BROADWAY SPRING PREVIEW: Plays

Heidi Chronicles

Baby, it’s cold outside! But here’s a happy thought to warm a theatre lover’s heart: Milder weather and the new Spring Broadway season are only a few weeks away, with some shows beginning previews in February.

Here are a few plays that are coming up soon. (Keep in mind that dates are subject to change). As usual, there will be a mix of new works and revivals, musicals and plays, both serious and comic. (Stay tuned for my Broadway Spring Preview Part II: Musicals—coming up in my next post).

Fish in the Dark First Preview: February 2; Opening: March 5

Theatre: Cort, 138 W. 48th St.

Attention, “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fans: Larry David has written a play. The television star will make his Broadway debut—as an actor and writer—When David returns to the stage “for the first time since eighth grade” (according to the show’s Website).

In Fish in the Dark David plays Norman Drexel, a character he describes as, “very similar to Larry David—it might even be Larry David with a different name.” The story was inspired by the death of a friend’s father. David told David Letterman recently that he never intended to play the role himself: “I imagined anyone but me as the star. I’m not an actor.” (Although one imagines playing himself won’t be too much of a stretch).

David will take the stage supported by a cast of theatre veterans, including Rita Wilson, Rosie Perez, Lewis J. Stadlen, and Jayne Houdeyshell (a wonderful Tony-nominated stage actress who is a personal favorite of mine). Anna D. Shapiro (This Is Our Youth, Of Mice and Men, August, Osage County) directs.

Will Larry David become a big fish on Broadway? With advance ticket sales of over $11 million so far, it’s looking “pretty, pretty good.”

The Heidi Chronicles First Preview: February 23; Opening: March 19

Theatre: Music Box, 239 W. 45th St.

The original production of Wendy Wasserstein’s landmark 1988 play won the dramatic Triple Crown: the Tony, the Pulitzer Prize, and the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best Play. The 2015 revival has a promising cast: Elisabeth Moss (HBO’s “Mad Men”) stars as Heidi, along with Bryce Pinkham (Tony nominee for A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder) and Jason Biggs (“American Pie” films, “Orange is the New Black”), along with another of my favorite New York actresses, Tracee Chimo (Bad Jews, Harvey, “Orange is the New Black”). Pam McKinnon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Delicate Balance) will direct.

The play explores “big” subjects: feminism, work, love, and motherhood, viewed via 20 years in the life of art historian Heidi Holland, from the 1960s through the 1980s, from her high school days through her career and desire for a child.

The Heidi Chronicles is an important American play, with themes that are as relevant today as they were 27 years ago. Hopefully the revival’s popular young actors will attract a new generation of theatre goers who will continue the conversation Wasserstein began in 1988. (Wasserstein’s other notable plays include Uncommon Women and Others, The Sisters Rosensweig, and Isn’t it Romantic. She died in 2006 at age 55).

Skylight First Preview: March 16; Opening: April 2

Theatre: Golden, 252 W. 45th St.

There is already lots of pre-Broadway transfer buzz around this new production of Skylight, thanks to its recent acclaimed, sold-out run in London’s West End. The drama, a 1995 work by British playwright/screenwriter David Hare (Plenty, The Vertical Hour), stars British actors Carey Mulligan (best known for her work in the films “An Education,” “Drive,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Bill Nighy (“Love, Actually,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”). Interestingly, Nighy reprises the role he played in a 1997 London production of Skylight.

Skylight is a relationship piece that explores issues of class and capitalism that is, some say, based on events in the life of British designer/retailer Terence Conran. Mulligan and Nighy play former lovers Kyra (a schoolteacher in a tough school) and Tom (a wealthy businessman), who are separated by large gaps in social class, age, and world view. The entire play takes place in Kyra’s run-down flat when Tom pays a visit. The two have not seen each other in several years (since Tom’s wife found out about their affair). Two-time Tony award winner Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) directs.

Note: Ms. Mulligan’s character cooks up a pot of spaghetti on stage. So, word to the wise: if you’re in the first few rows, don’t go to the theatre hungry!

The show is scheduled for a 13-week run.

Also coming up, more Brits on Broadway:

The Audience. Helen Mirren stars (once again) as Queen Elizabeth II in a new play by Peter Morgan. Billed as “Sixty years, 12 Prime Ministers, one Queen,” the play imagines the dialogue between the Queen and her Prime Ministers in their private weekly meetings, throughout the 60 years of her reign.

First Preview: February 14; Opening: March 8; Schoenfeld Theatre

Wolf Hall Parts I and II. Direct from a hit run in London, these two plays are based on Hilary Mantel’s popular novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, tales of intrigue in the court of Henry VIII. They will be performed in repertory, with a limited run.

