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NEW YORK – The fall theater season gets underway this weekend when Orlando Bloom makes his Broadway debut in the first preview performance of Romeo and Juliet. The Brit actor’s arrival also ushers in a fresh wave of stars from film and television, an annual influx that has become an essential part of Broadway’s bread and butter.
Despite booming tourist traffic, summer tends to be a fallow period in terms of new Broadway blood. A number of late-spring openers — Motown: The Musical, Kinky Boots, Matilda and Pippin among them — are doing stellar business that has injected box office momentum into the warmer months, along with perennial hits like The Lion King, Wicked and The Book of Mormon. But the handful of new entries has provided summer filler while mostly playing to half-empty houses.
Recent weeks have seen commercially tepid debuts from the romantic musical First Date, the Beatles tribute Let It Be, the widely traveled dance-a-thon Forever Tango and the bio-musical Soul Doctor, a chronicle of the life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach that yielded such blah reviews and sluggish box office that it might be time to call the paramedics.
But the fall generally brings more serious contenders, many of them this year touting marquee talent. And while few star names or rebranded movie titles alone are enough to guarantee box office success, they invariably help.
Bloom and rising theater star Condola Rashad lock lips and join hearts as Shakespeare’s doomed lovers in a modern-dress Romeo and Juliet that underscores the ancient feud between the Montagues and the Capulets by layering in black/white racial differences. The production officially opens Sept. 19.
Soon after, on Sept. 26, Zachary Quinto opens in his Broadway debut. Trading Star Trek‘s Spock for Tennessee Williams’ most transparently autobiographical character, Tom Wingfield, Quinto co-stars in The Glass Menagerie with two-time Tony-winner Cherry Jones, known to TV audiences as U.S. President Allison Taylor on 24.
Opening Oct. 24 is The Snow Geese, a new play by Sharr White in which Mary-Louise Parker puts aside her dope-dealing suburban mom from Weeds to play a World War I widow convening a shooting party in upstate New York.
Alessandro Nivola makes a rare return to Broadway, alongside Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Terence Rattigan’s classic 1946 courtroom drama The Winslow Boy, opening Oct. 17. And Ethan Hawke, who has consistently juggled stage and film commitments in recent years, tackles Shakespeare’s murderous Scottish monarch in Macbeth, opening Nov. 24.
If the production’s brisk advance sales are an indication, the hottest ticket of the fall will be the return to Broadway of the 21st-century 007, Daniel Craig. He stars alongside his wife, Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall in the Mike Nichols-directed revival of Harold Pinter’s corrosive adultery drama, Betrayal. Craig’s last Broadway appearance was opposite Hugh Jackman in the 2009 smash A Steady Rain.
Along with Denzel Washington and Diahann Carroll in the spring revival of A Raisin in the Sun (opening April 3), Betrayal promises to be among the event plays of the 2013-14 theater season.
Back to the fall, Pinter also will be represented by No Man’s Land, playing in repertory with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Opening Nov. 24, that double bill headlines two X-Men cohorts renowned for their classical theater chops, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, in a cast that also features Billy Crudup.
Striking a lighter note, Billy Crystal will be back in his one-man memoir 700 Sundays, which set box office records for a solo show in the 2004-05 season. The return Broadway engagement opens Nov. 13.
Author John Grisham is the major marquee name in the stage adaptation of his legal thriller A Time to Kill, which opens Oct. 20 with an ensemble cast that includes Fred Dalton Thompson and Tom Skerritt, both making Broadway debuts.
Back on Broadway for the first time since her critically lauded 2007 turn in The Color Purple, third-season American Idol champ Fantasia Barrino will be up first in a planned rotating series of guest artists in the Cotton Club jazz celebration After Midnight. Fans of The West Wing or Psych can also see Dule Hill parlay his song-and-dance credentials in the show, which opens Nov. 3.
And the chain of movies retooled as Broadway musicals continues this season.
First up, opening Oct. 6, is Big Fish, based on the 2003 Tim Burton film. Following on Nov. 17 is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, adapted from a 1907 novel that also inspired the classic Ealing Studios comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Those shows are a warm-up to the string of screen-to-stage musicals arriving in the spring, which includes The Bridges of Madison County (Feb. 23), Rocky (March 1) and Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway (April 10).
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