So many shows -- so many stars! Your Guide to NYC Theater 2016/2017

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By ZEALnyc's Theater Editor Jil Picariello, and Contributing Writers, Christopher Caggiano, Megan Wrappe, Justin Sharon, Bob Rizzo, and Dan Bacalzo, September 6, 2016

It's that time of year. Summer music festivals are a distant memory, school buses resume their scheduled routes, and we at ZEALnyc look forward to the a new season of arts and culture here in NYC.

And a busy season it will be! To help you wade through all the offerings coming at us, our writers have been hard at work picking the very best theater coming to New York City this season. From Jake to Bette, plays to musicals, Broadway to St. Ann's we've got you covered. So read away - the new season awaits!

Jil Picariello, Theater Editor

I love revivals. I guess I should have figured that out when my favorite performances from last season included A View From the Bridge, She Loves Me, Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Crucible... And don't get me started on the Lincoln Center Festival presentation of the Globe Theatre's Merchant of Venice, which brought new layers of depth and meaning to the characterizations and the story. Which is perhaps why it's no surprise that five out of the six productions I'm most looking forward to this season are revivals.

The first is an uber-classic, a revival of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Stephen Karam, fresh off his Tony win for The Humans, and directed by Simon Godwin. The cast is blue chip: Diane Lane, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Tavi Gevinson, John Glover, and the elfin icon Joel Grey. Previews begin at the American Airlines Theatre on September 15 for a limited run so grab your tickets pronto.

A dark comedy that's super sexy and stars Janet McTeer fresh off her shrew-taming exercises in Central Park and the owner of the sexiest voice alive, Liev Schreiber? I'm so there. London's Donmar Warehouse is sending Broadway a revival of Les Liasons Dangereuse, about lovers-turned-rivals who challenge each other to a contest of reputation-ruining seduction. Yes, it's what the Reese Witherspoon movie Cruel Intentions was based on, except the play is much, much hotter and better. Based on a 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and written by Christopher Hampton, previews begin October 8 for a limited run.

Can a Shakespeare play be considered a revival? It seems somehow...diminishing. "I went to see a revival of Hamlet," is something no one ever says, maybe because there's no one, in fact there's no one's great-great-grandmother, who remembers the original production. But revived is what the Bard's plays are, with great regularity, and this season is no exception. St. Ann's Warehouse, in their groovy new home in Dumbo's Tobacco Warehouse, is bringing us The Tempest, Phyllida Lloyd's fourth Shakespeare play with an all-female cast, this one again starring Harriet Walter, who did the honors as Brutus in Julius Caesar and the lead in Henry IV. Previews begin January 13 for a limited run.

As if all of that weren't enough, there's Plenty more (sorry). Last on Broadway in 1982 after a transfer from the Public, David Hare's groundbreaking work returns home to the Public on October 4. Hare himself directed the original; this time around David Leveaux takes the helm, directing Corey Stoll and Rachel Weisz as a British secret agent flown into France during World War II. The original production won a bucket of awards and interestingly featured Kelsey Grammar a couple of years before he rose to fame as Dr. Frasier Crane on "Cheers." Plenty interested?

Even better to me than Shakespeare or Chekhov is a revival that sings...literally. And if it features Sutton Foster, well, slap my ass and call me Judy, I am there. The New Group is kicking off their season with a fiftieth anniversary revival of the Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, and Neil Simon charmer, Sweet Charity. The gem-filled musical ("Big Spender," "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This") was conceived, directed, and choreographed back in 1966 by the great Bob Fosse and starred Gwen Verdon as the irrepressible Charity Hope Valentine. This time around, the show will be directed by Leigh Silverman (who helmed Violet, which also starred Foster), with a cast that also features Shuler Hensley and Emily Padgett. Sutton + Cy + Simon + Silverman? There can't be anything better than this! Previews start November 2 for a limited run.

And last, my one-and-only newbie. Since I am always thrilled by an interesting new musical (please go see Dear Evan Hanson everyone), I'm very excited about The Band's Visit, launching previews at the Atlantic on November 11. This one grabs me because it seems such an unlikely idea for a stage musical--but then so did the life of our first treasury secretary, and that turned out okay. Based on the critically-acclaimed 2007 Israeli film, the show has a book by Drama Desk nominee Itamar Moses, music and lyrics by David Yazbek of Full Monty fame, and is directed by David Cromer. John Cariani and the inimitable Tony Shalhoub star.

Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer

Usually, I'm all about the musicals, and indeed I'll be writing a separate preview in the coming weeks about the musicals that are planned for the coming Broadway season that I've already seen elsewhere, to give readers a sense of what to expect. But there are also quite a few non-musicals on Broadway this season that have me quite intrigued--giddy, even.

The first is Oh, Hello on Broadway, which I had the extreme pleasure of attending when it played Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre last December. The show is basically an extended comedy skit, but the comedians here are two of the funniest men currently roaming the planet: John Mulaney and Nick Kroll. Oh, Hello grew out of two characters that the pair have created and embodied--Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mullaney)--and their supposedly comic exploits involving pranking friends and strangers alike by luring them to a diner and presenting them with "Too Much Tuna." That was also the name of the segment featuring Faizon and St. Geegland on the late and lamented Comedy Central offering, "The Kroll Show." If that doesn't sound all that hilarious, the real attraction here lies in the way in which Kroll and Mulaney embody the characters and work with the audience. Previous iterations of the show have also featured famous guest stars, such as Bill Hader, Aziz Ansari, Seth Meyers, Jenny Slate, and Mike Birbiglia. (Oh, Hello on Broadway begins previews on September 23 and opens October 10 at the Lyceum Theatre, and runs through January 8. Alex Timbers directs.)

The second is Burn This, a serious rumination of themes of death and redemption by playwright Lanford Wilson. Burn This was the first straight play I saw on Broadway, back in 1987, and it starred John Malkovich and Joan Allen, who were positively smoldering in the central relationship of the show. A strong play, and well worth bringing back to the Main Stem, but there are two things that make this new production even more exciting. First, the show will be the inaugural production of the newly renovated and reclaimed Broadway house, the Hudson Theatre. The Hudson, built in 1903, hasn't housed a legitimate show since 1967. In recent years, the theater has served as a banquet space and function room for the Millennium Broadway Hotel, but thankfully the Ambassador Theatre Group, which also runs Broadway's cavernous Lyric Theatre, is investing millions to reclaim the Hudson as a legitimate house. Oh, but I'm saving the best for last: guess who's going to starring in this Burn This? None other than Jake Gyllenhaal himself. Gyllenhaal was most recently on Broadway in Constellations, and also proved himself as a bona fide musical-comedy performer in the Encores! concert staging of Little Shop of Horrors. The role of Pale in Burn This will give him a chance to stretch even further. Pale is enigmatic and explosive: The role was a virtuoso feat for Malkovich, and affords Gyllenhaal the opportunity to show the theater crowd what he's really capable of. (Burn This begins previews in February 2017, toward a March 6 opening. Michael Mayer directs.)

And finally, we have The Little Foxes, Lillian Hellman's Southern Gothic potboiler about the Hubbard clan and their backstabbing ways. The play is a bit contrived in its melodrama, but that's part of what makes it so delicious. The central part of Regina Hubbard Giddens has been played by Tallulah Bankhead, Anne Bancroft, Elizabeth Taylor, and Stockard Channing on stage, as well as Bette Davis on screen, so you know it's a meaty role. But for the upcoming Broadway production of The Little Foxes, in a bit of a casting coup, the part of Regina will be played by two actresses, Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon. These two redoubtable performers will be trading off the roles of Regina and her sister-in-law Birdie, much like Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly did with Sam Shepard's True West back in 2000. It remains to be seen whether the dual casting for The Little Foxes will have the same box-office effect as it did on True West: many people wanted to see the show twice to witness two of the finest actors of their generation in the different roles. Linney and Nixon are likewise terrific performers, with undeniable stage presence and vital intensity. If they don't quite have the same above-the-title cachet as Hoffman and Reilly, at least outside the Broadway community, their rotating presence will nonetheless entice theater purists like me to pad the coffers at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre for the show's limited run. (The Little Foxes begins previews on March 29, 2017, toward an April 19 opening. Daniel Sullivan directs.)

Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer

I was brought up on classic musicals, which is why I am so incredibly excited about Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Holiday Inn, which will open on Broadway on October 13 at Studio 54. In this new production, directed by Gordon Greenberg, Jim (Bryce Pinkham) tries to leave his show business career behind, but when he meets Linda (Lora Lee Gayer), a teacher with a knack for the stage, he just can't stay away. Based on the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie, with songs by Irving Berlin, this is about as "Broadway musical" as they come. I for one am so excited to hear one of America's greatest composer's songs on Broadway again. The production is scheduled to run until January 1, 2017 at Studio 54.

