From a host of London transfers including The Ferryman and Ink to musicals Moulin Rouge! and Beetlejuice, our New York critic Mark Shenton previews the Broadway and Off-Broadway shows opening this year
American theatre is structurally divided into seasons – straddling two calendar years, from the summer of the first to the spring of the second, as defined by the annual presentation of the Tony Awards every June. These honour only Broadway achievement – typically these days, the fewer than 40 shows a year that open annually in Broadway-designated theatres. Around them, other award ceremonies, ranging from the Drama Desk Awards (which also embrace Off-Broadway) to the Pulitzer prize for drama (for plays presented across the US), New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Obies (previously presented by the Village Voice, and now run by the American Theatre Wing), coalesce in what is sometimes referred to as ‘awards season’ in May and early June.
In this Tony year there have been 20 Broadway openings between last May and the end of December, of which only half are still running as we go into January. The critical and commercial successes so far this season have unusually included three hit plays – Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, transferred from the West End, Ivo van Hove’s stage version of Network starring Bryan Cranston that transferred from the National Theatre and Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Moving into 2019, Broadway has already had its first opening of the season with a revival of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s 2013 Off-Broadway play Choir Boy, presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre. Also now previewing is a revival of Sam Shepard’s True West at the American Airlines, in an unrelated production (led by Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano as the warring brothers) to the one playing at the West End’s Vaudeville.
Glenda Jackson will reprise the title role in King Lear at the Cort Theatre from February 28, but in an otherwise entirely different production from the version at London’s Old Vic in 2016. It is directed by Sam Gold. And while the Old Vic’s new production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons opens on April 15 with a cast led by Sally Field and Bill Pullman, Broadway will also have its own new version, starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts, at the American Airlines from April 4. There’s also a revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 Broadway play Burn This at the Hudson from March 15, with a cast that includes Adam Driver.
Meanwhile, James Graham’s Ink will make its Broadway debut at the Samuel J Friedman from April 2, with Bertie Carvel reprising his Olivier-winning performance as Rupert Murdoch opposite newcomer to the play Jonny Lee Miller as Larry Lamb, the first editor of the Murdoch-owned the Sun.
One of the most interesting new plays of early 2019 is likely be Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, at the Booth from March 5, written by celebrated solo performance artist and playwright Taylor Mac, with a cast led by Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin. And Hillary and Clinton, at the Golden from March 6, is a new play by Lucas Hnath (who wrote last year’s Tony nominated A Doll’s House Part Two), starring Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the title roles. Meanwhile, Heidi Schreck’s autobiographical What the Constitution Means to Me transfers to the Helen Hayes from March 14 after originally premiering at New York Theatre Workshop last year.
The new musicals that have survived, if not necessarily thrived, so far this season have included one original show The Prom, film adaptations Pretty Woman and King Kong, and another pop jukebox biography, The Cher Show.
A lot is riding on the success of a few new US-created musicals to open in the first four months of this year to define this season. Yet, arguably the most anticipated new musical of 2019 will fall outside of eligibility for this year’s Tony Awards: the new stage version of Moulin Rouge!, which premiered in Boston last summer (and received a five-star review in The Stage). It opens in July at Broadway’s Al Hirchfeld Theatre. The lead producer Global Creatures is also responsible for King Kong, and didn’t want to compete against itself at this year’s Tony’s.
In the original musical stakes, Broadway will see the arrival of two long-gestating projects. Be More Chill (at the Lyceum from February 13, after a successful Off-Broadway run at Signature Theatre) has been propelled to Broadway by social media support and digital downloads of its cast album recorded during its original New Jersey run in 2015. As the New York Times reported before its Off-Broadway run even opened, it was already “one of the most popular new musicals in America, with a passionate fan base that dwarfs the number of people who have ever seen the show”.
Pop writer Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown – developed via productions at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 and in Edmonton, Canada in 2017, before a London tryout at the National Theatre – will finally open at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre on March 22.
Two new musicals are based on popular film titles: Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, at the Winter Garden from March 28, and Tootsie, at the Marquis from March 29. They transfer after regional tryouts in Chicago and Washington DC, with scores by Eddie Perfect (who co-wrote King Kong) and David Yazbek (who composed Tony-winning best musical The Band’s Visit), respectively. Finally, there’s also another jukebox show: Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations, coming to the Imperial from February 28.
