Broad­way to Watch

Ev­ery­one from Cher to King Kong will take cen­ter stage this sea­son on Broad­way

Variety - - Contents - By GOR­DON COX

From Cher to King Kong, the up­com­ing sea­son on the Great White Way is filled with star power and spec­ta­cle.

By GOR­DON COX

There’s al­ways a mo­ment, some­time in the spring, when the the­ater in­dus­try looks ahead and thinks, “Oh, it’s shap­ing up to be a quiet sea­son.” But then domi­nos fall, long- ges­tat­ing plans click into place, sur­prises arise and sud­denly you’ve got a slate as busy as the still- de­vel­op­ing 2018-19 lineup, now in­creas­ingly crowded with splashy mu­si­cals, risky new plays, big-name stars and promis­ing break­out tal­ents. It’s the kind of sea­son where even the cer­ti­fied su­per­star Cher isn’t the 800-pound go­rilla in the room.

As it turns out, the go­rilla isn’t ac­tu­ally 800 pounds — he weighs 2,000 pounds and he’s the ti­tle char­ac­ter of “King Kong.” The am­bi­tious new mu­si­cal, start­ing pre­views Oct. 5 at the Broad­way The­atre (one of the few Great White Way venues big enough for it), brings Kong to mas­sive life with a so­phis­ti­cated com­bi­na­tion of pup­petry styles that range from mar­i­onette to bun­raku to an­i­ma­tron­ics, all ma­nip­u­lated by a team of 14 pup­peteers. Cap­i­tal­ized at a re­ported $35 mil­lion, “King Kong” is one of this sea­son’s big­gest bets.

Backed by Global Crea­tures, the Aus­tralian pro­duc­tion com­pany be­hind hit arena spec­ta­cles in­clud­ing “Walk­ing With Di­nosaurs,” “King Kong” has a ma­jor as­set in Kong him­self, the man­made crea­ture that won raves in the mu­si­cal’s 2013 pre­miere in Aus­tralia. What’s more of an open ques­tion is the rest of the show, which has been in de­vel­op­ment for a decade and gone through a num­ber of creative teams that have in­cluded such high-pro­file the­ater names as Craig Lu­cas, Ja­son Robert Brown and Mar­sha Nor­man.

“This is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ver­sion,” says Car­men Pavlovic, CEO of Global Crea­tures and also the pro­ducer of the buzzy “Moulin Rouge!” mu­si­cal, bound for Broad­way next sea­son. “When we left Aus­tralia, I felt very cer­tain that we’d cre­ated a pup­pet that worked as a char­ac­ter in­ter­act­ing with a hu­man cast on­stage. What I felt less good about was the sto­ry­telling.”

The process since then has seen the cur­rent creative team — com­poser Ed­die Per­fect and play­wright Jack Thorne (“Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child”) — jet­ti­son the 1933 film’s love story and keep the fo­cus on Kong and on ac­tress Ann Dar­row (played on Broad­way by Chris­tiani Pitts). “Ann’s vic­tory will be that she’s changed as a per­son from know­ing Kong,” Pavlovic says.

A few blocks away, an­other mu­si­cal will be giv­ing au­di­ences a spec­ta­cle of a glitzier sort. That’s “The Cher Show,” which is bring­ing the star’s life story to the stage with three dif­fer­ent ac­tresses play­ing Cher, a string of the per­former’s hits, a book by “Jer­sey Boys” Tony win­ner Rick Elice, and a moun­tain of fab­u­lous cos­tumes by Bob Mackie.

For Broad­way reg­u­lar Stephanie J. Block (“Falset­tos,” “The Mys­tery of Ed­win Drood”), who plays Cher along­side Mi­caela Di­a­mond and Teal Wicks, part of the chal­lenge has been to strike a bal­ance be­tween the glam­orous icon and the down-to- earth wo­man.

“Cher is not an ‘ei­ther- or,’” Block says. “She is an ‘and.’ She’s over the top and to­tally grounded. She’s all per­for­mance, and yet hu­man­ity. But both sides of that coin are big. She doesn’t do any­thing small!”

The other mu­si­cal on tap for the fall — “The Prom,” about an In­di­ana high­schooler who’s barred from bring­ing her girl­friend as her date, and the Broad­way stars who de­cide to help her out — is a lit­tle more un­der the radar than Cher and a gi­ant go­rilla. But then, the first show that di­rec­tor- chore­og­ra­pher Casey Ni­cholaw and book co-writer Bob Martin (here work­ing with song­writ­ers Matthew Sk­lar and Chad Beguelin) col­lab­o­rated on, “The Drowsy Chap­er­one,” was un­der the radar, too — and it went on to be­come a Tony-win­ning suc­cess.

All those shows join a 2018-19 mu­si­cal slate that al­ready in­cludes “Pretty Wo­man” (mixed re­views, but big-money box of­fice) and the blink-and-youmissed-it dis­ap­point­ment of “Get­tin’ the Band Back To­gether.”

