This is that time of year when people start buzzing about all the promising new plays and musicals, not to mention revivals and “revisals”, that are about to open or soon to open both on Broadway and Off. And this season, like most seasons, shows a lot of promise on paper, which, of course, means nothing until audiences start filling the house and then run home to post their comments, both good and bad, on theater chat sites. More and more, those chat sites are becoming just as important as the actual reviews, since more theatre-goers are paying attention to their fellow ticket buying audience members than they are to highly paid print and media critics with possible agendas and/or axes to grind. Not to say the internet-scribbling public DON’T have agendas themselves, but when it comes right down to it, are you willing to believe a handful of highly paid scribes, some who’ve been at it way too long, or hundreds of ticket buyers who are posting their reactions to what they’ve paid cold, hard cash to see? Think about it and get back to me. Here are a few of the shows coming in the next few months which I think show the most promise.
There’s a new play by Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, who wrote “M. Butterfly”, called “Chinglish”, which grabbed terrific out of town reviews (ah yes, out of town critics) but also won over audiences as well, called “Chinglish”, which tells the tale of an American businessman who wants to do business in China, but not only doesn’t know the language, but doesn’t have any conception of the culture he’s dealing with either. Hwang has been under the radar in the last few years, and it’ll be nice to see something of his on Broadway again, considering how long ago “Golden Child” played the Great White Way.
A few years ago, a play about Martin Luther King opened and closed very quickly in London, but went on the next year to beat out several huge contenders, including “Jerusalem”, for the Olivier Award for Best Play. That play was “The Mountaintop”, set in a hotel room the night before King’s assassination, and it now comes to Broadway with Samuel L. Jackson as King, and Angela Bassett as the mysterious hotel maid he encounters that night. Jackson has been absent from the Broadway stage for what seems like a couple of decades, so right there, we have an event that might be worth a peek.
Two seasons ago, a play called “Venus In Fur” played the tiny CSC Theatre on 13th Street, grabbed amazing reviews, was extended twice, and then, after a promise to move to Broadway with both cast members and the production intact, just disappeared. It turns out, several big producers wanted the play recast with name stars, and a wise director, Walter Bobbie, resisted and refused to do it their way. Now, Manhattan Theatre Club has given Bobbie free reign, and “Venus In Fur” opens this month at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with half the original 2 character cast intact. After wow-ing audiences last season as Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday, Nina Arianda comes to Broadway in the role that should have made her a star 2 years ago, and most certainly will now. Her new co-star is the inimitable Hugh Dancy, and I, for one, cannot wait to see him play opposite Arianda. This is an intriguing, surprising, unsettling, but hugely funny play, and the cast is simple perfection. I’m going again. You should, too.
The first production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” I ever saw played the 46th Street Theatre in the mid 70’s, starred Maggie Smith and John Standing, was directed by Sir John Gielgud, and was one of the funniest plays I’d ever seen. Smith was and still is, an astonishing comedienne, and she was, for me, the whole show. “Private Lives” came back to Broadway three times after that phenomenal production, first with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and that may be one of the worst played productions of this classic play you could have ever been happy not to see. Burton, especially, seemed to sleepwalk through the role. Then came a disastrous production with Joan Collins, which I chose not to see, wisely, it turned out, because I seem to remember it closing within days of its opening night. The most recent production, a few years back, came from London, starred Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, and chose to play Coward’s farce a little darker and meaner than usual, was a huge hit, but left a strange aftertaste, more bitter than sweet. Now comes a new production, once again, out of London, opening next month at the Music Box Theatre, and this one stars Kim Cattrall, of “Sex And The City” fame, and Canadian actor Paul Gross. Audiences in London ate this one up with a spoon 2 years ago, and it looks like this 1930 warhorse will be pleasing audiences once again. And if it’s not about pleasing audiences, well, what’s it all really about then.
As far as musicals go, more on those next month, but with revivals of “Porgy and Bess” and “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” and “Godspell” poised to return, and new musicals “Bonnie And Clyde”, Lysistrata Jones” coming in, and concert evenings with Hugh Jackman, and another with Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone heading in, there’s all the makings of a great season ahead.
Oh, if only those prices were lower!