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ZEALnyc FALL PREVIEW: Theater

Fall Preview Theater

ZEALnyc, September 5, 2018

Well it’s that time of year again. For those of us involved in covering the theater scene in New York City, all the signs are in the air (and on the billboards and marquees). The temperatures are “supposed” to begin to fall soon so everything may feel a bit more manageable again, with summer pop-up shops and vendors experiencing those ‘end of season’ blues. A few long-running shows and special runs have slipped away, making room for the newest (and hopefully brightest) ventures to take over vacant theaters all over the city. Here at ZEALnyc our writers have put together their picks for the upcoming season, so sit back and find out what you need to make plans to see in the coming months.

Jil Picariello, Theater Editor

Who wouldn’t be excited about a season that includes a play by Kenneth Lonergan, a new production of a Sam Shepard classic, the chance to see Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, and Daniel Radcliffe—in the same play!—and a new drama by Jez Butterworth. But my colleagues will cover all of those delights below, so I’m going to mention a few others that I’m eager to see this fall both on and off the Great White Way.

Fall preview theater

Mercedes Ruehl and Michael Urie in 2nd Stage’s 2017 Off-Broadway production of Torch Song; photo: Joan Marcus.

The Second Stage production of Harvey Fierstein’s touching and hilarious Torch Song was so damn good it’s heading to Broadway, and I’m thrilled to get to see it again. Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl were more believable as mother and son than most actual families I’ve known—and every moment was pure theatrical joy. Performances begin October 9. (ZEALnyc‘s review of last season’s Off-B’way production here.)

Fall preview theater

Bryan Cranston and cast in the National Theatre’s production of Network in London; photo: Jan Versweyveld.

Another Broadway baby I’m putting in my calendar: Network, joining us from an acclaimed run in London. Adapted by Lee Hall from Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Academy Award-winning film, this story of a media world run amok is, sadly, as relevant as ever. Starring Bryan Cranston in the role made famous by Peter Finch. Performances begin November 10.

Fall preview theater

Stockard Channing; courtesy of production.

Stockard Channing is an American theater treasure. Hugh Dancy is a British one. This season you can get both in the same play: Apologia from the Roundabout. The story of a powerful matriarch whose recently published memoir has hammered a few cracks in her family relationships is written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and directed by Daniel Aukin. Performances begin September 27.

Seventeen aspiring dancers. Four nights. One singular sensation. It’s back: A Chorus Line, the 1975 show with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Ed Kleban. Winner of the Pulitzer and the Tony for Best Musical, Chorus Line brought us one brilliant number after another. It’s the 2018 Annual Gala Presentation at City Center, directed by Bob Avian and Baayork Lee for four nights only: November 14 through 18. Step, step, kick, step, ball change, and grab your tickets now.

Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer

The upcoming season of musicals on Broadway offers pretty much the same as it did last year: jukebox musicals and movie tie-ins. Neither of these is an automatic “no” in my book, but I have to say that there’s not much I’m looking forward to on Broadway this coming season.

Except for Tootsie, that is. Yes, it’s a movie tie-in, but what a movie, right? The 1982 classic starring Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray and Jessica Lange is one of the funniest and most entertaining movies Hollywood has ever produced. Not only that, but the creative staff for the musical version is pretty darned stellar, in particular composer/lyricist David Yazbek, fresh from his recent Tony win for The Band’s Visit. The first-rate cast will be led by the eminently appealing Santino Fontana in the central role of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels. The cast will also feature Broadway stalwarts Julie Halston and Tony winner Michael McGrath, plus the hilarious Sarah Stiles in the Teri Garr role. The book to Tootsie is by Robert Horn, who wrote the under-appreciated musical, 13. The show will be directed by the dependable Scott Ellis and choreographed by Denis Jones, one of our most promising up-and-coming choreographers. Previews for Tootsie begin at the Marquis Theatre on March 29, towards an April 23 opening.

Fall Preview theater

The cast of the Public Theater’s Girl From the North Country; photo: Joan Marcus.