First Preview: March 20; Opening: April 9; Winter Garden Theatre

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

Honeymoon in Vegas

Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

The Honeymoon has just begun, in this big, brash, winning new musical starring Tony Danza and Rob McClure.

Lead Cast: Rob McClure (Jack Singer), Tony Danza (Tommy Korman), Brynn O’Malley (Betsy Nolan), David Josefsberg (Buddy Rocky/Roy Bacon, Nancy Opel (Bea Singer), Catherine Ricafort (Mahi)

Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Book: Andrew Bergman

Director: Gary Griffin

Choreography: Denis Jones

Hooray for Rob McClure

When I chatted with Rob McClure after an early preview performance of Honeymoon in Vegas, I told him, “I’m so happy that you’re going to be in a hit!” Now that the show has finally opened (after nearly 2 months of previews), that prediction has become a reality.

The brilliantly talented 32-year-old actor has appeared on Broadway before, most notably in the title role in Chaplin: the Musical in 2012. He received raves for his performance, along with Tony, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle nominations. Unfortunately, the show itself wasn’t so well received, and despite McClure’s wonderful turn as Chaplin, it closed after only 4 months. Now, 3 years later, his time has arrived.

Shari & Rob McClure

The Plot

The Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas is based on the 1992 film directed by Andrew Bergman (who wrote the musical’s book) that starred Nicolas Cage, James Caan, and Sarah Jessica Parker. The plot involves a love triangle between Jack Singer (McClure), his long-time fiancée Betsy Nolan (O’Malley), and a Vegas high roller, Tommy Korman (Danza). Jack has delayed marriage to his beloved Betsy because his mother, Bea (a hilarious Nancy Opel), cursed him from her deathbed, decreeing that he must never marry. When Betsy finally puts her foot down, the couple heads to Vegas to defy the curse. Here’s the twist: it turns out that the lovely Betsy is a dead ringer for Korman’s dearly departed wife Donna, who died of skin cancer after a lifetime of basking in the Vegas sun. A tough guy who is used to getting what he wants, Tommy sets out to make Betsy his own.

Singer embarks on a hero’s journey, traveling from New York to Las Vegas and Hawaii to conquer his demons (i.e., his mother and Tommy Korman), claim his manhood, and win his lady love. Along the way he receives help from a diverse group of characters, including Mahi (Ricafort) a Hawaiian temptress who takes him to the “Garden of Disappointed Mothers” to face his fears, and the performance troupe the Flying Elvises, who take him back to Vegas to reclaim his bride.

Will Jack and Betsy ever have that honeymoon in Vegas? What do you think? (This is a Broadway musical, not King Lear)!

The Performances

Honeymoon in Vegas is a big, colorful show that is engaging and fun from beginning to end. It will win you over from the first moment, when McClure takes the stage to sing “I Love Betsy.” His performance is charming and effortless, bringing to mind Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Sure, Jack is a bit of a wuss, but as portrayed by McClure, he’s so appealing and sincere that root for him to succeed.

Tony Danza is perhaps the show’s biggest surprise. Best known to television viewers for his roles in “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” the 63-year-old actor is in incredible shape, trim and light on his feet, evidenced by Danza’s impressive soft shoe styling in the show. While no natural singer (other cast members usually join in to help provide a bigger finish for many of his songs), what he lacks in vocal power he more than makes up for in easy charm. For example, he totally sells the touching/funny elegy to his sun worshipping wife, “Out of the Sun:” I never knew, I never guessed, that what could kill you is the thing you love the best. I should have gotten her out of the sun.” Danza shows us that even a bad guy has a heart and deserves another shot at love.

O’Malley is a Broadway pro with a gorgeous voice who has appeared in Annie, Wicked, Sunday in the Park with George, and Hairspray. She is a winning Betsy, although the role is really secondary to the male leads. Two supporting characters are standouts: Nancy Opel, as Jack’s dead gorgon of a mother, and David Josefsberg as the ultra smooth, Sinatra-like Vegas crooner Buddy Rocky (and a second role as Roy Bacon, leader of the Singing Elvises). Opel’s show-stealing number “Never Get Married” should win her a Tony nomination for best Supporting Actress in a Musical.

A Note on the Score

The music and lyrics, by critical darling and 3-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years, Parade) are a huge part of the show’s appeal. The tunes are upbeat and original and the lyrics advance the story line in clever ways, from the romantic ballad “You Made the Wait Worthwhile” (A thousand dreams that never came true and pipers I had to pay, and all at once I’m standing with you and everything fades away) to the big production number “When You Say Vegas” (London’s too old and Cleveland ain’t pretty, and we got nicer hookers than Jersey City) and the heartfelt “Isn’t That Enough?” when Jack lists Betsy’s many fine attributes in an effort to convince his mother to lift the curse: She went to Vassar, she’s got a cat and no tattoos. She’s not a smoker, she’s not a snob. She loves her family and her job. Isn’t that enough?

