Fall Theatre Preview

by Clifton Guterman, Theatre Features Writer

Tired of the off-and-on-again swelter of summer in NYC? Don’t daydream too much about strolling ‘neath falling leaves because you may want to be indoors when you have free time this autumn. Here’s JoyHog’s sneak-peak on buzz-worthy shows, some fun predictions and the occasional don’t-say-you-weren’t-warned caution or two. (Cheat sheet’s at the end…).

Theatre with a capital T.

Serious theatre lovers feast away: Tom Stoppard, months of theatre (literally), lots of actors, big-ass story. Lincoln Center’s intriguing world premiere trilogy, The Coast of Utopia (Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage), centers on political and philosophical movements in nineteenth century Russia seen through the personal lives of several artists and thinkers. Prepare for the long but potentially awe-inspiring haul, especially with picturesque director Jack O’Brien steering. If you’re brave, attend one of a few marathon days and catch all three parts at once. The starry cast includes Ethan Hawke, Martha Plimpton, Billy Crudup, and Josh Hamilton, among others. Also, Shaw’s classic Heartbreak House, about wartime romantic entanglements, gets – I predict – a lush Roundabout revival featuring the ever-quirky and fierce Swoosie Kurtz.

A-Listers and Marquee Makers.

JulianneMoore-jjpg.jpgIs that the sound of major Hollywood star power approaching? Yep: the luminous Julianne Moore soon graces us via The Vertical Hour, a premiere in which she plays a U.S. war correspondent turned academic encountering an Englishman who challenges her existing relationship. Will she fare better on the boards than our favorite toothy Pretty Woman did? With scribe David Hare (whose words she made heartbreaking in The Hours) and director Sam Mendes (um…yeah) guiding Moore, my money’s on a great success. Other luminaries brightening up marques include a solo Ed Harris in Neil Labute’s Wrecks (about a man’s love for his late wife) at the Public Theater, Martin Short in Fame Becomes Me, a “musical mock-autobiography,” Nathan Lane (as a British professor facing marriage and academic woes) in the drama Butley and Kevin Kline in the Public’s sure-to-be-powerful King Lear.
“We’re Goin’ to Broadway!”

Some recent Off-Byway hits are movin’ on up. Playwrights Horizons’ sell-out musical Grey Gardens, based on the 1975 documentary about Jackie O’s relatives Big and Little Edie Beale rotting away in a Hamptons manse, features much-lauded Christine Ebersole re-shouldering two eccentric roles. Critics have already predicted a spring Best Actress Tony win. The Atlantic transfers Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening, a rock treatment of the 1891 Wedekind play, which illuminates the hell sexually repressed teenagers face from clueless adults. I loved it downtown but wonder if it’s too conceptual (and dare I say hip?) for the commercial masses. (Actors “vogue” to songs and pull out mics from period attire.) Also, it’s hard to imagine the show anywhere better than its original home, a converted Chelsea church. In Second Stage’s hit comedy The Little Dog Laughed, by Douglas Carter Beane, a closeted film star must choose between love (with a hustler!) and career success. Off-Broadway, I found the slickly produced show predictable and its characters shallow, but show-stopping Julie White, returning as a ruthless, hilarious power agent, is worth the price alone.

Did somebody say Outlandishly Overpriced Show Merchandise?

Two words: Mary Poppins. Okay, one more: Disney. Visiting families will soon shell out big bucks for graphic-stamped mugs, sweatshirts and umbrellas (I betcha!) after seeing their favorite flying nanny live. Poppins got raves and awards in London, so perhaps the Mouse will save face after its last endeavor, the forehead-scrunching, universally panned Tarzan. With Swan Lake’s Matthew Bourne providing the moves and designer extraordinaire Bob Crowley a darker, grittier setting and clothes, Poppins, helmed by Richard Eyre, could be Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious indeed. Goodness knows the movie’s songs (thankfully maintained) are as addictive as a spoonful of sugar. (Sorry, had to.)

Concept Shows…They Aren’t A-Changin’.

Twyla Tharp’s new musical, The Times They Are A-Changin,’ uses Bob Dylan songs to tell a tale about generational conflict within a family circus act. Just have to say it: Why, Twyla, why? Did flopped concept shows like Ring of Fire and Lennon teach us nothing? (Or Jersey Boys, which actually gets it right?) A plot forced upon preexisting popular songs rarely seems to equal a hit these days. Twyla does have the successful Movin’ Out in her corner…but a circus? Listen closely – you may hear critics chuckling (or sharpening claws) already.