January 20, 2024

A Belated—But Upbeat—Spring Preview

Previews are all about the promise of what’s to come so I suppose it’s no surprise that the last time I posted a preview list of the shows I was excited about seeing in an upcoming season was on Jan 11, 2020, nine weeks before the pandemic shutdown theaters here in the city and across the country. 

I somehow managed to see most of the shows on that list including Katori Hall’s The Hot Wing King, which won 2021's Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Endlings, a lovely meditation on aging by Celine Song, whose first feature film “Past Lives” may be an Oscar contender this year; and the wonderful revival of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, with most of the cast from its original 1997 off-Broadway production.

Theaters opened backed up in the fall of 2021 and I cautiously went back to seeing the new shows. But my enthusiasm fluctuated up and down: I saw some great stuff (Sanaz Toossi’s English, the 2022 Pulitzer winner; Samuel D. Hunter’s A Case for the Existence of God) but I often had to push myself out of the house to see it. 

I’ve also done a lot of mourning over the past four years: friends lost to Covid like the actress and writer Patti Bosworth; friends lost to old age like my dear dear friend Seymour Red Press, the contractor for some 100 Broadway musicals who left us at 98; iconic figures like Stephen Sondheim, 91, and Sheldon Harnick, 99; and most painfully for me the unexpected loss of my beloved sister and life-long theater companion Joanne. 

So that is why I’m so happy to finally be able to share this preview list of spring shows that I’m truly looking forward to seeing over the next few months. And there’s a lot to get worked up about. Nineteen shows will open on Broadway alone, and at least three—Days of Wine and Roses, Hell’s Kitchen and The Notebook—will be directed by Michael Greif, the mastermind behind such musical masterworks as Rent, Next to Normal and Dear Evan Hansen.

And a bunch of the shows that aren’t being done by Greif are being helmed by such top-notch female directors as Tina Landau, Lila Neugebauer, Leigh Silverman and Jessica StoneMeanwhile, many of the musicals have been written by newcomers who are bringing a today sound to the traditional musical and they’re being led by big movie-star names that may bring in new audiences too. 

Also, to my great delight, several of the new shows are taking on big state-of-the-world subjects like privacy, free speech and class. As I said, there’s a lot to be excited about. Here are just four shows that have me really jazzed: 

THE ALLY Given the recent forced resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, it’s hard to think of a more up-to-the-moment issue than the one at the center of Itamar Moses’ latest work about a college professor who gets entangled in conflicting agendas after he signs a social justice petition. It’s scheduled to open at the Public Theater on Feb. 27 with Josh Radnor as the prof.

THE CONNECTOR  This new Jason Robert Brown musical is inspired by the case of the disgraced journalist Stephen Glass and focuses on a young reporter who is willing to do anything to make a name for himself and the young female editor who becomes suspicious of his actions. The book is by Jonathan Marc Sherman, the direction by Daisy Prince and the show, which is scheduled to open at MCC on Feb. 6, will bring Scott Bakula back to the New York stage for the first time in 35 years.

MOTHER PLAY I’m always eager to see anything by the great Paula Vogel, but this new work about a domineering mother and her two near-adult children in the 1960s also comes with the killer cast of Jessica Lange, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Jim Parsons. And when it opens at the Hayes Theater on April 25, it will also mark the first time that a play by the 72-year-old Pulitzer winner will make its world debut on Broadway. 

THE OUTSIDERS. Generations of teens have embraced this story about the conflict between two high school gangs—the working-class Greasers and the more privileged Socs—that S.E. Hinton published in 1967 when she herself was just 18. In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola turned her novel into a film that has become a cult classic and now playwright Adam Rapp has written the book for a musical that is scheduled to open at the Jacobs Theatre on April 11 with a cast of fresh faces and a score by Jamestown Revival, a folk-rock duo who specialize in easy-on-the-ear melodies, all of which make me really hopeful about the future of Broadway. 

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