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2017 NYC Theater Preview

Critics and writers look at the most exciting theater of the new season.


While the theater season in New York doesn’t really stop, we do have an arbitrary ending and beginning of each new season based on when shows open for Tony Award eligibility purposes (shows must have opened by a specific date set each year, usually around the end of April). So while the summer typically has fewer official openings of new productions (for the 2017/2018 season we’ve had two thus far: 1984 and The Prince of Broadway), we’re revving up for a full-throtle fall. A number of our regular theater writers are sharing their picks for the upcoming season, so buckle your seatbelt and be prepared to take the ride. From new plays and musicals to revivals and special events, there is sure to be something to get you into a theater very soon.
Jil Picariello, Theater Editor
There are some remarkable people hanging out on Broadway this fall. Folks like the Countess of Grantham, Marc St. James, King Arthur, Mia Wallace, and, best of all, Steve the Pirate.
Don’t recognize those folks? That’s Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Urie, Clive Owen, Uma Thurman, and Alan Tudyk. They’re appearing in five of the plays I’m most excited to see in what’s looking like a very anticipation-worthy fall season.

Elizabeth McGovern

Elizabeth McGovern

The Countess, I mean, Elizabeth McGovern, is making a return visit to Downtown Abbey-time, Britain in 1919, in J.B. Priestley’s (An Inspector Calls) 1937 play Time and the Conways. It’s the end of what was then called “The Great War,” and England, and the Conway family, are awash in optimism. But the story jumps 19 years into the future, and that optimism, and their lives, have changed dramatically. The Roundabout Theatre production also stars the multi-talented Anna Camp (the Pitch Perfect films, True Blood, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Good Girls Revolt), Steven Boyer (Hand to God, TV’s Trial and Error, and the recent Encores! Off-Center production of Assassins), and Gabriel Ebert (Téreèse Raquin, Matilda). Newly minted Tony winner Rebecca Taichman (Indecent) directs. Previews September 14, opens October 10, closes November 26.
Michael Urie (Marc St. James for all you non-Ugly Betty fans), fresh off his brilliant turn (the New York Times called him a “path-clearing cyclone of silliness”) in The Government Inspector, helms a revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. It’s 1979 and Arnold (Urie), a drag performer, is on quest for love, purpose, and family. Originally an Off-Broadway triptych, then a film and a Broadway production, Fierstein took home Tony awards for best play and best actor. Mercedes Ruehl also stars, Moisés Kaufman directs. Previews begin September 26, opens October 19 at the Tony Kiser Theater/Second Stage Theater.

Clive Owen and Jin Ha in ‘M. Butterfly;’ photo: Josef Astor.

Clive Owen and Jin Ha in ‘M. Butterfly;’ photo: Josef Astor.

The shoulda-been James Bond, but was King Arthur, Clive Owen, stars in a revival of the brilliant David Henry Hwang 1988 play M. Butterfly. Although I cannot imagine anyone taking our collective breath away like John Lithgow did in the drama’s original production, I am more than willing to give Clive a chance to try. Inspired by an actual scandal about an illicit affair between a French diplomat and a Chinese opera diva, the play is a gripping story of love, betrayal, and self-delusion. Jin Ha will play Song Liling, which won BD Wong a Tony in the original run. Julie Taymor will direct. Previews October 7, opens October 26.
Mia Wallace (otherwise known as Pulp Fiction’s Uma Thurman) is returning to the New York stage after a nearly two-decade absence, to star in a new play by Beau Willimon, The Parisian Woman. Despite the title, the story is set in Washington, D.C., and tells a tale of politics, power, and personal drama. Willimon has proven himself in this dark world; he’s a former Democratic political operative, the author of the 2008 play Farragut North and the creator of TV’s House of Cards. Tony winner Pam MacKinnon directs. Previews November 7, opens November 30.

(l. to r.) Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti, Keegan-Michael Key, and Alan Tudyk starring in ‘Meteor Shower;’ photos: © Mario Santor/David Gordon/Joseph Marzullo).

