Broadway's New Season Takes Shape as Game-Changing Musical 'Hamilton' Charges In

Joan Marcus
Phillipa Soo and Lin-Manuel Miranda in 'Hamilton'

George Takei's 'Allegiance,' Gloria Estefan's 'On Your Feet!' and 'The Color Purple' starring Jennifer Hudson will also contribute to a schedule in which diversity casting hits new heights.

After collecting pretty much every award for which it was eligible in its off-Broadway premiere at the Public Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda's historical hip-hop musical Hamilton begins previews uptown Monday night, with a whopping $27.6 million in advance sales. The show's official opening Aug. 6 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre kicks the 2015-16 Broadway season into high gear.

In figures confirmed by the production's press representative, north of 200,000 tickets have already been sold before the transfer's first performance, an uncommonly high number for Broadway that gives the show blockbuster momentum right out of the gate.

While summer usually spells hiatus time on Broadway, with tourists flocking to long-established hits and box office still going strong for the previous season's crop of Tony-winning holdovers, this year has already bucked the trend with two early openings.

Jim Parsons breezed in at the end of May, playing the Almighty in former Daily Show writer David Javerbaum's satirical comedy about mankind's place in the universe, An Act of God, which plays through Aug. 2 at Studio 54. And a very different type of faith-based show, Amazing Grace, is in previews at the Nederlander Theatre ahead of its July 16 opening night. That musical traces the history of the beloved eponymous hymn through the enlightenment of a slave trader's son-turned-abolitionist.

But the arrival of Hamilton is unquestionably the major game-changer of the young season, already set to become a cultural phenomenon. Based on Ron Chernow's massive biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, the show reclaims history for America's immigrant sons and daughters, with a predominantly black and Latino cast recounting the story of the nation's march toward independence in vigorous rap and R&B-inflected storytelling.

Much more so than film or TV, Broadway has long been ahead of the curve in terms of ethnically diverse casting. But this season already is shaping up as one for the record books, across the racial spectrum.

With four Tony wins under its belt — including for best musical revival, lead actress Kelli O'Hara and featured actress Ruthie Ann Miles — The King and I looks to have settled in for a long run at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. That means ongoing employment for a 50-member ensemble, all but a tiny handful of whom are Asian-American.

Another show with an Asian key cast will join the ranks when Allegiance starts previews Oct. 6 at the Longacre Theatre, ahead of its Nov. 8 opening. The new musical stars George Takei, making his Broadway debut opposite Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, and is based on Takei's real-life childhood experiences when his family was removed from their California home during World War II and placed in a Japanese-American internment camp.

Beginning previews Oct. 5 for a Nov. 5 opening at the Marquis Theater is On Your Feet!, the biographical musical based on the lives and careers of Latino pop power couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and featuring many of their chart-topping hits. Directed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, that show features a cast of 29, beefing up representation of Hispanic actors on Broadway.

Newcomer Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson and Orange is the New Black regular Danielle Brooks — all three  making their Broadway debuts — head the majority African-American cast of The Color Purple. That 2005 musical based on Alice Walker's epistolary novel about the hardscrabble lives of black women in rural Georgia in the 1930s returns in a pared-down reimagining from London, directed by John Doyle. It begins previews Nov. 10 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, and officially opens on Dec. 10. As with the show's original run, having Oprah Winfrey on board as a producer stands to boost its profile.

And in the spring, six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will head the cast of Shuffle Along, Or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. The new show from writer-director George C. Wolfe and choreographer Savion Glover chronicles the creation of the Depression-era Eubie Blake-Noble Sissle jazz musical that became a landmark in black Broadway history. That production will begin previews March 14 at the Music Box Theatre, opening on April 21.

While the smart money is already on Hamilton to clean up in the 2016 theater awards sweepstakes, the show will not be without competition.

Pundits who caught recent concert previews of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new show, School of Rock — The Musical, are predicting a crowd-pleasing smash. Based on the hit Jack Black movie about a substitute teacher who forms a kickass prep school band, the project features a book by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater, as well as songs from the film. It starts previews Nov. 9 for a Dec. 6 opening at the Winter Garden Theatre, returning Lloyd Webber to the Broadway home he occupied for 18 years with Cats.

While Broadway dates have not yet been set, industry expectations are also high for Waitress, the musical adaptation of the 2007 Fox Searchlight movie with Keri Russell as a pregnant, unhappily married diner staffer in the deep South, who dreams that money from a pie-baking contest will help her start a new life. The developing show features a score by Sara Bareilles, and will star Jessie Mueller, a Tony winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, when it tries out at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. in August, directed by Diane Paulus. Look for Broadway dates to follow.

For audiences hungry for Broadway tradition, there's the fifth revival of the popular classic Fiddler on the Roof, starring theater favorites Danny Burstein and Jessica Hecht. That production begins previews Nov. 12 at the Broadway Theatre, with opening set for Dec. 17. It will be directed by Bartlett Sher and designed by the same Tony-winning team that helped create his superlative revivals of South Pacific and The King and I.

