Commentary: Luminaries of the silver screen ready to brighten up the lights of Broadway

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NEW YORK -- With such marquee names (and former Academy Award winners) as Jeremy Irons, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Rush and Marcia Gay Harden -- plus the likes of Angela Lansbury, Nathan Lane, Joan Allen, James Gandolfini, David Strathairn, John Goodman, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Bill Irwin, David Hyde Pierce and others -- set for Broadway outings that open in the next three months, the biggest news is the start of prevues on Feb. 9 of Jane Fonda's return to the boards for the first time in decades (and way before her Oscar wins for 1970's "Klute" and 1978's "Coming Home"). She's making that Broadway re-entry at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in Moises Kaufman's new play, "33 Variations," which Kaufman also directs, with the official opening slated for March 9. The play, without Fonda, premiered at the Arena Stage in Washington in August 2007.

Beginning the prevue process Tuesday at the Booth is the new musical "The Story of My Life," with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill; its official debut is Feb. 19 on West 45th. Richard Maltby Jr. directs. "Story" had its world premiere in Toronto in 2006, followed by a Goodspeed Opera House run in October. On Wednesday, the latest incarnation of the Frank Loesser-Abe Burrows-Jo Swerling musical "Guys and Dolls" begins its prevue process at the Nederlander after the 12 years and four months of "Rent" paying rent in that house. There hasn't been a "Guys and Dolls" revival since 1992, when it was a multi-Tony Award winner that really ignited Nathan Lane's career while also bringing sparkling attention to Faith Prince and Peter Gallagher. This newest edition stars Oliver Platt in the role Lane did with such aplomb (and done in the 1955 movie version by Frank Sinatra) and Craig Bierko (the Brando movie role), with Lauren Graham and Kate Jennings as the principal "dolls." Its opening night is March 1.

Meanwhile, it's the final countdown for the revival of Peter Shaffer's "Equus" with Daniel Radcliffe at the Broadhurst, which ends its limited run Feb. 8 so that Radcliffe can put on his clothes and do the next "Harry Potter." It's also the last weeks for David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" at the Barrymore, scheduled to exit Feb. 22, though the spectacular reviews achieved by Willam H. Macy -- who's taken over the role abandoned mid-run by Jeremy Piven -- could pull in enough crowds to justify an extension. On March 1, the Roundabout's limited-run revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical "Pal Joey" with Stockard Channing, Martha Plimpton and newcomer Matthew Reich, directed by Joe Mantello, exits Studio 54.

Coward's 'Spirit' is catching

On the cabaret front, Betty Buckley opens a four-week stand Feb. 10 at Feinstein's at the Loews Regency, while Christine Ebersole (talk about your glowing reviews!) has been held over an extra week at the Cafe Carlyle through Feb. 11, performing at night while rehearsing during the day for her co-starring role with Lansbury and Rupert Everett in the revival of Noel Coward's comedy "Blithe Spirit," which begins its prevue process Feb. 26 at the Shubert and opens March 15. Like Fonda's Main Stem visit, this one is also much anticipated. "Blithe" hasn't been done on a Broadway stage since a 1987 revival with Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner and Geraldine Page. This time, Michael Blakemore directs the proceedings.

Speaking of Coward, he's soon to be additionally represented on Broadway by another one of his witty plays, "Present Laughter," which the Roundabout Company has just announced for its 2009-10 winter agenda, with Victor Garber starring and Nicholas Martin directing. Its first New York run was in 1946 with Clifton Webb, who also starred in the original 1941-43 Broadway run, followed by a revival in 1958 with Coward himself in the central role as an egotistical man of the theater. There also was a 1982 edition with George C. Scott and most recently a 1996 redo that starred one of our own current Oscar nominees, Frank Langella.
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