(l. to r.) Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti, Keegan-Michael Key, and Alan Tudyk starring in ‘Meteor Shower;’ photos: © Mario Santor/David Gordon/Joseph Marzullo).

Saving the best for last: Gypsy Rose Lee! President Obama’s anger translator Luther! Amy Townsend, and, above all, Steve the Pirate! That’s Laura Benanti, Keegan-Michael Key, Amy Schumer, and Alan Tudyk, starring in Meteor Shower, a new play from the inimitable Steve Martin, directed by Jerry Zaks. Schumer is making her Broadway debut, as is Key, hot off the Public Theater production of Hamlet, in which he played Horatio. Steve the Pirate, excuse me, Tudyk, has trod the boards before, and of course, Tony winner Laura Benanti has more theater credits than we can count. The “cosmic comedy,” according to the website, involves two couples, a marital free-fall, and some smoldering space rocks. Previews November 1, opens November 29.
Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer
The past theater season was certainly a busy one, almost an embarrassment of riches, both in terms of the sheer number of shows, as well as the hits-to-misses ratio. The upcoming season shows every sign of being just as busy. Of course, it’s hard to know which shows will be any good, but you can often get a sense of what shows promise by looking the people involved.

Mark Rylance as King Philippe in Shakespeare Globe’s production of ‘Farinelli and the King;’ photo: © Marc Brenner.

Mark Rylance as King Philippe in Shakespeare Globe’s production of ‘Farinelli and the King;’ photo: © Marc Brenner.

A prime example is Farinelli and the King, starring four-time Tony winner, and recent Oscar recipient, Mark Rylance. You can pretty much guarantee that anything with Rylance is worth seeing. Rylance burst on the Broadway scene in 2008 with his hilarious turn in Boeing-Boeing, for which he won his first Tony. Since then, he has proven himself protean and reliable with similar virtuoso feats in Jerusalem, La Bête, and Twelfth Night, yielding three more Tonys in the process. So, I’d pretty much be on board for whatever vehicle Rylance was bring our way. It just so happens that the story of Farinelli and the King also happens to be pretty intriguing, centering around the life a famous 18th-century Italian opera singer, and castrato, Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli. Farinelli and the King begins previews on December 5 at the Belasco Theatre, and runs through March 25.
There are also upcoming productions that I’m looking forward to based on my previous experience with those particular works. I saw Once on This Island during its original Broadway run in 1991, and it remains one of my favorite nights in the theater. This charming musical has a rich and melodic score by Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Anastasia), and a libretto by his longtime writer partner, Lynn Ahrens. Michael Arden is directing the upcoming Broadway revival, and based on his imaginative work on the Spring Awakening revival last season, it looks like we’re in for a compelling re-imagination of the piece. Plus, the cast is pretty spectacular, including Broadway stalwarts Quentin Earl Darrington, Lea Salonga, Phillip Boykin, Kenita Miller, as well as newcomer Haily Kilgore as Ti Moune. Previews begin for Once on This Island on November 9 at the Circle in the Square Theater, toward a December 3 opening.

Ari'el Stachel, David Garo Yellin, George Abud, Tony Shalhoub, Harvey Valdes, Sam Sadigursky, Alok Tewari; photo: Ahron R. Foster.

Ari'el Stachel, David Garo Yellin, George Abud, Tony Shalhoub, Harvey Valdes, Sam Sadigursky, Alok Tewari; photo: Ahron R. Foster.

