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Howard Sherman: Which musicals will be Broadway contenders next season?

Cleavant Derricks and AnnEliza Canning- Skinner in Revival: The Resurrection of Son House. Photo: Goat Factory Media
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A few days after the announcement of the Tony Awards nominations for 2018-19 is perhaps too early to start reading tea leaves for how the next Broadway season will shape up.

But the industry guide Theatrical Index is already listing 23 Broadway projects under ‘Scheduled to Open Next Season’, with the first of those, a revival of Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, due at the end of this month, so perhaps it’s not premature after all.

The first big Broadway musical of 2019-20 is the stage adaptation of the film Moulin Rouge! in late summer. The musicals roster also promises Jagged Little Pill, Tina – a hit in the West End – and Ivo Van Hove’s take on West Side Story.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical review at Aldwych Theatre, London – ‘a belting performance from Adrienne Warren’

But when it comes to new musicals, looking beyond Broadway can reveal productions that may yet be players in the coming season. It’s also a reminder of the almost inextricable relationship that now exists between non-profit institutional theatres in the US and their commercial counterparts.

Tomorrow night, Revival: The Resurrection of Son House opens at Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York State, with Keith Glover writing the book and directing the chronicle of the real-life blues musician whose life took him from Mississippi to Rochester itself.

Only 20 or so blocks south of the theatre district, the Atlantic Theater Company has a musical version of Sue Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees opening in June. Already adapted as a film, the musical boasts a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, a score by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik, and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, who wrote Jelly’s Last Jam.

Also opening in June, just outside of the theatre district at Playwrights Horizons, is the musical A Strange Loop, with book, music and lyrics by Michael R Jackson. The synopsis would seem to justify the title: “Usher is a black, gay writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a black, gay writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical.” Stephen Brackett directs.

In San Diego, where the Old Globe Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse have been steady incubators of new musicals, the Globe has a summer production of The Tale of Despereaux, adapted both from the book by Kate DiCamillo and the subsequent animated film. The book, music, and lyrics are created by the collective PigPen Theatre Company, a troupe that has toured widely with their show The Old Man and The Old Moon, collaborated with Trevor Nunn on a production of Pericles, and is also working on a stage version of the novel Water for Elephants. Beautiful’s Marc Bruni co-directs with the ensemble.

Last summer, Joe Iconis’ Be More Chill played a sold-out limited run Off-Broadway before moving to Broadway this spring, and his newest show Broadway Bounty Hunter is set up in the same type of summer berth this year. Annie Golden plays the title role in that rare bird, a musical not adapted from any other source, and Jennifer Werner both directs and choreographs. Unlike the other shows here, this is a commercial run from the start.

Berkeley Rep, original home to this season’s Ain’t Too Proud, will premiere the first musical by actor John Leguizamo, Kiss My Aztec!, a comic look at the colonialism of the Spanish conquistadors. Leguizamo shares book-writing duties with Tony Taccone and lyric-writing responsibility with David Kamp and Benjamin Velez; the score is by Velez and Taccone directs. The La Jolla website carefully points out to the audience that Leguizamo, whose solo show Latin History for Morons is now on Netflix, will not be appearing in the musical, but that “other fantastic actors will be performing”.

In its upcoming season, New York Theatre Workshop will be home to a stage version of the 2016 film Sing Street, about Irish youths in the 1980s who form their own band, but instead of the R&B classics that fuelled The Commitments, on screen Sing Street featured an original musical score that wittily riffed on late 1970s glam and 1980s New Wave styles. Enda Walsh is writing the book, with a score by Gary Clark and John Crowley. Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony for her staging of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, will direct.

While institutional companies have been announcing new seasons for weeks, even months, there are still plenty of opportunities for new works to end up on 2019-20 rosters. If successful, any of them could move on to further life on Broadway, where new shows could be announced as late as January or February and still be part of the new season.

And if this sampling of shows that could become contenders in the coming 12 months isn’t enough, there are already new musicals at regional theatres announced for the summer of 2020, including Swept Away, slated for Berkeley Rep with a book by John Logan and music and lyrics by the Avett Brothers, and The Outsiders at The Goodman Theatre, based on the young adult favourite that’s now more than 50 years old, with a book by Adam Rapp and a score by Jamestown Revival and Justin Levine.

Howard Sherman is a New York based arts administrator and advocate. Read his latest column every Friday at thestage.co.uk/author/howard_sherman/

Tony Awards 2019: Nominations in full

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