowager Empress. First preview is set for 23 March with official opening on 24 April.

Joan Marcus

Picture: Joan Marcus

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – This adaptation of the frequently adapted Roald Dahl novel is yet another London import – sort of. The show, which starts previews on 28 March for an opening on 23 April, has a new director, Jack O’Brien, taking over for Sam Mendes, and a new choreographer, Josh Bergasse.

What changes they will make in the production – with its book by David Greig – remain to be seen. The score, as in London, features new tunes by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, along with ditties by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse from the first movie version.

Playing Willy Wonka will be Broadway’s very busy Christian Borle, coming right from his acclaimed turn in Falsettos and before that his Tony-winning work in Something Rotten! Also of note in the company will be John Rubinstein, who many moons ago was the original Pippin, playing Grandpa Joe and Broadway’s queen of grimaces, Jackie Hoffman as Mrs Teavee.

Bandstand – This new work, wrapping up the season’s musical openings with previews starting 31 March for an opening on 26 April. takes us back to 1945.

It deals with a startup swing orchestra consisting of Second World War veterans and a war widow who is the band’s vocalist.

Both directing and choreographing is Andy Blankenbuehler, who won Tony Awards for his choreography for both Hamilton and In The Heights. The book is by Robert Taylor, while the swing-inflected score has music by Richard Oberacker and lyrics by both Taylor and Oberacker.

Topping the cast are Laura Osnes, whose Broadway credits leap from the title heroine in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, to the title heroine in Bonnie and Clyde; Beth Leavel, whose credits include a Tony for her work in the title role of The Drowsy Chaperone, and Corey Cott, who did not play the title role in the recent redo of Gigi, but rather Gaston.

Ron Cohen

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