Stage is set for a spunky season on Broadway

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The Broadway season is getting off to a livelier start than it has in some time, with 10 new Main Stem entries for the 2008-09 campaign either opening or prevuing within the next 10 weeks.

The first is the new and musicalized version of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," now prevuing at the Al Hirschfeld ahead of its Sept. 18 opening. It has music, lyrics and book by Jill Santoriello, sets by Tony Walton (a good sign) and a cast headed by the same two actors (James Barbour and Craig Bennett) who did the show during its 2007 premiere engagement in Sarasota, Fla. Warren Carlyle directs and choreographs, hopefully in the words of Dickens doing "a far, far better thing than he has ever done before."

Also now in prevues is "Equus," the much-anticipated transfer from London directed by Thea Sharrock and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths ("The History Boys") and Kate Mulgrew; it opens Sept. 25 at the Broadhurst. It's the first Broadway revival for the Peter Shaffer play since its original 1974 New York run with Anthony Hopkins, Peter Firth and Marian Seldes, after which Hopkins was replaced by a long line of star names, including Tony Perkins and Richard Burton, the latter eventually doing the 1977 film version with Firth that was directed by Sidney Lumet.

But that, as they say, is but the tip of the turnip. This week the prevue process begins for the Manhattan Theatre Club's first stage treatment of the Ernst Lubitsch movie comedy "To Be or Not to Be," directed by Casey Nicholaw ("The Drowsy Chaperone") and starring David Rasche (taking over for Craig Bierko, who exited mid-rehearsal) and Jan Maxwell. It begins prevues Thursday at the Biltmore, with a Oct. 2 opening scheduled.

On Friday, prevuing starts on the Roundabout's revival of Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons," starring Frank Langella, at the American Airlines Theatre. Directed by Doug Hughes, it opens Oct. 7. (It should be a great awards season for Langella, with "Seasons" onstage and the movie version of "Frost/Nixon" hitting screens in the winter.)

Three more legiters begin strutting their assets the following week. On Sept. 16, the Royal Court's production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" goes into prevues at the Walter Kerr, with Kristin Scott Thomas giving U.S. audiences a look at the performance that won her a 2007 Olivier Award in London; Peter Sarsgaard co-stars this time. It officially opens Oct. 1.

Also Sept. 16, the new musical "13" starts the prevue process at the Jacobs, a project that had its world premiere in December 2006 at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum. Jeremy Sams directs, with an Oct. 5 debut on the books.

Two days later, the star-laden revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" kicks off at the Schoenfeld. It's directed by Simon McBurney and stars John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and Katie Holmes in roles played in the 1947 original by Ed Begley Sr., Beth Merrill, Arthur Kennedy and Lois Wheeler; that production was directed by Elia Kazan. (There also was a short-lived 1987 Broadway revival from the Long Wharf theater company starring Richard Kiley.) The newest incarnation of "Sons" officially debuts four weeks later, on Oct. 16.

In early October, the prevuing continues for the long-awaited London smash "Billy Elliot the Musical" testing the waters at the Imperial starting Oct. 1 and gearing for a Nov. 13 opening. On Oct. 3, the revival of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" does the same thing at the Belasco, prepping for a Oct. 26 opening with a cast headed by Jeremy Piven, Raul Esparza and Elisabeth Moss (AMC's "Mad Men").

A Davis Stamp of approval

Also on the docket is the Sept. 18 launch in Boston of the latest in the U.S. Postal Service's "Legends of Hollywood" stamps. This year's honoree is the one-of-a-kind Bette Davis to coincide with the 100th anniversary of her birth in nearby Lowell, Mass.

The official unveiling will take place in the Metcalf Ballroom at Boston University, where all the Davis archives are stored, with attendees including Lauren Bacall, Susan Sarandon, Davis' son Michael Merrill and the actress' longtime personal assistant and pal, Kathy Sermak.

Later in the day, it'll be All About Bette around Boston U., including an exhibition of her scrapbooks, scripts, letters, portraits and other artifacts at the Howard Gottlieb-Mugar Library. The festivities will include a cocktail party, the screening of film clips and later a presentation by the Bette Davis Foundation of awards in Davis' name to Bacall and Sarandon.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host and anchor at Turner Classic Movies.
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