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2015 and Counting

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Thanks to generally good reviews last week, Honeymoon in Vegas may be poised to become the season’s first hit Broadway musical. As for me, in 2015 I’m especially looking forward to four shows, two not-for-profit revivals and two commercial newbies.

I’m a big fan of Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cy Coleman’s hilarious On the Twentieth Century, and I think Roundabout Theatre Company’s casting of Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher is pretty promising, so I’m excited. Director Bartlett Sher and actress Kelli O’Hara worked wonders with Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan’s South Pacific at Lincoln Center Theater in 2008; it was so good that I revised my assessment of the show, till then not a particular favorite, considerably skyward. I don’t think that will happen with The King and I, again at Lincoln Center, as it’s a musical I’ve cherished since childhood, but I can’t wait to see how Sher and O’Hara approach it.

The Visit, based on the play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt about an aged woman seeking revenge on a long-ago lover, has been announced as the final Broadway musical of John Kander and Fred Ebb. I saw its second regional production, at Virginia’s Signature Theatre in 2008, and found much to admire, including an eerie, hypnotic score—you can hear Karen Ziemba sing the haunting “Love and Love Alone”  on The Musicality of Kander and Ebb—and Chita Rivera in a career-capping performance, but it still needed work. Now it has a new director, John Doyle; a new leading man, Roger Rees; and Terrence McNally has pared his book from two acts to a single 90-minute one, so perhaps that work has been done. Fun Home I encountered at the Public Theater last season, and I am curious to see how director Sam Gold reimagines his staging for the three-sided thrust at Circle in the Square. Playwright-lyricist Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori have done a fine job adapting Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel about growing up as a lesbian with a closeted gay father, and the excellent cast, led by Michael Cerveris, is intact, so fingers crossed.

I’m a bit bemused at the ubiquity of one of my favorite writers, Alan Jay Lerner, this season. He’s first up in March with the Encores! concert staging of his and Frederick Loewe’s 1951 Broadway hit Paint Your Wagon. Then April brings stage versions of two of his three Oscar-winning best pictures, both movies directed by Vincente Minnelli: 1951’s An American in Paris (with a score taken from the George Gershwin catalogue, it debuted the day before Wagon) and 1958’s Gigi (Loewe again). Both films also won Lerner the Oscar for best screenplay, the first original and the second adapted. Lerner himself adapted Gigi to the stage twice, once for Broadway and once in London. I saw them both and while they had their pleasures, overall neither production worked. Personally, I’m not convinced that these films need to be stage musicals. Nevertheless, I do like the writers who are adapting them—playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss and the book for The Light in the Piazza) for Paris and English TV scribe Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife and Cranford) for Gigi—so perhaps I’ll find myself saying thank heaven for Alan Jay.

Other Broadway prospects include three new musicals written by Broadway newbies—Something Rotten, a riff on Robin Hood helmed by Book of Mormon and Aladdin director-choreographer Casey Nicolaw; It Shoulda Been You, about “wedding day insanity” and featuring Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris directed by comic master David Hyde Pierce; and producer Harvey Weinstein’s stage version of his hit film about J.M. Barrie, Finding Neverland, starring Matthew Morrison and piloted by Diane Paulus. Finally, there’s Doctor Zhivago, from Boris Pasternak’s novel of the Russian revolution, with a book by playwright Michael Weller (Moonchildren, Loose Ends), lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and Amy Powers (Sunset Boulevard), and music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden).

Off-Broadway I’m intrigued by Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, at New World Stages, which my BwayTunes editor, Andy Propst, admired when it played the New Victory Theatre in 2010; The Lion, an autobiographical one-man coming-of-age musical by actor-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer that briefly played Manhattan Theatre Club’s smallest space last year, got great notices, and will now grace 45 Bleecker (you can hear the title song  and “Julia, Julia”  on Scheuer’s CD The Bridge, and the show’s opening number, “Cookie Tin Banjo” is available as a digital single); and of course Fiasco Theater’s highly acclaimed 10-actor, one-piano version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, in Roundabout’s Laura Pels space.

And then there’s Kentucky Cantata, at Here Arts Center, which tells the story of a young actress from rural Kentucky who moves to NYC and is raped in a parking lot. Written by Paul David Young, whose ingenious play In the Summer Pavilion greatly impressed me Off-Broadway in 2012, Kentucky Cantata will feature onstage musicians and a nonstop musical score interacting with the actors, hoping to combine music and language in new ways.

Andrew Lippa fans will get a double dose of his work: Keen Company’s revival of the two-character John & Jen, his first professionally produced musical (I saw Lippa play John in a reading in the early 1990s, and he was excellent), and Encores! Off-Center series’ concert staging of The Wild Party, starring Sutton Foster. But above all, the show I’m most interested in is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. The In the Heights actor-author has written book, music, and lyrics and will play Alexander Hamilton in this biographical look at our nation’s first secretary of the treasury. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and others are included. Workshop buzz was ecstatic, and the show has sold so well that it was extended twice while still in rehearsal. The founding fathers rapping. I’m there.


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