Broadway’s New Season Is Off and Running
By Ellis Nassour
It’s the season to be merry! A new theater season; another opening of another show; actually, Openings…Shows. From those that have opened and those to come, it appears to be another star-studded, blockbuster, audience-pleasing one.
One of the prime reasons to celebrate is the return of Cherry Jones to the boards after an absence of over four years [Faith Healer and before that her award-winning Doubt] during which she portrayed the president of the United States on Fox-TV’s megahit thriller 24, winning an Emmy Award.
The vehicle is Roundabout’s revival of Shaw’s scorching tour de force Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the story of Kitty Warren, a mother who makes a fortune in an unsavory profession in order to achieve independence for her daughter.
That role is played to the hilt by Sally Hawkins [Happy Go Lucky film; numerous W.E. credits] in her Bway debut.
Jones, whom the Times’ Ben Brantley noted confirms "her reputation as an actress of not only formidable charisma but also meticulous craft" and is "as illuminating as ever," and Hawkins, in an ironic mother/daughter twist, bout it out as two strong-willed women with ideas of their own.
Towering Ms. Jones makes quite an entrance in magnificently huge Victorian era hats and stunning outfits by five-time Tony winner Catherine Zuber and is beautifully coiffed in fashionable wigs by Tom Watson. There’s no doubt that often Ms. Jones seems to be channeling Belle Watling from Gone with the Wind. Doug Hughes, who helmed Doubt, directs.
What Mrs. Warren does for a living raised hackles of controversy when the play premiered on Bway in 1905. Police closed the production, citing the cast for disorderly conduct. It wasn’t critically well-received either. A Times critic termed the play "as elevating as a post-mortem."
Mrs. Warren has lots of good company already this season:
The chaotic and often mindboggling [because of its spin on history] but nonetheless fascinating Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson with hot Benjamin Walker [history just got all sexypants!] as America’s first political maverick who made it from the Tennessee frontier to the White House, has moved to the main stem from the Public with its large cast intact. The feisty musical is written and directed by DD and Obie winner Alex Timbers and Obie winner Michael Friedman.
Roundabout has U.K. Kneehigh Theatre’s hit spin on Noel Coward’s classic romance Brief Encounter charming audiences at Studio 54. Adapted and directed by Kneehigh A.D. Emma Rice with a cast of nine, it uniquely combines elements of Coward’s intimate screenplay and one act play with song, dance and "Technicolor displays of emotion." It arrives on Bway following sold out runs at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Guthrie, and S.F.’s ACT.
Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight are reliving Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre, directed by Neil Pepe. Manhattan Theatre Club has the U.K. import The Pitmen Painters. Laura Linney, Brian d’Arcy James, and Eric Bogosian have returned to their roles in the returned Time Stands Still, with support from Christina Ricci in her Bway debut
Charles Bush has an Off Bway hit with his campfest, The Divine Sister, that’s so bad [actually, atrocious] that it’s [nearly] drop dead hilarious.
It’s crammed with in jokes and so many homages to Julie Andrews/Ingrid Bergman/Joan Crawford/doubting Cherry Jones/Ida Lupino’s roadhouse moll/Gloria Swanson/Loretta Young that you lose count.
Bush bulldozes a mile a second through this romp that really is nunsense – but pretty soon you’re rolling along with it and don’t really care.
Nuns wearing lipstick, mascara, and makeup?! Holy crucifix! but let’s be thankfully because Divine Sister is saved by its excellent back up – in fact, it doesn’t get any better. Julie Halston as Sister Acacius and Alison Fraser as visiting German Sister Walburga in six-inch heels know a thing about comic timing and play their roles to the hilt. There’re also three excellent featured turns by Jennifer Van Dyck, Jonathan Walker, and Amy Rutberg.
You might think October’s May with so many shows opening.
Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumley opened last night in the revival of David Hirson’s La Bete, directed by Matthew Warchus. Lombardi follows on the 21st at Circle in the Square; James Earl Jones will be in the driver’s seat Driving Miss Daisy Vanessa Redgrave on the 25th in the revival of the Alfred Uhry classic; then there’ll be Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles; then Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys officially uptown on Halloween night
It’ll be a busy November with LCT’s much-anticipated all-star musical adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown, opening the totally-and spectacularly renovated [$15-millio] Belasco, by David Yazbeck and Jeffrey Lane and directed by Bartlett Sher and starring Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti, Sherie Rene Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Danny Burstein.
Not far behind will be the move to Bway of the NYSF’s acclaimed production of The Merchant of Venice co-starring Al Pacino and Lily Rabe. In quick succession comes Long Story Short; The Pee-Wee Herman Show; and, kicking off the holiday season, Elf; followed by LCT’s A Free Man of Color; and Elling.
December’s big event is the much-anticipated, eagerly-awaited most expensive musical in Bway history: Julie Taymor’s Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, with music and lyrics by Bono and the Edge.
2011 will be no less busy. From January through April, the shows will keep coming: Roundabout’s revival of The Importance of Being Earnest; MTC’s Good People; the musical adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert; The Book of Mormon; the revivals of How To Succeed … [marking Daniel Radcliffe’s musical debut] and Anything Goes; the musical Catch Me If You Can; LCT’s War Horse; Frank Wildhorn’s whimsical musical adventure Wonderland: A New Alice; and Alan Menken/Glenn Slater/Douglas Carter Beane’s musical adaptation of Sister Act.