Broadway stream of openings kick off with Honeymoon in Vegas

honeymoon

Tony Danza and Rob McClure in Honeymoon in Vegas which officially opens at the Nederlander Theatre on 15 January. Picture: Joan Marcus

Looking to the first half of 2015 on Broadway, let’s hope that musical first-nighters have a good supply of umbrellas on hand. As Al Jolson liked to tells us, April is celebrated for its showers, and in the last-minute crunch for Tony Award eligibility for the 2014-15 season (23 April is the cut-off date), an 11-day stretch in that rainy month will see the official openings of seven Broadway musicals.

Of course, not every main stem tuner debut set for the first half of the New Year will be crowded into April: two of them will be opening beforehand. Starting off the year’s slate is Honeymoon in Vegas, whose first-night curtain rises 15 January after nearly two months of previews. The show, which had a run in 2013 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, has a score by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Andrew Bergman. It’s based on the 1992 film of the same name, which was both written and directed by Bergman.

Honeymoon in Vegas tells the story of a commitment-shy man who finally decides to tie the knot with his girlfriend on a trip to Las Vegas, but things go awry when a gambler takes a shine to the lady. Tony Danza, affectionately known for his years on television sitcoms, stars as the gambler, and Rob McClure, late of Chaplin the Musical, and Brynn O’Malley play the couple. Gary Griffin directs, and Denis Jones choreographs.

So far, the show in previews has not been having a honeymoon at the box office, with relatively low weekly takes an ominous sign. But if the Broadway notices – once the show officially opens – reflect the raves it garnered at Paper Mill, things may well improve. However, as in Vegas, nothing in the unpredictable world of theatre is a safe bet.

Next up on the Broadway schedule is the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of On the Twentieth Century, the 1978 confection that didn’t win a Tony Award for Best Musical, but nevertheless picked up Tonys for both its book (by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) and score (music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Comden and Green.) As I’m sure you remember, Ain’t Misbehavin’ was named Best Musical that year.

The revival, directed by Scott Ellis, is set to open on 12 March, after more than a month of previews. Based on the play by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur and Charles Bruce Millholland (which also became a landmark film of screwball comedy), the show depicts the romantic battling between an egomaniacal Broadway impresario and his one-time lover, now a Hollywood star, at they journey on a luxury train from Chicago to New York. Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher lead a cast that includes such luminaries as Andy Karl, who played the title role in the short-lived Broadway musical of Rocky.

Paris

Leanne Cope and Jill Paice in An American in Paris at the Palace Theatre. Picture: Angela Stirling

Then, after weeks of previews, comes the deluge of April. The storm starts with An American in Paris, opening on 12 April, after its brief world premiere last month in – of all places – Paris. Like the 1951 Oscar-winning movie musical it’s taken from, the show boasts a plentitude of Gershwin music as it depicts a Yank trying to make his name as a painter in the City of Light and his love affair with a Parisian shop girl. Also, as in the film, there should be a lot of notable dancing, with Robert Fairchild, a celebrated star of ballet, playing the lead, and Christopher Wheeldon, a leading ballet choreographer, directing.

On 14 April, comes It Shoulda Been You, detailing the comic culture clash at a wedding where the bride’s Jewish and the groom’s Catholic. The music is by Barbara Anselmi and the book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove. David Hyde Pierce, known for both his well-turned TV and stage performances, directs a cast studded with well-seasoned Broadway names, including Tyne Daly, Sierra Boggess, Harriet Harris, Edward Hibbett, Chip Zien and Montego Glover. The show had a pre-Broadway run at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey, and let‘s hope it avoids the stereotypes this type of story seems to promise.

Things should be more fanciful with Finding Neverland, which will tell us how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. It opens 15 April. The musical has had a checkered past and now comes to Broadway after a well-publicised redo at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, under the aegis of director Diane Paulus, who has risen to prominence with her reincarnations of such shows as Hair, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and most recently Pippin.

The proceedings are also noteworthy for the involvement of the ultra-aggressive indie movie producer Harvey Weinstein. He produced the non-musical 2004 movie of the same title, on which the show is based, and after an unsuccessful production in Leicester (in the UK!), Weinstein scrapped the complete creative team. And even between New York and Boston, casting for two of the leads was changed. Matthew Morrison, a heartthrob from the TV show Glee, has taken over the role of Barrie, and Kelsey Grammer, celebrated for his TV portrayal of Frasier, came into the role of Barrie’s theatrical producer Charles Frohman. Also in the cast is British actress and singer Laura Michelle Kelly.

When it arrives on Broadway, Finding Neverland (unless things change again) will have a book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy.

Following the unveiling of this Peter Pan tale, another British stalwart will take the opening-night spotlight: Anna Leonowens, the widowed schoolteacher who tutored the children of the king of Siam. Yes, Rodgers and  Hammerstein’s 1951 classic The King and I comes to Broadway for the fifth time, courtesy of Lincoln Center Theatre. Broadway favourite Kelli O’Hara will play Anna, and Bartlett Sher who guided O’Hara in Lincoln Center’s triumphant 2008 revival of South Pacific, directs. Ken Watanabe plays the king. The revival opens 16 April.

Fun HOme

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in Fun Home at the Circle in The Square Theatre. Picture: Joan Marcus

The next arrival will be Fun Home, a transfer of the highly praised piece done Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in the fall of 2013. With music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, the show is based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. It tells of her relationship with her closeted gay father and her own sexual awakening. Opening on 19 April, this intimate family drama  is braving Broadway with most of its superb Off-Broadway cast intact, including Michael Cerveris as the father, Judy Kuhn as his wife and the marvellous Sydney Lucas as the youngest of the three actresses playing Alison. Sam Gold directs.

Something presumably a lot more epic will be on view on 21 April, when the opening night curtain rises on Doctor Zhivago. Yes, it’s that Doctor Zhivago, the Russian poet/physician hero of Boris Pasternak’s monumental novel and David Lean’s equally monumental film, who finds love and the beauty of nature while surviving the Bolshevik Revolution. The show first saw the light of day at the La Jolla Playhouse, a busy musical incubator in Southern California. It then went on to limited stands in Australia and Korea, and now with significant changes talked about, it’s coming to Broadway. The music is by Lucy Simon, lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers, and the book by Michael Weller.

Leaving the West End to make his Broadway debut, Tam Mutu will play Zhivago. Others in the cast include Kelli Barrett as his love Lara, and Tom Hewitt as the evil Komarovsky. The directing reins will be in the hands of Des McAnuff, who has overseen in the past such varied musical epics as Jersey Boys and The Who’s Tommy.

Wrapping up the spring Broadway musical calendar on 22 April will be a late entry with the problematic title Something Rotten! It was supposed to have a pre-Broadway mounting on the West Coast in Seattle, Washington, but when the abrupt shuttering of Side Show left a prime Broadway theatre vacant, the enthusiastic producers decided to move Something Rotten! right in.

The plot concerns two Elizabethan playwrights trying to get out from under the shadow of Shakespeare. So, guess what? They write a musical. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, whose credits include The Book of Mormon and Aladdin, will oversee a cast that is still to be announced. Whoever they will be, they will be performing music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, and a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell.

If nothing else, Something Rotten! will reinstate the recently neglected exclamation point to the title of a Broadway musical.

Ron Cohen  

Readers may also be interested in:

An American in Paris – Theatre du Chatelet, Paris – Review

Fun Home – The Public Theater, New York – Review

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