Plays by Tracy Letts, Martin McDonagh, August Wilson, John Guare, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams are high on the must-see list of THR's chief theater critic, as well as two Stephen Sondheim musicals, a new show by David Byrne, and the return of beloved Broadway divas Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.
As 2016 wraps up, the New York theater season is only at the halfway point, and spring 2017 (which for theater folks begins soon after New Years) is packed with enticing prospects on Broadway and off.
Early favorites to vie for best musical honors at the Tony Awards next June include Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. But a crop of promising new shows will join them in the spring to heat up the competition — chief among them is Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the Bill Murray screen comedy, from the superstar team behind Matilda. But there's also Come From Away, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Amelie, Anastasia and Bandstand.
While dramatic revivals are stacking up, assembling noteworthy casts, five American playwrights also are scheduled to make their Broadway debuts with new work. That includes Joshua Harmon's Significant Other, Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, Paula Vogel's Indecent, J.T. Rogers' Oslo and Lynn Nottage's Sweat.
Off-Broadway also will see new plays by gifted dramatists including Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah Ruhl, Will Eno, Steven Levenson and Martina Majok.
Incoming musical revivals include the 1989 blockbuster Miss Saigon; Glenn Close returning to Sunset Boulevard, 22 years after winning a Tony for the role of faded screen star Norma Desmond; and Jake Gyllenhaal taking on the demanding dual lead role in Sunday in the Park With George, after scoring rave reviews this year in a concert staging of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine show.
That production and others seen in earlier stagings are excluded from the following highly selective sampling, which covers a dozen upcoming shows that whet the appetite for an exciting spring of theatergoing.
There’s no more consistently brilliant theater company in Ireland than Galway's Druid, and no more incisive interpreter of the work of Martin McDonagh than director Garry Hynes. Her production of The Cripple of Inishmaan was one for the ages. In this 20th anniversary revival, which comes to Brooklyn following a Los Angeles stop, the great Marie Mullen, who first played the resentful spinster daughter, has graduated to her manipulative harridan of a mother. This vicious black comedy about corrosive co-dependency is the play that first thrust McDonagh (big-screen director of In Bruges and the upcoming Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) onto the map.
Opens Jan. 14, BAM Harvey Theater
I'll admit when this was first announced I wondered if we really needed another revival of Tennessee Williams' memory play so soon after the very fine 2013 production that starred Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto. And up until his electrifying Othello, I had always found director Sam Gold more reliable with new work than classic texts. But this production's provenance at the experimental Toneelgroep Amsterdam, home of iconoclastic theatermaker Ivo van Hove, augurs a new take on the play. The brutalist Henry Moore sculpture featured on the poster design also suggests this may not be the same fragile Laura Wingfield and her precious glass unicorn that we've come to know. The cast is also nothing to sneeze at, with Sally Field, Joe Mantello and Finn Wittrock starring alongside newcomer Madison Ferris.
Opens March 9, Belasco Theatre
Even before the robot trash compactor in Pixar's WALL-E fell under the spell of Jerry Herman's songs while watching a VHS copy of the 1969 movie musical, Broadway has been hungry for a revival of this beloved matchmaker tale. But who to follow in the footsteps of such giants as Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Pearl Bailey, Mary Martin and Barbra Streisand — to name just a few — in the title role? No complaints about the casting of Bette Midler, whose box office clout broke records with a $9 million single-day haul when tickets first went on sale. She stars alongside David Hyde Pierce, Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin in this sturdy chestnut, which will get the old-pro polish of director Jerry Zaks.
Opens April 20, Shubert Theatre
One of the great American playwrights of the 20th century, August Wilson, is finally receiving wider exposure via Denzel Washington's film of Fences. This drama set in Pittsburgh in the early 1970s is the only entry in Wilson's lyrical ten-play, decade-by-decade chronicle of African-American experience through the last century never to have been produced on Broadway. Actor-turned-director Ruben Santiago Hudson, whose association with the playwright's work includes a revelatory 2012 staging of The Piano Lesson, has assembled a first-rate cast, among them John Douglas Thompson, Brandon J. Dirden, and Andre Holland, fresh off his stirring work onscreen in Moonlight.
