Mark Shenton: Disney’s Frozen, Harry Potter and what else to watch on Broadway this spring
Broadway can’t be faulted for its timing. Despite spring officially beginning, it has been in the grip of a snowstorm this week, appropriately arriving the day before Disney’s stage adaption of Frozen made its Broadway bow last night (March 22).
Let’s hope it has long dissipated by the time the next ice-themed show arrives to end the season on April 26 – a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, starring Denzel Washington.
Spring is when Broadway enters its highest gear: in the space of just five weeks, between March 15 and April 26, there are 16 Broadway openings scheduled, including three of the most anticipated shows of the year: as well as Frozen, there’s also the arrival from London of the National’s revival of Angels in America (opening March 25) and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (opening April 22), in both cases with many members of their original London companies.
As The Stage’s recently appointed New York critic, I will be on hand to cover many of these (I’m still based in London, but I’ve booked trips specifically around these openings, as I do every year at this time).
Of those 16 shows, four are new musicals – two are jukebox shows (Escape to Margaritaville, based on the back catalogue of Jimmy Buffett and the self-explanatory Summer: The Donna Summer Musical) and two are new musicals (Frozen and another film-to-stage musical, Mean Girls). There are also two classic revivals (My Fair Lady and Carousel, both of which often appear on people’s all-time favourites) and there’s a short Broadway run for the rock-and-classical hybrid concert show Rocktopia.
Too often, Broadway is about naked cynicism: how to exploit a well-known title for commercial gain, whether it be the back catalogue of slacker hero Jimmy Buffett (Escape to Margaritaville that opened on Broadway last week) or putting SpongeBob SquarePants on stage, which opened last December.
But what is also exciting is how Broadway genuinely makes room for experiment, innovation and surprise. It’s not just Hamilton that has broken new ground in rejuvenating the musical form. Last year’s Tony winner for best musical was Dear Evan Hansen, a truly original show about a young student who gets trapped in a consoling lie to the parents of a fellow student who has committed suicide. Another hit of last season is Come from Away, a superb production based on the true story of flights diverted to Newfoundland on 9/11.
This year, the musical to beat at the Tonys looks likely to be The Band’s Visit – not to be confused with Take That’s The Band that has just been announced for a Christmas West End run at the Haymarket. It’s based on a 2007 film about an Egyptian band that goes to play in Israel. As Ben Brantley wrote in his review for the New York Times, it is “a Broadway rarity seldom found these days outside of the canon of Stephen Sondheim: an honest-to-God musical for grown-ups.”
None of this spring’s crop of new musicals seems likely to match it for originality and daring. But, viewed as a whole, Broadway still has plenty to entice theatregoers through its doors.
And this spring’s new productions of plays also keep up the encouragement. Plays typically run for limited seasons rather than open-ended ones, but Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will certainly buck that trend. And if new plays are otherwise in desperately short supply ie entirely absent, there are plenty of revivals of classics, from Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and O’Neill (The Iceman Cometh) to Stoppard (another London transfer for the Menier’s Travesties), Shaw (Saint Joan), Albee (Three Tall Women), Kenneth Lonergan (Lobby Hero) and Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God).
Already, openings are lining up for the summer months (usually a post-Tony Awards deadzone), with Broadway bows for an all-star revival of the gay classic The Boys in the Band (opening May 31), and new musicals Gettin’ the Band Back Together (August 13) and Pretty Woman: The Musical (August 16).