February 16, 2013

A Hope-Filled Preview of the Spring Season

Let’s face it:  the fall theater season was disappointing as hell.

Of the 20 or so shows that opened on Broadway between last year’s Tony broadcast and the dropping of the ball in Times Square on New Year's Eve only five are still playing. And four of those survivors—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Picnic, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf—are scheduled to close before spring officially arrives next month.

To be fair, some productions had planned limited runs, like the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Harvey (which pleased audiences and critics) and its Cyrano de Bergerac (which did not). And, of course, the Christmas-themed shows Elf and A Christmas Story had the expected seasonal limitations.

A few other shows were just quickie drive-bys like Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth, Lewis Black: Running on Empty and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on Broadway. But their very existence is tacit commentary on the state of the fall season. 

Even more distressing were the out-and-out flops like The Performers, Scandalous, Dead Accounts and The Anarchist, which despite being a new play by David Mamet and starring Patti LuPone, lasted just 17 performances. Meanwhile, off-Broadway fared only slightly better.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and, like every other theater lover, I’ve got my fingers crossed that better shows are in the wings. Here are six that I’m particularly looking forward to: 

PASSION A show by Stephen Sondheim is a pretty obvious choice but this one about the unlikely love between a handsome young soldier and a homely older woman in 19th century Italy has always been one of my favorites. I'll confess that I was nervous when I heard that John Doyle was going to direct the revival that is opening at Classic Stage Company on Feb. 28. I didn’t want to see either of the lovers tote around a tuba or some other instrument the way Doyle had the actors do in the previous Sondheim musicals he’s directed. But he's allowing this cast, which includes Judy Kuhn as the yearning Fosca, to play it straight and now I can hardly wait to see the show and hear its gorgeous score again. 

BELLEVILLE: Word is that this play about the troubled marriage of a young American couple living in Paris is the best thing that Amy Herzog has written.  Which is saying something because Herzog’s previous works—After the Revolution, 4,000 Miles and even the less successful The Great God Pan—have made her one of the best playwrights to emerge in the last five years. Belleville, which stars the always worth-seeing Maria Dizzia,  is scheduled to open on March 3, at the New York Theatre Workshop, which has been on a recent winning streak. 

THE FLICK. Another playwright whose name on the marquee is reason enough for me to want to see the show is Annie Baker, whose latest wry meditation on quiet desperation is set in a run-down movie theater. The show is being directed by Baker’s frequent collaborator—and the hot director of the moment—Sam Gold. It opens on March 12 at Playwrights Horizons, where they both broke out with the sensational 2009 production of circle, mirror, transformation and I'm hoping that history will repeat itself. 

LUCKY GUY.  This is the most high-profile show of the season. It’s bringing Oscar-winner Tom Hanks to Broadway for the first time. It is the last work by the writer Nora Ephron, who died last summer.  And it’s being directed by the always-inventive George C. Wolfe. As though all of that weren't catnip enough, the play is about the controversial newspaper columnist Mike McAlary, who lead the coverage on the story of Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was beaten and sexually assaulted by a group of cops in a Brooklyn precinct back in 1997. It’s scheduled to open for a limited, 10-week run at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 1 and I'm wishing it, well, luck. 

THE NANCE. Everyone knows that Nathan Lane is a comedic genius but over the past few years, he’s also been honing his skills as a dramatic actor.  All of his prodigious talent will be on display in this Douglas Carter Beane play about a closeted burlesque performer whose specialty is playing the campy homosexual characters that were traditionally portrayed by straight actors. The great Jack O’Brien is directing this Lincoln Center Theater production which opens at the Lyceum Theatre on April 15. It has the potential to make us laugh, make us cry and make us cheer. 

THE BIG KNIFE. He’s been dead for 50 years but Clifford Odets is having a big year.  Lincoln Center earned glowing reviews for its revival of his 1937 boxing drama Golden Boy and now the Roundabout Theatre Company is reviving The Big Knife, his 1949 piece about the movie business. It has a killer cast lead by Bobby Cannavale as a movie star with a secret that could destroy his career. It opens at the American Airlines Theatre on April 16.

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