And then there are the new mu­si­cals ready­ing for the spring: “Toot­sie,” a new take on the 1982 movie that up­dates the gen­der-bend­ing story and moves the ac­tion to the New York the­ater in­dus­try (and just pre­miered in Chicago); “Be More Chill,” the Joe Ico­nis mu­si­cal ar­riv­ing on Broad­way pow­ered by a fer­vent, youth­ful fan base; and “Beetle­juice,” soon to bow in D.C.

The lat­ter has mu­sic by Per­fect, the Aus­tralian com­poser who, as the song­writer on “King Kong” too,

makes his Broad­way de­but this sea­son with not one but two dif­fer­ent scores — one mod­ern and an­themic (“Kong”) and one wildly eclec­tic (“Beetle­juice”).

“I’ve been hooked on Broad­way since my par­ents taped a ra­dio simul­cast of the 1982 pro­duc­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s ‘Sweeney Todd,’ with Ge­orge Hearn and An­gela Lans­bury, onto two cas­settes and stuck them in the tape deck of the fam­ily Kombi Van,” he says.

Mean­while, the 201819 sea­son of­fers more ev­i­dence that, con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, the new play isn’t dead on Broad­way. Along­side such starry re­vivals as “The Waverly Gallery” (with Elaine May, Joan Allen and Lu­cas Hedges), “Torch Song” (Michael Urie, Mercedes Ruehl), “King Lear” (Glenda Jack­son, Ruth Wil­son), “True West” (Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano) and the now- closed hit “Boys in the Band” (Jim Par­sons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer), there’s a ro­bust crop of fresh works.

A cou­ple of them have the ben­e­fit of fa­mil­iar ti­tles, in­clud­ing “Net­work,” com­ing this fall in a stage adap­ta­tion star­ring Bryan Cranston and staged by hot Euro­pean di­rec­tor Ivo van Hove; and “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird,” a new ver­sion of the fa­mous Harper Lee novel adapted by Aaron Sorkin and head­lined by Jeff Daniels. Oth­ers, how­ever, will be en­tirely new to Broad­way-go­ers.

“The Fer­ry­man” lands in New York af­ter ma­jor suc­cess in Lon­don, and marks a Broad­way re­turn for play­wright Jez But­ter­worth af­ter “Jerusalem” and “The River.”

“The thing I’m look­ing for­ward to is be­ing back in town with a big gang,” But­ter­worth says, and he’s not kid­ding. In con­trast to the three- char­ac­ter show “The River,” “Fer­ry­man” has a cast of more than 30, plus four ba­bies, a goose and a rab­bit.

Other new plays touch on timely themes. There’s “The Life­span of a Fact,” which fol­lows the ex­changes be­tween a writer and a fact checker. “It’s timely in the fact that we’re talk­ing about truth and fact, and even men­tion­ing those words is a po­lit­i­cal act now. Which is men­tal,” says Daniel Rad­cliffe, who stars with Bobby Can­navale and Cherry Jones.

“Amer­i­can Son” con­fronts even more ur­gent is­sues: Kerry Wash­ing­ton and Steve Pasquale play a di­vorced cou­ple wait­ing in a po­lice sta­tion for news of their miss­ing teen son. “You have four char­ac­ters, and you can see Amer­ica through the lens of all those dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” says di­rec­tor Kenny Leon.

In “Ink,” the ori­gins of the Mur­doch me­dia em­pire come into fo­cus in James Gra­ham’s U.K. hit, whereas the just- opened “Bern­hardt/ham­let” looks fur­ther into the past — specif­i­cally to 1899, when the great ac­tress Sarah Bern­hardt de­cided to play the ti­tle role in “Ham­let.” Theresa Re­beck’s new play, with Janet Mcteer as Sarah, finds plenty of con­tem­po­rary res­o­nance in a back­stage story of a wo­man boldly claim­ing a role more tra­di­tion­ally oc­cu­pied by a man.

Also on tap this sea­son is some straight-up com­edy in “The Nap” by “One Man, Two Gu­vnors” play­wright Richard Bean, and the emo­tional drama of “Choir Boy,” Tarell Alvin Mc­craney’s well-re­viewed Off Broad­way play about iden­tity, sex­u­al­ity and prep school. Then there’s the ap­peal­ing wild card of a new work by Tay­lor Mac, the Macarthur-win­ning cre­ator of “A 24-Decade His­tory of Pop­u­lar Mu­sic.” His lat­est, “Gary: A Se­quel to Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus,” stars An­drea Martin and one of Broad­way’s big­gest draws, Nathan Lane.

That newly an­nounced show is mostly a mys­tery, for now — just one more tan­ta­liz­ing project to look for­ward to this sea­son.

Star on the LooseIt takes 14 pup­peteers to op­er­ate the tit­u­lar star of “King Kong.”

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