The rest of the shows I’m genuinely looking forward to this season will be playing at various Off-Broadway nonprofit theaters. The first is Girl From the North Country, which is actually a jukebox musical of sorts, created around the songs of Bob Dylan. Glowing advanced word from the British productions of Girl From North Country has made the show a hot ticket, indeed, at the Public Theater. What appears to set the show apart from its jukebox peers is playwright Conor McPherson (Shining City), who has both written and directed the show. The story concerns a depressed community in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934 and the desperate drifters who inhabit a local boarding house. The show had a successful regional production in England, which was followed by a well-received West End transfer. The Public cast features Stephen Bogardus (Bright Star), Mark Kudisch (Hand to God), Mare Winningham (Casa Valentina), and David Pittu (LoveMusik). Girl From North Country is currently scheduled to run from September 11 through November 18.

Fall Preview theater

Kate Baldwin; courtesy of production.

Another show that looks promising is Superherocurrently slated to play the Second Stage Theater’s Off-Broadway venue. The 2ST is currently riding high on Dear Evan Hansen, which it helped shepherd to Broadway success. Superhero features an original book by John Logan (Tony winner for Red), and has music and lyrics by Tom Kitt (Pulitzer winner for Next to Normal). The story concerns a troubled family, a mysterious stranger, and an unexpected hero. The cast will feature the luminescent Kate Baldwin (Hello, Dolly!) and the reliably strong Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). The production will be directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q), and is set to begins performances in January 2019.

Finally, and furthest down the road, we have The Secret Life of Bees, based on the well-received 2001 novel by Sue Monk Kidd. The show will play at the Atlantic Theater Company, birthplace of Spring Awakening and The Band’s Visit. (Of course, the Atlantic also recently hosted the dismal This Ain’t No Disco, but, hey, they can’t all be gems.) The Secret Life of Bees features music by Duncan Sheik (of Spring Awakening fame) and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam). But the real kicker here is that the book will be by Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined and Sweat). The story features a young runaway in search of the truth about her deceased mother, and the family of beekeepers who take her under their arm. The show will be directed by Sam Gold, whose brilliant work on Fun Home helped make that show the stunner that it is. The Secret Life of Bees is scheduled to run from May 10 to June 23, 2019.

Diana Mott, Contributing Writer

Some theater productions I’m looking forward to this coming season include True West, Sam Shepard’s galvanizing classic about family myths and the American Dream. The casting of Paul Dano and Ethan Hawke as the estranged brothers promises to bring grit and gravitas to this revival presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theater. Previews begin December 27.

The legal dispute between the Harper Lee estate and Scott Rudin Productions over the interpretation of Atticus Finch, the beloved lead character of To Kill A Mockingbird only adds intrigue to Lee’s story about race relations in the South and the trial that polarizes a small town. Jeff Daniels has revealed that Aaron Sorkin’s interpretation will go “a little deeper.” Previews begin November 1 at the Shubert Theatre and opens for its World Premiere on December 13.

Fall Preview theater

A scene from The Ferryman at The Royal Court Theatre, London (2017); photo: Johan Persson.

The Ferryman probes the heritage of hate and the cost of choices made using the intimacy of a family drama to explore much larger issues. This exploration of timely and timeless themes has already resonated with English audiences in London’s West End. Jez Butterworth revealed his caustic comedy chops in Jerusalem and with Sam Mendes directing, it is hard to imagine anything but searing, ferocious theater. Previews begin October 2.

Elaine May’s rare stage appearance in The Waverly Gallery alone would put me in a seat. Then, add two young actors (Lucas Hedges and Michael Cera) whose past work with Kenneth Lonergan has brought us finely wrought, memorable characters. But the greatest lure for me is Lonergan himself. His poignant explorations of the interior lives of ordinary people in extremis promise a rewarding theater experience for its first Broadway run. Previews begin September 25 for a limited run.

Fall Preview theater

Production publicity image: (l. to r.) Cherry Jones, Daniel Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale; courtesy of Polk & Co.

The Lifespan of a Fact is based upon a true story about a determined young fact checker who discovers that a famous essayist plagiarized much of his work (Shattered Glass?). Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale, and Daniel Radcliffe are the demanding editor, unorthodox writer, and trouble-making fact checker. You got me at Cherry Jones. Limited engagement from September 20 through January 13, 2019.