Having seen the recent production of the somewhat disappointing and overly somber Bridges of Madison County, I found it hard to believe that Honeymoon’s tunes flowed from the same pen.

Trivia

The Paper Mill connection: New Jersey native Rob McClure won Paper Mill Playhouse’s (in Millburn, NJ) “Rising Star Scholarship” when he was a senior at New Milford High School. Soon after graduating, he played his first professional role at Paper Mill in Carousel. Honeymoon in Vegas had its pre-Broadway run at Paper Mill in 2013.

Should You Go? Absolutely. Honeymoon is a guaranteed good time. It’s silly and fun (while surprisingly touching at times), and has a terrific score, gorgeous sets, (and gorgeous showgirls), and top notch performances. The sets create a retro feeling that is more reminiscent of Vegas’s Rat Pack days than the present, but that just adds to the fun. According to the show’s Website, Honeymoon in Vegas is suitable for all ages, but I doubt any child under the age of 8 would find it very interesting. Run time is 2 hours, 35 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Ticket Info: Because of its long preview period, discounted tickets for Honeymoon in Vegas have been readily available on TKTS and TDF. However, now that the show has opened to rave reviews, discounts may be scarce. Additionally, because many Broadway shows have closed or will close in January (Pippin, Cinderella, Side Show, Once, The Last Ship, Motown, among others), theatre goers don’t have much to choose from, so competition for Honeymoon tickets could heat up (at least until the Spring season gets under way). There is no current offer for the show listed on Playbill.com

You can find additional ticket info about Honeymoon in Vegas and other Broadway shows on Broadway Helper.

Show Website

A LOOK BACK AT SOME FAVORITE 2014 BROADWAY SHOWS

Shari HedwigHedwig and the Angry Inch: This show has become a cult favorite, with many fans returning to see the show time after time, despite (or perhaps because of) the rotating cast of Hedwigs. I admit that I am somewhat obsessed with the show, a condition precipitated by Neil Patrick Harris’s memorably heart-breaking performance as the original Broadway Hedwig. (I called it “the performance of a lifetime”). I saw the show a second time, with the talented Andrew Rannells (Tony nominated for The Book of Mormon) who created an angrier, less vulnerable, Hedwig. And yes, I have my ticket for an upcoming third performance, when John Cameron Mitchell (who starred in the original off-Broadway and film versions of Hedwig and wrote the show’s book), will once again don gold platform boots and step into the role. (Stay tuned). Lena Hall, a Tony winner for her role as Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak, remains in the show.

Disgraced: This is probably the best new play I saw in 2014, and fortunately for theatre-goers, it still graces the stage of the Lyceum Theatre. Ayad Ahktar’s tale of an upwardly mobile Pakistani/American attorney’s rapid fall deservedly won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 5-person cast that includes Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, and “How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor, does a splendid job, but here, “the play’s the thing.” Ahktar’s daring and insightful writing creates moments that both illuminate and shock, providing much food for thought and post-performance discussion.

Side Show PlaybillSide Show: Critics adored this revamped production of the 1997 original. Yet somehow it just never found its audience (or enough of an audience to satisfy the Jujamcyn organization). Like its predecessor, Side Show closed too soon, giving its final performance on January 4, just 7 weeks after opening night. I thought it was brilliant, touching, and riveting, with amazing performances by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett as the Hilton sisters. I called it “the best show you’ve never seen,” and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see it.

A Raisin in the Sun: The 2014 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s much-reprised and greatly admired play was as fine a staging as we’ll ever see. Although the cast member with the most star power was Denzel Washington (as Walter Lee Younger), it was the women (LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, and Anika Noni Rose) who shined the brightest. All three were nominated for Tonys, and when I saw the play, my feeling was, “Give LaTanya the Tony right now!” (But who can compete with the genius Audra McDonald? (See below).

Lady DayLady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill: While Lanie Robertson’s play depicts jazz legend Billie Holiday at a low point in her career, Audra McDonald’s performance in Lady Day shows us a great talent at the height of her powers. McDonald won a record-setting sixth Tony Award (for Best Actress in a Play) for her unforgettable performance in this show, where, in contrast to the performance she reenacts, she played to sold-out audiences night after night. It was painful to witness the portrayal of decline and despair of a singular talent like the Billie Holiday at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, but at the same time it was uplifting to witness the brilliance of the gifted performer Audra McDonald in remembering and honoring the late great Lady Day.

Also Memorable: All the Way, Casa Valentina, Cabaret, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Love Letters, Rocky, Honeymoon in Vegas (Opens January 15)

Worst Shows of the Year: The Realistic Joneses, Bullets Over Broadway, Somewhere Fun (Off-Broadway)

See you on the Aisle in 2015!

Erin Davie