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Fall Theater Guide: 10 Reasons to See a Show This Season

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

Author Ron Fassler shares his fall Broadway & Off-Broadway picks

Hope my highly personal take here is something that resonates with those who are reading this. Perhaps the headline was a grabber, so in that spirit, here are a few upcoming Broadway and Off-Broadway shows that are making my heart beat a little faster. In anticipation of some of the goodies already announced for the fall season, these are my picks for what to look out for:

Marisa Tomei in rehearsals for ‘The Rose Tattoo’ (Photo: Daniel Rader)

Marisa Tomei in rehearsals for ‘The Rose Tattoo’ (Photo: Daniel Rader)

#1: British Royalty Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce
Florian Zeller’s latest drama The Height of the Storm, opening Sept. 24 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is truly a call for celebration, especially as it stars two of the finest British actors alive: Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce. Dame Eileen made her first New York appearance back in 1966 as part of the original cast of Frank Marcus’s The Killing of Sister George. By then she was already a major star on the London stage, but would return time and again to New York for Vivat! Vivat Regina! (1972), Indiscretions (1995), The Retreat from Moscow (2003). She received Best Actress Tony nominations for all four shows. She was also the first replacement for Cherry Jones as Sister Aloysius in Doubt (2006), which marks the last time she appeared on Broadway. Now at age eighty-five, she will be joined by Jonathan Pryce, already the recipient of two Tony Awards (one for Featured Actor in a play for 1977’s Comedians and for Best Actor in Musical for his stunning portrayal of The Engineer in the original production of 1991’s Miss Saigon). One of the reasons I’m most excited for this teaming is that my experiences seeing them on stage have always been transcendent. I will never forget Dame Eileen’s performance in Yazmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man opposite Alan Bates in 2000. In the intimacy of a small Off-Broadway space, she was extraordinary to watch (as was Mr. Bates). Miss these two in this play at your own peril, as this is a strictly limited engagement through Nov. 17th at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

#2: Is Broadway ready for Slave Play?
Having premiered Off-Broadway in a sold-out run at the NY Theatre Workshop this past December, Jeremy O. Harris’s fiercely debated Slave Play is coming to Broadway this fall. Audiences were both thrilled and taken aback by the audacity of its story telling, especially as it was Mr. Harris’s first professional theater production in New York while still a student at the Yale School of Drama. Officially described as “an antebellum fever dream, where fear and desire entwine in the looming shadow of the Master’s House” at the MacGregor Plantation in “The Old South,” it pulls no punches in the racial issues it raises, or in its daring sexuality. Directed by Robert O’Hara – himself a break-the-rules playwright whose 2014 Bootycandy was both hilarious and heartbreaking – the importance of getting Slave Play to Broadway is a personal one to him. “I’m thrilled as a black queer artist to be collaborating with another black queer artist on what will be both of our Broadway debuts,” he said. “I think the idea that I can say that openly and proudly is rather profound given the history of our country and of the American theater, but more specifically Broadway, which has had and continues to have a general lack of diversity and diverse stories.” Be ready for something to hit the fan when Slave Play opens on Oct. 6th at the John Golden Theatre.

#3: Yet another two-part theatre experience with The Inheritance.
On the heels 2018’s revival of Angels in America and the Tony Award-winning Best Play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we have another two-part dive into some brilliant theater with the arrival of The Inheritance, by the American playwright Matthew Lopez. Having opened at the Young Vic Theatre in London in 2018, it transferred to the West End in a production directed by the two-time Tony winning director Stephen Daldry. Set three decades after the height of the AIDS epidemic, it takes on (among many other things) the issues of social class by way of a loose adaptation of E.M. Foster’s 1910 novel Howard’s End. It won four Olivier Awards this year, that included Best New Play, Best Director and Best Actor (Kyle Soller). Lopez also received the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards for Best Play. Soller and co-star John Benjamin Hickey (a Tony Award winner for The Normal Heart) will be joined on stage at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre by members of the British company, with the addition of the legendary American actress Lois Smith, replacing Vanessa Redgrave from the London production. The Inheritance (both parts) open on Sunday, Nov. 17th at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

#4 & 5: Two fine actresses return to Broadway: Mary Louise Parker and Marisa Tomei.
It’s always a pleasure when either Mary-Louise Parker or Marisa Tomei grace a Broadway stage. Ms. Tomei made her debut twenty-one years ago in a short-lived revival of the thriller Wait Until Dark, and Ms. Parker’s first foray goes back eight years earlier with the splash she made in Prelude to a Kiss, the first of her three Tony Award nominations (she won for Proof in 2001). Both have given terrific performances on film and television (Tomei famously winning an Academy Award for her the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny), and Parker in Fried Green Tomatoes and Angels in America, which brought her an Emmy.

Ms. Tomei will be starring in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, which earned a Tony Award for Maureen Stapleton when she created the part in the original 1951 Broadway production. The role also earned the Italian film actress Anna Magnani an Academy Award for her portrayal of the fiery Serafina Delle Rose. This production, directed by Trip Cullman, originated in the summer of 2018 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.

