The all-singing, all-dancing kitties are back, and thus begins the new season – 2016/17 – on Broadway, writes Ron Cohen. They’ll be joined through the end of the year by a slate of musical openings that highlight a diverse range of humans, from contemporary teens in turmoil to 19th century Russians in turmoil.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline piece de resistance Cats gave the fall session an early start, with its first preview on 1 July. This revival made news earlier this year when Nicole Scherzinger abruptly pulled out of the role of Grizabella to return to judging on British TV’s X Factor.
This as ‘memory’ might tell you, did not make the Lord Lloyd-Webber happy. Scherzinger played the part in the 2014 Christmas revival at London’s Palladium. However, the composer expressed delight when confirming that Leona Lewis, an X Factor champion, would be stepping into the role.
The Broadway excursion is being helmed by Trevor Nunn, Cats’ original director way back when, and features choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, based on the original work of Gillian Lynne.
Blankenbuehler is a two-time Tony winner, for Hamilton and In The Heights. The show’s official opening is 31 July. Will the revival match the nearly 7,500 performances achieved by the first Broadway mounting, which closed in 2000? Who knows? Cats are so mysterious.
Motown the Musical
Another early arrival is the return of Motown the Musical, celebrating the life and career of Berry Gordy, founder of ground-breaking Motown records, and featuring a score made up of hits from the record company’s catalogue.
But, unfortunately, the show, which began performances on 12 July, is already a casualty of weak box office. The limited engagement was to run to 13 November, but Iit has abruptly posted a closing notice of 31 July.
With this brief revisit, the show made good on the promise of return issued when it first closed up shop on Broadway in January 2015, while citing plans for its London mounting and a North American tour. The first Broadway go-round racked up 37 previews and 738 performances.
The soon-to-close show features Allison Semmes as Diana Ross, Jesse Nager as Smokey Robinson and Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye. Chester Gregory portrays Gordy and Charles Randolph-Wright directs.
Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical
Musical fans mourning the demise of Motown, however, can shake away their blues and start revving up for the Yuletide when Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical starts previews on 1 September for an opening on 6 October.
How new it all is may well be open to question since it’s based on the 1942 film that starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and gave the world the contemporary carol entitled ‘White Christmas’. But who wants to quibble when a show promises a whole trove of Berlin songs.
The story centres on a performer – the song guy in a song-and-dance act duo – who leaves the stage to run an inn open only on holidays, when it presents musical spectacles tied to the day in question.
The script has been co-written by Gordon Greenberg, who also directs, and Chad Hodge, while Denis Jones choreographs. Bryce Pinkham, who picked up a Tony for his work in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, portrays Jim, the inn owner, while Corbin Bleu portrays his ex-partner, Ted, who comes on the scene and – as ex-showbiz partners are wont to do – tries to steal Jim’s girl. Presumably, he’ll do a bit of dancing as well, since Ted was the Astaire role.
Holiday Inn, part of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s subscription season, will play a limited run, scheduled to close, appropriately, on New Year’s Day.
Things will get a bit more serious with the revival of Falsettos, which starts previewing on 29 September for an opening on 27 October. This musical about a man who leaves his wife and son to live with another man takes place during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
With a score by William Finn and a book by Finn and James Lapine, the show premiered on Broadway in 1992, and after 23 previews played 486 regular performances. James Lapine, who directed the original, will do the same for the revival.
The cast includes Christian Borle, who recently left his Tony-winning turn as a rock-star Shakespeare in Something Rotten!, Stephanie J. Block, and Andrew Rannells. A limited engagement, the show is scheduled to wind up on 8 January.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Next up will be the Russians – Tolstoy’s Russians, to be exact. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 will start previewing some time in October for a 14 November opening.
With a book and score by Dave Malloy, the show, based on a slice of Tolstoy’s masterwork War and Peace, has already seen considerable success Off-Broadway.
Rachel Chavkin continues as director, while the cast gets a sprinkle of stardust, with heartthrob vocaliser Josh Groban taking on the role of Pierre. Denee Benton – like Groban, making a Broadway debut – will play Natasha, and Sam Pinkleton choreographs.
Bronx Tale: The Musical
The ambience returns emphatically to this continent with A Bronx Tale: The Musical, launching previews on 3 November for an official opening on 1 December.
The musical, which had a production last year at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, has its origin in a one-man play written and performed Off-Broadway by Chazz Palminteri, inspired by his own life.
It was transformed into a 1993 movie, directed by and starring Robert De Niro and co-starring Palminteri. It centres on the concern of a workaday loving father, as his young son becomes a protégée of the top gangster in the neighbourhood. De Niro is co-directing the musical along with four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks. Palminteri wrote the book for the musical; Alan Menken the music, and Glenn Slater the lyrics.
Dear Evan Hansen
The last of the fall Broadway musical openings – with currently scheduled dates – will also be a family drama, this one informed by teenage angst. Dear Evan Hansen is set to open on 4 December after previews starting in November. The show had its world premiere last year in Washington DC, and this year an Off-Broadway run at the non-profit Second Stage was met with critical adoration.
It tells of a lonely high school student, the titular Evan, who through a mishap is believed to be the best pal of another student outsider who commits suicide. This misconception elevates him to a centre of sympathetic attention on social media and within the family of the dead student, and the impact this has on Evan’s psyche is a focus of the piece. The book is by Steve Levenson. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the score, and Michael Greif directs. Ben Platt repeats his much-applauded turn in the title role.
Also announced for a fall opening but without exact dates is In Transit, an a cappella musical about the intersecting lives of a group of New Yorkers. The show had an Off-Broadway run in 2010. Book, music and lyrics come from a group of writers, including Kristen-Anderson Lopez, who with her husband, Robert Lopez, wrote the songs for the Disney movie Frozen. Kathleen Marshall will direct.
Meanwhile, the year’s end will bring a farewell from a frequent visitor to Broadway: Tevye the dairyman. The current revival of Fiddler On the Roof, with Danny Burstein as Tevye, has just announced it will shutter after the matinee on 31 December.
Its closing precedes by one day the earlier announced departures of two other much acclaimed shows, Matilda the Musical and An American in Paris. Ah, well, as that guy in Grand Hotel might say… the shows come, the shows go.