As for new musicals, I had the immense pleasure of catching The Band’s Visit during its Off-Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater Company last year. It’s an unlikely musical, about an Egyptian military band that gets stranded in a remote town while traveling to a concert engagement in Israel, and the people from that town who step up to welcome them into their homes. Humanity ensues. If that sounds like Come From Away, yes, there are many parallels, but The Band’s Visit is a very different, though equally rewarding, musical in its own right. Not much really happens during The Band’s Visit, except that we gradually get to know this increasingly fascinating group of people, and their quiet, desperate lives. David Yazbek’s idiomatic score is entrancing, and Katrina Lenk (recently of Indecent) gives a mesmerizing, star-making performance as the passionate local woman revitalized by the presence of these fascinating strangers. The Band’s Visit begins performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on October 7 toward a November 9 opening.
Finally, Off-Broadway we have the Encores! benefit staging of Brigadoon. Steven Pasquale was originally supposed to star, but he booked the upcoming Broadway run of Ayad Akhtar’s Junk, so Encores! has brought in Patrick Wilson (and trust me, I’m not complaining) to star alongside the wondrous Kelli O’Hara. Robert Fairchild, of An American in Paris fame, also co-stars. The production will be directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, also of An American in Paris. At one point, Brigadoon (1947) was a popular entry in the musical theater canon, but recent productions have been scarce, and the show hasn’t seen a Broadway production in 36 years. The show features a beautiful score, full of such classic songs as “The Heather on the Hill,” “Come to me, Bend to Me,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” not to mention the haunting title song. But the show has a somewhat musty book, and features what may be the most ridiculous deus ex machina plot resolution in musical-theater history. No word yet on whether Encores! will present the show with a revised and/or truncated book, as has been their custom. Brigadoon will play at New York City Center from November 15 through 19.
Dan Bacalzo, Contributing Writer Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar has established his reputation by addressing issues of race and religion, particularly in regards to American Muslims. And so, his latest Broadway play, Junk, which begins previews at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater on October 5, might seem to be a departure from his previous work. It’s centered on the high-stakes world of American finance during the 1980s, and its protagonist is played by Steven Pasquale. However, Akhtar proved his ability to construct taut financial thrillers with the excellent and disturbing The Invisible Hand a few years ago, and the author’s penchant for engaging dialogue and unsettling ethical dilemmas make this new play one to watch out for in the fall.

Stephen Adly Guirgis; photo by Gregory Costanzo.

Stephen Adly Guirgis; photo by Gregory Costanzo.

Another Pulitzer Prize-winner, Stephen Adly Guirgis, kicks off his well-deserved Residency One season at Signature Theatre with a revival of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (October 3—November 12). This prison drama mixes humor with pathos as it wrestles with issues of faith, morality, and redemption. I saw the original production of this play back in 2000, and parts of it remain vividly imprinted in my mind.
Julia Cho is another playwright whom I greatly admire. She has a gift for poetic language and has previously created works of discomfiting sophistication. Her newest play, Office Hour, makes its New York premiere at the Public Theater, October 17—December 3. The drama centers on a teacher’s meeting with a student who writes violent and obscene stories, and touches upon issues of race, isolation, and the specter of mass shootings.
One other work in tune with today’s headlines is Burning Doors, at La MaMa E.T.C., October 13—22. This is a collaboration between Belarus Free Theatre — who are banned from performing in their own country due to an oppressive regime — and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk band that has garnered worldwide attention for their protests and imprisonment. This physically intensive theatre piece utilizes the stories of Alyokhina and other Russian dissidents to brutally expose how the personal and political mixes with art and activism under the threat of political persecution.
Justin Sharon, Contributing Writer
A quintessential Jersey boy finally arrives in midtown Manhattan this fall. Bruce Springsteen appears in Springsteen on Broadway at the 960 seat Walter Kerr Theater, and should be a real treat for those lucky enough to score a ticket. The intimate venue makes an captivating contrast to the cavernous arena rock venues The Boss normally plays, and there won’t be any E Street Band accompanying him on Eighth Avenue. A master raconteur, Springsteen’s delightfully discursive storytelling is a key component of his concerts. Alas this production, which will mix music and memoir, wasn’t born to run. The first performance is set for October 3, with the official opening on October 12. Although the run was originally scheduled as a limited eight-week engagement, due to the enormous demand for tickets, the producers have recently announced an extension until February 3, 2018, and tickets are going fast.
Bruce Springsteen’s best-selling album came out way back in 1984, when the Cold War was still raging. The more things change, and all that. With relations between Washington and Moscow at their lowest ebb since those distant days, and this being the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Describe The Night seems a particularly well-timed play. Written by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Giovanna Sardelli, this Atlantic Theater Company production gets its New York premiere at the Linda Gross Theater on 336 West 20th Street. The action shifts from Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry in 1920 to KGB spies in Dresden seven decades later. Performances run from November 10 to December 24.
Miles Harter, Contributing Writer
Playwrights Horizon presents as their first production this fall For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday. Without knowing any details, who could resist a play with a title like this, about the ageless boy, who now is apparently is approaching 70? This is the newest offering by the celebrated playwright Sarah Ruhl, who, notwithstanding her being one of the stalwarts of American theatre, is nowhere the age of 70 (she turned just 43 this year). The play stars the venerated actor Kathleen Chalfant, whose many roles include her brilliant Margaret Tilden role in House of Cards (and who indeed has hit the 70-year milestone); the production runs through October 1.