Another frequently revived evergreen, the 1963 romantic musical comedy She Loves Me, will return early next year, pairing Laura Benanti and Josh Radnor as quarreling perfume counter clerks, unaware that they are anonymous pen-pal sweethearts. If that story sounds familiar, it's based on the same Hungarian play that inspired the movies The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail. Also starring Jane Krakowski, Rene Auberjonois and Gavin Creel, the Roundabout production directed by Scott Ellis kicks off previews Feb. 5 at Studio 54, ahead of a March 3 opening.

Those nostalgic for vintage tap-happy song and dance should get their fill in Dames at Sea, a celebration of the golden era of movie musicals directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner. The show about a starry-eyed aspiring actress who steps off the bus to New York and into her first Broadway show starts previews Sept. 24 at the Helen Hayes Theatre, opening Oct. 22.

And fans of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's musical Spring Awakening, which won eight Tonys in 2007 for its premiere production, will welcome the return of that slice of 19th century German adolescent angst viewed through a contemporary lens. Following two hits runs in Los Angeles, the Deaf West Theatre revival, performed in American Sign Language and spoken English by a cast of 27 that mixes hearing and hearing-impaired actors, comes to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for a limited run beginning Sept. 8, with a Sept. 27 opening. Deaf West was last on Broadway in 2003 with its stirring take on Big River.

While musicals tend to be the focus of media attention on Broadway, drama will not be neglected this season.

Two Olivier Award-winning London productions are headed this way, starting on Oct. 10 with Mike Bartlett's provocative riff on the future of the British monarchy, King Charles III. Tim Pigott-Smith reprises his lauded performance in the title role in director Rupert Goold's staging, which officially opens Nov. 1 in a limited run at the Music Box.

Following on Oct. 21 with a Nov. 12 opening at the Lyceum Theatre is Belgian avant-garde director Ivo van Hove's wildly acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller's modern classic, A View From the Bridge, starring Mark Strong (The Imitation Game) as volatile Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone.

Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway season gets under way with Sam Shepard's tempestuous two-hander Fool for Love, starring Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda, a 2012 lead actress Tony winner for Venus in Fur. That production previews from Sept. 15 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with an Oct. 8 opening night.

Also on the MTC docket is the Richard Greenberg play Our Mother's Brief Affair, marking the return to Broadway of Tony winner Linda Lavin. The play about adult offspring struggling to separate fact from fiction in the life of their dying mother starts previews Dec. 28 at the Friedman, opening on Jan. 20.

Roundabout Theatre Company has lined up some serious star wattage for its 50th anniversary season. Keira Knightley will make her Broadway debut in Helen Edmundson's new adaptation of Emile Zola's turbulent love-triangle drama Therese Raquin. Co-starring Matt Ryan and Tony winner Gabriel Ebert, the play begins performances Oct. 1 at Studio 54, opening on Oct. 29.

Also from Roundabout, Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly will star in Harold Pinter's Old Times, previewing from Sept. 17 for an Oct 6 opening at the American Airlines Theatre; followed at the same venue by Andrea Martin, leading the ensemble in Michael Frayn's backstage farce Noises Off, previewing from Dec. 17 for a Jan. 14 opening; and then by Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne and John Gallagher Jr. as they tackle Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, previewing from March 31 and opening April 19.

Revered Broadway veterans Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones bring their wealth of experience to D.L. Coburn's Pulitzer winner The Gin Game, about card-playing cronies at a nursing home whose friendship shines a light on the wins and losses of their long lives. That play begins previews Sept. 18 at the John Golden Theatre, opening Oct. 13.

David Mamet returns on Oct. 21 to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre with China Doll, a two-hander pairing Al Pacino as a wealthy businessman with Fran Kranz as his young assistant. Directed by Tony winner Pam MacKinnon, the world premiere officially opens Nov. 19.

William Goldman brings a stage adaptation of his screenplay for Misery, the suspense thriller based on Stephen King's novel about a fiction writer held captive by his unhinged No. 1 fan. Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf take on the roles played onscreen by James Caan and Kathy Bates; the play previews from Oct. 22, opening Nov. 15 at the Broadhurst Theatre.

And 2015 Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford will star with Julie White and Robert Sella in a revival of A.R. Gurney's 1995 romantic comedy about midlife crisis and a life-altering dog, Sylvia, directed by Daniel Sullivan. That starts previews Sept. 25 at the Cort Theatre, opening Oct. 15.

Shows announced but still awaiting theater confirmation include the new musical Tuck Everlasting, based on the 1975 children's fantasy novel by Natalie Babbitt, opening April 17 after previews from March 23; and a spring revival of William Finn and James Lapine's 1992 musical Falsettos, with dates remaining to be set. 

July 17, 11 a.m. Updated with dates and casting details of She Loves Me.

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