Preview: Broadway Theatre Fall 2008

As the city’s temperatures begin a downward curve (at least some figures are dropping as ticket prices continue to skyrocket), soon New York’s theatres will be the hottest spots in town, offering up a smorgasbord of options for theatergoers hungering for anything from a quick, crunchy snack to much meatier options.

Due to limits of page space and brain space – this is a crowded theatre season – we’ll be limiting ourselves to the official Broadway openings here (though keep an eye out for our forthcoming off-Broadway picks).
On Broadway, where bigger budgets, bigger sets, and bigger egos reign supreme, the season thus far is off to an intriguing start, the first opening of the season being the little show that can, [title of show], which opened on July 17, followed next in line by A Tale of Two Cities, which is currently in previews, with an opening set for September 18.

The differences couldn’t be more pronounced, Tale featuring about 25 more cast members and a massive set by Tony Walton that towers over the bare-bones table-and-chairs settings of [title of show]. But I predict that audiences may yet find that less is more as they discover Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen‘s madcap minimalist metamusical, one of the funniest damn musicals in recent years.

As for the season’s other musical openings, this fall’s line-up includes a handful of other song-and-dance offerings. On the heels of Tale and [title of show] comes the latest from every teenybopper’s favorite theatre composer, Jason Robert Brown, whose 13 frolics into the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. With a youthful cast and – more atypically – a youthful band, the musical seems poised to capture the High School Musical set more so than the Guilty Ones lining up at the O’Neill Theatre for Spring Awakening, addressing the trials and tribulations of the teenage condition with froth rather than frottage.

Two new movie adaptations are also in the wings as well, perhaps most notable among them being the proven West End hit Billy Elliot, featuring the movie’s original team (plus Elton John, for better or worse, taking on composing duties in collaboration with screenwriter Lee Hall, who pens the musical’s book and lyrics). Amidst the groans of Broadway afficionado and the grins of kiddies all over the New York metropolitan area, the musical adaptation of Shrek arrives this fall as well. But, reservations aside (an on-stage dragon may be hard to pull off), let’s not count out the jolly green giant just yet.

The cast, mostly seasoned Broadway vets (Sutton Foster, Brian D’Arcy James, Christopher Sieber, John Tartaglia are featured, just to name a few), and creative team (Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire and Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change collaborator, Jeanine Tesori) may just carry enough clout to slay ’em in the aisles ogre-style. Still, it remains to be seen just how green the producer’s pockets will be as their big-budget show bursts onto the Broadway scene.

In a reversal of the recent trend toward musical revivals (last season’s Sunday in the Park with George, South Pacific, and Gypsy), the only musical revival opening this fall will be Roundabout Theatre company’s new production of Pal Joey with Jersey Boys’s Christian Hoff and Stockard Channing, as well as Martha Plimpton, known mostly for her dramatic roles in The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center and this past season’s Top Girls at Manhattan Theatre Club. With a revised book by Richard Greenberg, based on the original by John O’Hara, Roundabout’s revisiting of this classic Rodgers and Hart show, made famous by the 1957 film version starring Frank Sinatra, promises to delight.

This fall will also see a shortage of new plays opening on the main stem. Only the Broadway debut Horton Foote’s acclaimed Dividing the Estate and Nick Whitby’s adaptation of the 1942 film To Be Or Not to Be will be arriving on Broadway, leaving those who crave for new plays waiting for the spring.

The productions this fall that have the most people talking, however, are revivals of plays, representing a surprising trend within a tourist-driven business that typically values splashy musicals over dramatic weight. To start, there are Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe doing the full monty in Peter Shaffer’s Equus and Kristin Scott Thomas in the Royal Court’s acclaimed production from last year of Christopher Hampton’s version of Chekhov’s The Seagull. There’s also a new production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons starring Diane Wiest, John Lithgow and Katie Holmes, as well as a new production of A Man For All Seasons starring Frank Langella and a pair of David Mamet plays – American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow – which arrive on Broadway just in time to provide Mamet’s legacy with a morsel of redemption after the critical failure that was last year’s November, which starred Nathan Lane.

It appears that Broadway will have an exciting fall, to be sure, but the real proving grounds will be in the spring as usual, where scores of shows open en masse, racing to the finish line that is the theatre’s top prize – the Tony Award.

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