Last, but not least is Theresa Rebeck’s new play Bernhardt/Hamlet at the Roundabout starring theater rockstar Janet McTeer as Sarah Bernhardt tackling Shakespeare. McTeer playing Bernhardt playing Hamlet? I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening. Currently in previews, opening September 25.

Fall Preview Theater

Janet McTeer in rehearsal for Bernhardt/Hamlet; photo: Jenny Anderson.

Miles Harter, Contributing Writer

In these fraught times of political, social, and economic turmoil, my enthusiasm for the fall theatre season gravitates towards travels to the past, to times and locations far removed from now. As so presciently stated by the English writer, L.P. Hartley, in the prologue to his excellent novel, The Go-Between (published in 1953):The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

First in time and priority on my list is George Bernard Shaw’s caustic and comic Heartbreak House; first produced in 1920. This drawing room comedy brings together a varied group of guests to a house in the English countryside, who all have to make major decisions about their futures. But in what sounds like a fascinating twist, the Gingold Theatrical Group is presenting an adaptation of the play, setting it in September 1940, in the early days of the London Blitz. Sirens go off that interrupt the performance of the play, and the cast and audience seek shelter in the theatre’s basement. But the show must go on. The adaptation was inspired by the very real actions of Hermione Gingold. She is most revered now by American filmgoers who recall her as the mayor’s wife, in the movie version of The Music Man, voicing her deep throated disapproval of the town librarian’s introduction of the River City youth to “dirty books,” and among those, works by “Balzac.” Ms. Gingold became renowned in the early days of World War II for her satirical musical review sketches. As bombs fell, she endeavored to keep the shows going until the explosions came too close for comfort and she would then bring everyone below the stage for safety, to help bolster spirits. Heartbreak House begins previews at the Lion Theater in Theater Row August 28, opens September 9, and runs through September 29.

Fall Preview theater

Publicity photo from Prospect Theater Company: (l. to r.) Suzanne Prevot, Charlotte Gyss, Esther Fresnel, Fernande Van Balkom, and Grace Banker, members of the “Hello Girls” squadron of the American Expeditionary Forces Signal Corps,; photo courtesy of Robert, Grace, and Carolyn Timbie.

To celebrate my related loves of literature and theatre, I look forward to The Hello Girls. I have just finished reading Jennifer Egan’s intriguing historical fiction novel Manhattan Beach. The book explores many themes, including the role of a woman in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during World War II. That character becomes a female diver, to help in repairing ships that will assist in America’s war efforts. As many folks also know, especially those who actually read the NYC subway ads, Manhattan Beach is the winner of the 2018 “One Book, One New York” designation. Venturing further into the past, The Hello Girls is a new musical that chronicles the story of America’s first women soldiers, who served as bilingual telephone operators on the front lines, helping turn the tide of World War I. They then returned home to fight for equality and recognition, paving the way for future generations. The play was created by the Prospect Theater Company, and will be at 59E59.  First look/previews begin November 13 and runs through December 22.

For some more history, The Winning Side has great potential. This play is based on the true story of Wernher von Braun, the Nazi who was the chief rocket engineer of the Third Reich and who later became one of the fathers of the U.S. space program. The Winning Side also captures highlights from von Braun’s personal side, including his romantic relationship with a French actress and his encounters with Walt Disney and Lyndon Johnson. Presented by the Epic Theater Ensemble, the play previews on October 3, opens on October 5, and runs through October 28, at the Acorn Theater, Theater Row.

Fall Preview theater

Production photo of Book of Merman at Evolution Theatre Company, Columbus, OH (2016).

Finally, for another escapist experience, I am excited about the musical parody, The Book of Merman.  Here, two Mormon missionaries ring the doorbell of Ethel Merman, the tremendous American musical theatre icon. The play, with original songs and ballads, also is supposed to address issues of “self-discovery” — any wagers as to whether one of the Mormon missionaries might not turn out to be a full-fledged non-heteronormative male? The play opens at the St. Luke’s Theatre on October 5 and runs through December 30.

