Broadway freshens up with slew of openings

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NEW YORK -- No Broadway openings this week, but next week there's a blitz, beginning with the Monday bow of the (slightly delayed) beginning of Tom Stoppard's three-play marathon, "The Coast of Utopia: Part One -- Voyage," at the Vivian Beaumont, directed by Jack O'Brien and with a marathon cast that includes Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle, Ethan Hawke, Brian F. O'Byrne, Martha Plimpton, Amy Irving and the now healthy Richard Easton. ... The next day, "The Apple Tree," with Kristin Chenoweth in the role for which Barbara Harris won a Tony in 1967, begins prevuing at Studio 54 before its Dec. 14 opening. ... On Nov. 29, John Doyle's new take on Stephen Sondheim's "Company" officially launches at the Barrymore, with Raul Esparza as the bachelor singin' about "Being Alive" and Barbara Walsh giving her spin on "Ladies Who Lunch". ... On Nov. 30, it's the world premiere of David Hare's new play, "The Vertical Hour," toplined by Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy, directed by Sam Mendes, all happening at the Music Box (which may be the niftiest legit house that currently exists in New York). ... On Friday, the critics rest. ... Some giant names are coming together for a new musical later this season: Harold Prince ("The Phantom of the Opera"), Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy"), Kurt Weill ("The Threepenny Opera"), Michael Cerveris ("Sweeney Todd") and Donna Murphy ("Passion"). The Tonys amassed by that group would fill a museum, and indeed, their upcoming endeavor will open May 3 for the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Biltmore in time for 2006-07 Tony consideration. Their new project is titled "LoveMusik" and will feature Weill's music with a story line that spans 25 years in the complicated lives of Weill and wife Lotte Lenya. This has all the makings of An Event. ... Speaking of Sondheim, and Prince, the cast has been named for the "Encores!" opener for next year: the legendary 1971 Sondheim-Prince collaboration "Follies." This concert staging will be held Feb. 8-11 at City Center and will topline the aforementioned Ms. Murphy as well as this year's Tony winner Victoria Clark ("The Light in the Piazza"), Christine Baranski (who is currently doing Paul Rudnick's "Regrets Only" at the City Center), Philip Bosco and Joanne Worley. This booking admittedly veers way off course from what these "Encore!" presentations were supposed to be all about -- the original concept being the concert stagings of past musicals that either because of a dated book or other factors are highly unlikely to be revived today. No matter how one squeezes it, "Follies" hardly falls into that definition; it's constantly being revived, even as recently as 2001 here on Broadway at the Belasco, following another major revival a little earlier at the Paper Mill Playhouse. But hey, I'm a "Follies" fan, so I'm game to see it whenever it struts its stuff. The reason for its production this time, they say, is because all three of the planned "Encores!" shows for 2007 will pay tribute to the Broadway revue format in honor of the 100th anniversary of the first "Ziegfeld Follies." They include "Face the Music" (March 28-April 1) and an original "Stairway to Paradise" (May 10-14).
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