(l. to r.) Daniel Jenkins, Keith Reddin, Kathleen Chalfant and Lisa Emery in ‘For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday;’ photo: Joan Marcus.

(l. to r.) Daniel Jenkins, Keith Reddin, Kathleen Chalfant and Lisa Emery in ‘For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday;’ photo: Joan Marcus.

Next up at Playwrights Horizons is The Treasurer. In this world premiere, the playwright, Max Posner, explores the relationship between a son and his aging mother. No, the son is not a CPA; instead, his mother has been recklessly spending the family money, and he assumes the role of treasurer of the family finances. Max Posner’s use of dark humor should make the play eminently watchable. You may see this production from September 6-October 22.
And one other production to be on the lookout for this fall is The Show Off, which will be presented by the Peccadillo Theater Company at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. This chestnut about a working class Irish family in North Philadelphia in the mid-1920s should provide a good escape from concerns about the current political and social climate. The play was written by Pulitzer Prize winning George Kelly, also known as Grace Kelly’s uncle, whose Philip Goes Forth was a recent hit at the Mint Theater Company. The Show Off stars Annette O’Toole, the winsome movie and television actress and singer-songwriter; it runs September 21-October 21.
Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer Dance is “theater” too, so I’m taking this opportunity to highlight a few performances that I’m looking forward to this fall. If you’re looking to sample a variety of dance companies and dancers, then run over to New York City Center for its Fall for Dance Festival (October 2-14), which presents a smorgasbord of programs featuring a selection of what’s currently available in the world of dance. Prices are very reasonable (all tickets are $15), so they sell out quickly.

Cast of ‘The Red Shoes’ at Saddler Wells, London.

Cast of ‘The Red Shoes’ at Saddler Wells, London.

Later in the month at City Center you’ll find the ballet version of The Red Shoes, choreographed by Matthew Bourne (now “Sir” Matthew Bourne). The production opened in London this past December and received great reviews, had sold-out houses, and won two Olivier Awards (the London equivalent of the Tony Awards). Ashley Shaw who danced the part of Victoria Page in that production will share performances with New York City Ballet’s Sara Mearns. The production runs October 26-November 5.
And finally, there’s always something exciting happening at The Joyce Theater. This venerable venue always presents a wide variety of dance companies and performances, so there’s sure to be something that will pique your interest. One of the first performances of their fall season may just do the trick—Twyla Tharp Dance sits down for a three-week residency (September 19-October 8) when they present the world premiere of Dylan Love Songs, dances set to the music of Bob Dylan, one of America’s most enduring singer-songwriters.
It looks like it’s going to be a good season for theater—so go partake of the banquet!
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Cover: Michael Urie, scheduled to star in the upcoming Off-Broadway revival of ‘Torch Song’ at Second Stage Theater; photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia. Visit ZEALnyc for the latest news in arts and culture.