Opens Jan. 19, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne established his theater bona fides in 2013 with Here Lies Love, a wildly unconventional big-beat dance-club musical about the life of Imelda Marcos, given exhilarating immersive staging by director Alex Timbers. The collaborators reteam on what promises to be another sui generis biographical narrative as rock concert, this time focusing on a far more tragic female political martyr. Details are being kept under wraps on the show, which is about challenging the powerful and believing in the impossible.
Opens Feb. 14, Public Theater
David Cromer's production this season of the new musical, The Band's Visit — subtle, soulful, rippling with transcendent grace — was the director's best work since his haunting 2009 take on Our Town. That raises expectations for this revival of Tracy Letts' 2003 play about a once-devout Midwesterner who loses his faith and embarks on a journey to regain it. Such a tricky spiritual quest seems right up Cromer's alley, and he has placed the title character in the very capable hands of Reed Birney, one of New York's finest stage actors. That makes this a welcome opportunity to savor an early work from before Letts' breakout with August: Osage County.
Opens Feb. 15, Second Stage Theatre
An uncommonly audacious musical even by the elevated standards of composer Stephen Sondheim, this fascinating 1976 show, written with John Weidman, dramatizes the Westernization of Japan, from the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1859 to the present. Director John Doyle has a strong track record with Sondheim, having staged memorable, pared-down interpretations of Sweeney Todd and Company, among others. After making his Broadway debut in 2015 with Allegiance, George Takei returns to the New York stage to play the Reciter, who narrates the centuries-spanning story of cultural collision.
Opens April 6, Classic Stage Company
Cate Blanchett has traveled to New York with Sydney Theatre Company productions of Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Maids. But this contemporary adaptation by Blanchett's husband Andrew Upton of Chekhov's first play, Platonov, marks her first time on Broadway. Premiered at STC's home base in 2015, the production features Blanchett as a widow languishing in the post-perestroika provinces, with Richard Roxburgh as the philandering schoolteacher who unleashes her wild side during a birthday celebration. John Crowley (Brooklyn) directs.
Opens Jan. 8, Ethel Barrymore Theatre
The undiminished relevance, not to mention dramatic intensity, of Arthur Miller's work was reaffirmed with blistering heat in back-to-back revivals last season of A View From the Bridge and The Crucible. Terry Kinney, whose Steppenwolf Theatre Company grounding makes him a particularly astute director of actors, has gathered an exceptional cast — John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito — to tackle Miller's 1968 play about family dynamics and the festering cost of sacrifice.
Opens March 16, American Airlines Theatre
The title has remained in the popular lexicon, but the 1990 John Guare play hasn't been seen on Broadway in 25 years. Returning to the New York stage after his breakout screen role in Straight Outta Compton, Corey Hawkins plays a charming young con man who insinuates himself into the home and lives of a well-heeled New York couple, claiming to be their son's college friend, not to mention the offspring of Sidney Poitier. Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey play the Upper East Side dupes in this sly exploration of bourgeois upheaval and counterfeit connections, directed by Trip Cullman.
Opens April 25, Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Stephen Sondheim's dark masterwork about love and vengeance never gets old. This site-specific production debuted to great acclaim in a surviving South London traditional pie-and-mash shop, before transferring to a West End theater where the working pie-shop environment was maintained. The same will apply to its New York engagement, with former White House executive pastry chef William Yosses providing the bill of fare. Hold the human flesh filling. The original London cast will open the run, including Jeremy Secomb as the Demon Barber and Siobhan McCarthy as Mrs. Lovett. Eight weeks later, an American cast takes over, headed by Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello, which might make this worth a return visit.
Opens March 1, Barrow Street Theatre
Composer Scott Frankel, lyricist Michael Korie, playwright Doug Wright and director Michael Greif shepherded one of the most transporting original musicals of the past decade to the stage with Grey Gardens in 2006. The same team reunites on this true story of the legendary rivalry between cosmetics titans Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, self-invented entrepreneurs in a male-dominated business world. Playing those roles, respectively, are two-time Tony winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, flanked by Broadway favorites John Dossett and Douglas Sills. Lipstick will be smeared.
Opens April 6, Nederlander Theatre