Justin Sharon, Contributing Writer

Autism is currently experiencing something of a cultural moment. The Good Doctor was a sleeper hit for ABC last season. Atypical has found a devoted following on Netflix. And Edith Sheffer’s book Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna recently made waves in the medical community and beyond. Very much of its time, then, the central character of Agnes at 59 East 59 Theaters is an ‘Aspie’ whose disappearance ignites all sorts of complicated questions. This New York City premiere was written by Catya McMullen and directed by Jenna Worsham. Opens September 8, closes September 29.

Fall Preview theater

A scene from the Melbourne, Australia production of King Kong; photo by The Chase James Morgan.

King Kong, so indelibly associated with that dramatic debut atop the Empire State Building during the depths of the Depression, moves 20 blocks uptown to the Broadway Theatre for its latest incarnation. Fay Wray is a tough act to follow, but I’m intrigued to see how this timeless tale of beauty-meets-2,000 pound beast fares in the comparatively narrow confines of a 1,761 seat auditorium. Written by Jack Thorne, with Drew McOnie handling choreography and directorial duties. Previews October 5, opens November 8.

The Nap, presented by Manhattan Theater Club, clocks in at a taut 90 minutes of fast-paced action with no intermission, so don’t expect to dose. This U.S. premiere by the creator of One Man, Two Guvnors centers on match fixing shenanigans in snooker, Britain’s equivalent to pool. The latter pastime was most memorably brought to life in The Hustler (with Paul Newman and his baby blues), but across the pond snooker is a blue collar pastime populated by crafty cockneys and working class wiseguys. The game lends itself to high drama, and an intriguing twist to this production is the tournament that takes place in real time onstage. Previews September 5, opens September 27.

Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer

New York is center of the dance universe, and there’s so much to see, it can make you dizzy. Here are some suggestions for the next few months:

New York City Center is having its 75th Anniversary year and is celebrating with a number of “must-see” programs. New York City Ballet’s first home was City Center, and between October 31 through November 4, there will be a special presentation of George Balanchine: The City Center Years, danced by members of the greatest ballet companies on the planet: American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

Fall Preview theater

Rennie Harris: Pure Movement; photo: Brian Mengini.

There are a number of dancers and companies worth seeing this year at City Center, so take a moment to review the list, but I suggest that the most breathtaking duo in the ballet world is Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg. They will be dancing a US Premiere by Alexei Ratmansky between April 4-7, along with other works. The run will probably sell-out, so plan to get your tickets sooner than later. This year also celebrates the 15th Anniversary of the Fall for Dance series, a two-week festival presenting international artists and companies in a variety of NY and World Premieres. All tickets are $15 and go on sale September 9 at 11:00 a.m., so set your alarm reminders — performances sell-out within minutes.

This year’s City Center’s Encores! series includes two works that should be of special interest to dance fans: I Married an Angel (March 20-24, 2019), originally choreographed by George Balanchine for his wife at the time, Vera Zorina; this production will be choreographed by Joshua Bergasse for his soon-to-be wife, Sara Mearns of New York City Ballet. Mearns is such a dramatic actress/dancer that her performances are always super charged. And then High Button Shoes (May 8-12, 2019) with a famed ballet sequence by Jerome Robbins which hasn’t been seen on stage for many years.

American Ballet Theater’s Fall Season begins on October 17. Among the wonderful presentations is In the Upper Room, a dynamic and thrilling work by Twyla Tharp. It’s been a long time since it’s been programed, and it’s worth seeing. Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances is a special Romantic pleasure danced to the music of Chopin. The new pieces at ABT include an encore run of Alexei Ratmansky’s Songs of Bukovina, and World Premieres from Jessica Lang and Michelle Dorrance (I’m really curious to see what Dorrance, a renown tap dancer, is going to do with ABT’s ballet dancers).

The Joyce Theater, one of the most wonderful spaces to see dance, doesn’t simply have a “season,” but hosts a full year-long calendar of ballet and modern dance presentations. Tickets are comparatively inexpensive, so take a chance and go see a company you’ve never heard of before.

Fall Preview theater

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Joyce Theater December 11-30; photo by Zoran Jelenic.

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For the latest news and reviews on theater in New York City and beyond click here.

For a listing of Broadway shows click here.

 

Cover: Janet McTeer in a publicity photo for ‘Bernhardt/Hamlet;’ photo: Jake Chessum.


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