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Howard Sherman: It’s speculation season on Broadway

Bea Corley and Lizzie Klemperer in The Secret Garden at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo: Mark Kitaoka
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Admittedly in the theatre community, the month of May (and early June) is thought of primarily as awards season or, if your interest is only Broadway, Tony season. But there’s a parallel deep spring obsession playing out right now, which I’ll dub ‘speculation season’.

I’m referring to the gamesmanship, both public and private, of figuring out what the 2017/18 theatrical season will look like when it’s all said and done, on Broadway and off, and even regionally, since they are somewhat interdependent. After all, of the nominees for best play and best musical at the Tony Awards this year, seven of the eight began at subsidised companies and moved to Broadway.

Mind you, more than a dozen Broadway shows have already been announced (there are typically between 35 and 40 shows per season) and four will come up relatively fast, opening over the often quiet summer. That quintet is comprised of the transfer of Robert Icke’s 1984, a revival of Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, Michael Moore’s agitprop The Terms of My Surrender and the Hal Prince omnibus musical Prince of Broadway (which had its world premiere in Japan).

The other shows coming next season to Broadway include such heavyweights as revivals of Carousel and My Fair Lady, as well as the Broadway manifestation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Julie Taymor will return to Broadway at last with the first revival of David Henry Hwang’s landmark M Butterfly, and Once on This Island, the Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical is headed back after a 25-year absence.

So that’s an incomplete outline of the known, though pieces will keep falling into place. As I write, a revival of Priestley’s Time and the Conways was announced just hours ago, and the transfer of Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King was official just a day ago.

But what might we see on Broadway? That’s the guessing game being played by many, and no doubt negotiated by a few.

There’s a revival of the musical The Secret Garden that has played both Washington DC and Seattle, which seems to be telegraphing its desire to move eastward. Children of a Lesser God was announced for Broadway almost two years ago, so people are watching the production that opens next month at Barrington Stage with Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff to see if it might be more than just summer fare. The Atlantic Theater Company has Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen on its schedule, and they’ve sent several McDonagh plays on to Broadway, dating back to The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

The movie-into-musical brigade continues to march, all of which tend to be Broadway focused no matter where they first surface. Imminent productions include adaptations of Benny and Joon at the Old Globe, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion at Seattle 5th Avenue Theatre, and Monsoon Wedding at Berkeley Repertory.

The New York Post has speculated about UK transfers of Angels in America and Cate Blanchett in Ivo van Hove’s All About Eve, and says we’re getting The Kid Stays in the Picture from the Royal Court in September, although no theatre or dates have been announced. While the column was more sceptical about a transfer of Angels in America, the drawing power of Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane could bring it about.

Broadway hasn’t had a Hamlet since Jude Law’s in 2009, so if the force is with Oscar Isaac this summer in Sam Gold’s production at the Public Theater, that might prompt the 62nd Broadway Hamlet since 1900. The Band’s Visit, a gentle musical that won huge favour Off-Broadway – including the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best musical just this week – is surely being considered for a belated transfer, provided a suitably intimate venue can be secured.

It’s rather fun speculating, because for all of the prospects that may be known, there may yet be productions unannounced that suddenly capture the interest of producers. At the same time, there may be producers holding their cards very close to their chests, waiting for various pieces to fall into place before letting out word of projects that are practically ready.

Until something is in a press release or brochure, let alone actually on a stage somewhere, we can’t be sure what options there may be, and we also need to factor in the closings of currently running shows to make room for newcomers. But just remember: exactly three years ago, all we knew about a certain hip hop musical about America’s first Treasury secretary was that it was set for a summer workshop in upstate New York. And look what happened with that.

This week in US theatre

Suzan-Lori Parks’ play Venus, about Saartjie Baartman, transplanted from Africa to Europe and exhibited as The Venus Hottentot more than a century ago, returns to New York for the first time since its debut 21 years ago. Lear deBessonet directs the production at Signature Theatre, opening on May 15.

New York’s second summer magic show, Derren Brown: Secret, has its official opening on May 16, joining Derek DelGaudio’s In and of Itself. Both shows are proving popular: DelGaudio has extended through to early September, while Brown – even before opening – has already added three weeks to his run. Perhaps more weeks will appear on the Atlantic Theater’s schedule, so long as Brown keeps making the audience materialise.

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