Ms. Parker will be appearing in The Sound Inside, a new play that coincidentally began that same summer in Williamstown and will mark the Broadway debut of the prolific writer Adam Rapp, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2006 for his Off-Broadway play Red Light Winter. Under the direction of David Cromer, who received the 2018 Tony Award for Best Director of The Band’s Visit, adds to reasons why The Sound Inside should be well worth seeing. As for The Rose Tattoo, its original 1951 production won the Tony Award for Best Play, one of the two Tony’s that Williams received for playwriting (the other was for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).

Both The Rose Tattoo and The Sound Inside are limited runs, so check for performances now through Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, 2020, respectively.

#6: LBJ aims for a comeback.
The Great Society, Robert Schenkkan’s sequel to his 2014 Tony Award winning Best Play All the Way, picks up where that drama left off: with the newly elected Lyndon Johnson hoping to follow through on his campaign promises to help provide a better America for black families, only to be drawn into the quagmire that was Vietnam, which ultimately destroyed his presidency. With the estimable Scottish actor Brian Cox taking on the role that won Bryan Cranston a Tony Award in his Broadway debut, Cox will be sharing the stage with such Tony nominated actors as Richard Thomas as Hubert Humphrey, David Garrison as Richard Nixon, Marc Kudisch as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Bryce Pinhkam as Robert F. Kennedy and Gordon Clapp as J. Edgar Hoover. Add to that Tony winner Frank Wood, and you have a formidable lineup. Directed by Bill Rauch, who also helmed All the Way, it opens at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre Oct. 1, currently scheduled through Nov. 30.

#7: Pulitzer Prize and Tony Winner Tracy Letts has a new play.
Whenever Tracy Letts has something new to offer, take note. His 2007 August: Orange County was one of the most acclaimed dramas to hit Broadway in the past twenty years. There is a visceral charge you get from seeing one of his plays, and Linda Vista, which first played in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre two years ago, then in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum this past February. Steppenwolf ensemble members Ian Barford, Jim True-Frost, Sally Murphy and Caroline Neff are set to star, under the direction of Dexter Bullard. A comedy-drama, the plot concerns a fifty-year old man facing a dead marriage, an even deadlier job, and hoping for some sort of new life better than his current one, living out of his ex-wife’s garage. And this won’t be the only Letts play to arrive this season: in February, The Minutes, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in its 2018 Chicago premiere, will open at a theater to be announced. Linda Vista will be presented by Second Stage as part of their Broadway subscription season at the Hayes Theatre, which is devoted to new American plays. It is set to open Oct. 10.

#8: Who doesn’t love Little Shop of Horrors?
Since the time it opened more than thirty-seven years ago at Off-Broadway’s Orpheum Theatre, and after becoming a cult-classic with its 1986 film version that starred Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene (who created the role of Audrey on stage back in 1982), Little Shop of Horrors has become one of the most produced musicals in the world. With a rocking score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who co-wrote the Disney films The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin), it is returning to where it belongs – Off-Broadway – later this month at the Westside Arts Theatre on West 43rd Street. A Broadway revival in 2003 didn’t quite hit the mark, and was deemed a failure. Perhaps the show simply doesn’t belong in a theater of more than 300 seats, and the 262-seat Westside Arts seems made-to-order, especially as it sold out its entire engagement in short order. But an extension was announced last week with a new batch of tickets on sale, so if you act fast you may be able to get them. And why the rush to the box office? Well, Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening, Hamilton and TV’s Looking and Mindhunter) is playing Seymour, Emmy Award winner Tammy Blanchard is Audrey and two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle is the sadistic dentist, made memorable in the film by Steve Martin. Directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), Little Shop of Horrors opens October 17th at the Westside Arts Theatre through January 19, 2020.

#9: Forbidden Broadway will be back where it belongs.
In 1982, at a supper club on West 72nd Street, a four-person musical revue opened that took everyone in the theater community by surprise. I remember it clearly at the time, as I was a young actor starting out and it was all anybody talked about. Gerard Alessandrini had the brainstorm to spoof then-current Broadway musicals with funny lyric parodies that had people howling in the aisles. He was one of its cast members, too, and in subsequent editions many up and coming young actors appeared in it like future Tony Award winners Jason Alexander and Michael McGrath and future Tony Award nominees, Brad Oscar and Barbara Walsh. After two dozen editions that have played not only in New York but around the world, it is returning to its very first home on West 72nd Street, now called the Triad Theater. Titled Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, it promises to spoof such new shows as Hadestown, Moulin Rouge! and Tootsie. Performances begin October 12th.

#10: West 44th Street to rock with Jagged Little Pill.
Seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette and six-time Grammy winner Glen Ballard (do you think they’re competitive about that?) have written the songs for Jagged Little Pill, a new musical with book by the Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno). Using Morissette’s songbook to tell a story of drugs and redemption, the show was a big hit in the summer of 2018 at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard in Boston. Directed by Diane Paulus (ART’s Artistic Director), she has been Tony nominated for the 2009 revival of Hair, 2012’s Porgy and Bess and 2016’s Waitress, and won the award for her 2013 Pippin. The cast includes Elizabeth Stanley (Drama Desk nominee for On the Town), Kathryn Gallagher, Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Sean Allan Krill and Lauren Patten. Opening December 5th at the Broadhurst Theatre.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in September 2019.

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