Musical revivals are in unusually short supply this year, with only two 1940s classics heading back to town. Cole Porter’s 1948 Shakespearean make-over Kiss Me, Kate gets a high-profile Broadway outing at Studio 54 from February 14, with much-lauded soprano Kelli O’Hara in the title role opposite Will Chase. Meanwhile, a totally reinvented Oklahoma!, the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that is widely credited with reinventing the form, transfers from a critically championed run at St Ann’s Warehouse to the Circle in the Square from March 19.
The sprawling network of Off-Broadway producing houses is a generator of many shows that enjoy further life on Broadway and beyond. Arguably the most important – and certainly the most prolific – is the Public, a downtown version of our National Theatre, which has created two of Broadway’s biggest-ever hits: A Chorus Line and Hamilton. For its winter/spring programme this year, Carrie Cracknell will direct a double-bill of Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall and Nick Payne’s A Life, starring Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal from February 1. The Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis will direct David Diggs in Suzan-Lori Parks’ White Noise from March 5.
Hamilton’s composer Lin-Manuel Miranda will reunite with that show’s director Thomas Kail for Freestyle Love Supreme at Greenwich House Theatre from January 30. It’s described as “a blend of hip-hop, improvisational theatre, music, and vocal stylings”.
Roundabout Theatre Company has now begun previewing Fiasco’s new version of Sondheim’s 1981 Broadway flop Merrily We Roll Along at its Off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre, prior to it official opening on February 19.
Meanwhile, a revival of Fiddler on the Roof, presented entirely in Yiddish with English surtitles, is moving uptown from an acclaimed run at the Museum of Jewish History to Stage 42 for a commercial run from February 11.
Second Stage has the world premiere of Superhero, a new musical by composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and playwright John Logan (Red), at its Off-Broadway home from January 31.
Another brilliant composer, Duncan Sheik, has two shows on the horizon: Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, at MCC’s new home on 10th Avenue, from January 30; and The Secret Life of Bees, co-written with playwright Lynn Nottage, at Atlantic Theatre from May 10.
Atlantic is also offering the New York premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Mother in a new production starring Isabella Huppert, from February 20.
Manhattan Theatre Club, which also has a permanent Broadway presence, will offer the New York premiere of Donald Margulies’ Long Lost at its Off-Broadway home at City Center, from May 14.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge will reprise her original stage solo play Fleabag (before it was turned into a TV series) at Off-Broadway’s Soho Playhouse from February 28.
The Shed, a new performance arts venue led by Alex Poots (formerly of Manchester International Festival) is opening the doors of its purpose-built space next to the High Line. The opening slate of attractions includes Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a part-spoken, part-sung dramatic work exploring the lives and myths of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy by poet Anne Carson, starring Ben Whishaw and Renee Fleming and directed by Katie Mitchell. It runs from April 5 to May 19.
At the midtown Pershing Square Signature Centre, home to Signature Theatre and other companies, Dave Molloy (who wrote Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) will begin a residency as the company’s first musical theatre writer with Octet, the world premiere (from April 30) of a show scored for a cappella chamber choir and an original libretto inspired by internet comment boards, scientific debates, religious texts and Sufi poetry.
An annual treat at New York City Center is Encores!, the series that relaunched Kander and Ebb’s Chicago in the minimalist staging that, after immediately transferring to Broadway, has become the longest-running American musical in history. This year’s season includes Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam (February 6-10), Rodgers and Hart’s I Married an Angel (March 20-24) and Jule Styne’s High Button Shoes (May 8-12); while in the summer, the Encores! Off-Center programme will feature Working (June 26-30), Promenade (July 10-11) and Road Show (July 24-27).
• Be More Chill Lyceum Theatre March 10
• Kiss Me Kate Studio 54 March 14
• Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations Imperial Theatre March 21
• King Lear Cort Theatre April 4
• Oklahoma! Circle in the Square Theatre April 7
• Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus Booth Theatre April 11
• Burn This Hudson Theatre April 16
• Hadestown Walter Kerr Theatre April 17
• Hillary and Clinton Golden Theatre April 18
• All My Sons American Airlines Theatre April 22
• Tootsie Marquis Theatre April 23
• Ink Samuel J Friedman Theatre April 24
• Beetlejuice Winter Garden Theatre April 25
• Moulin Rouge Al Hirschfeld Theatre July 25