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

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The Best of 2013 (Part I)

best-of-2013

Do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Have your own favorites? Lemme know.

Best 2013 Broadway Musicals

Matilda the Musical: Thanks to Tim Minchin’s cheeky lyrics, Matthew Warchus’ energetic and innovative staging, and the revolting children singing, dancing, jumping, and tumbling their way across the stage, this show was the high point of 2013 New York City musical theatre. (It should have won the Tony for Best Musical). The cast was also swell—Bertie Carvel (Tony nom), Gabriel Ebert (Tony Award), Lauren Ward (Tony nom), and Lesli Margherita. I’m hoping to see this one again if I can swing it.

Pippin: Helmed by Diane Paulus, one of the most talented directors working on Broadway today, this revival of the 1972 hit show does what art is supposed to do: it reenvisions something and takes it to another level entirely. That’s certainly what Paulus does in the show’s stunning first act. The opening number, “Magic to Do,” is a mind blower. There is so much marvelous business going on all at once that one doesn’t know where to look. Patina Miller is a goddess and Andrea Martin stops the show with her “No Time at All” (performed on a trapeze). Act 2? Not so amazing, but that’s OK. The show, Martin, and Miller deserved their Tonys

Cinderella: Technically the title of this show is “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” I was reminded of the importance of those names above the title the moment the full orchestra started playing the overture. The music is so lush and gorgeous, and it’s of a quality and scope one doesn’t hear very often in today’s theatres. Here’s the other thing about this production: the stagecraft is absolultely magical. There are onstage costume changes where you literally cannot believe your eyes. And the original cast, Laura Osnes, Santino Fontana, Victoria Clark, and Harriet Harris—all Broadway pros—was pretty much perfect.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder: An evening of nonstop delightful, manic musical mayhem, thanks in large measure to Jefferson Mays’s artful, indefatigable portrayal of 8 doomed members of the D’Ysquith family. Bryce Pinkham also shines as Monty, the lost D’Ysquith who sets out to eradicate the 8 family members standing between him and the throne of England. Can we love such a scoundrel who has “Poison in his Pocket?” Absolutely.

**Special Note** What’s that you say?  Did I accidentally leave Kinky Boots off the list? No accident, dear readers. Yes, the show had a couple of terrific numbers (Everybody Say Yeah and Raise You Up) but overall, the lyrics and music didn’t measure up, especially when compared with Tim Minchin’s really witty and terrific work in Matilda. And yes, Billy Porter did a fine job and the costumes were wonderful. But that’s about it. A disappointment. And it’s not on my list. But with all those Tonys, I’m sure it will survive.