I have seen quite a few shows since I first fell in love with theater, but there is one that still stands out--Jonathan Larson's Rent. When I first saw Rent, I knew nothing about it--except how deeply the show impacted me. And with Larson's tragic death just prior to opening night I was even more intrigued about this writer and composer. Happily, the composer's autobiographical Tick, Tick...Boom! is again on the boards with Keen Company's production opening Off-Broadway on October 20, directed by Jonathan Silverstein and starring Nick Blaemir, who has been seen in Godspell. The production runs through November 20 at the Acorn Theater on Theater Row, 42nd Street.

Also opening Off-Broadway at one of my favorite venues at Lincoln Center--LCT3--is Samuel D. Hunter's latest work, The Harvest. When it comes to the work of this playwright, there is never a typical show. The production will be directed by Davis McCallum and tells the story of a group of missionaries preparing to leave for a trip to the Middle East. Unlike the other members of the group, one man who recently lost his father has not purchased a return ticket and plans on staying there. His estranged sister, however, has other plans. Religion, family, and escape collide in this production which is currently scheduled to run through November 20, 2016 at the Claire Tow Theater, which is located on top of the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center.

Justin Sharon, Contributing Writer

I tend to find that the most interesting and illuminating stories are those invariably buried deep inside the daily newspaper. Not that this will stop me from rushing to see The Front Page, a comedy caper that dates to 1928. Ascertaining how well ink-stained fare from almost a century ago holds up in the internet age will be one area of interest. A stellar cast, which includes two Johns (Slattery and Goodman) and one-of-a-kind Nathan Lane, is worth the price of admission alone. And I am a sucker for anything that screams The Roaring Twenties, in this case that brief idyll just before everything all came crashing down, as the Bible of Broadway itself indelibly recorded in one of history's most famous ever front pages. The production begins previews at the Broadhurst Theatre on September 20, opens on October 20, and is scheduled to run through February 5.

To take liberties with the most iconic sentence Jake Gyllenhaal will ever utter, "Stephen Sondheim, I wish I knew how to quit you." Alas, I don't, which is why I am so excited about City Center's blink-and-you'll-miss-it revival of Sunday in the Park with George, headlining the Hollywood heartthrob. Truth be told, absent splurging several Benjamins on a short-lived production that is sure to garner Hamilton-level hysteria, I likely won't get to see this revival in a month of Sundays, as it were. But that won't stop me from trying to snare a ticket. Having seen the Patinkin-Peters Pulitzer Prize-winning original in another lifetime, I can't wait to see how this one compares. A bona fide movie star trying his hand at the work of a master wordsmith on stage? As last year's fiasco involving Al Pacino in David Mamet's China Doll freshly attests, that's not necessarily a can't-miss proposition. Something tells me, however, that this production of Sunday won't suffer a similar case of the Mondays. The production opens at New York City Center with a special gala performance on October 24 and has two more performances on October 25 and 26.

Bob Rizzo, Contributing Writer

"Promise you'll never go away again" will hopefully be the plea from the audience once Bette Midler returns to the Broadway stage as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! Midler is an inspired choice to tackle the role of the legendary matchmaker made famous by original star Carol Channing. She last appeared on Broadway in the 2013 hit play I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers. The Divine Miss M will be seventy-one when the show opens, but so what? Anyone who caught her 2015 Divine Intervention tour would affirm that she still delivers a robust and lively performance. It doesn't hurt that she's teamed up with Tony and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce (Curtains, "Frasier") as Horace Vandergelder, the unknowing object of her affections. His trademark deadpan delivery in contrast to her charismatic sassiness seems like a match made in musical comedy heaven.

This long overdue revival is produced by Scott Rudin and directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls) . Choreographer Warren Carlyle (After Midnight) is on board to put a spring in the waiters' gallop and give Midler her shining moment in the title song. You can "Bette" there'll be ad-libs aplenty when she descends that famous staircase. Hello, Dolly! begins previews on March 15, and opens on April 20, at the Shubert Theatre. Well, well, hello, Dolly!

Roald Dahl's beloved novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will arrive on Broadway in the spring of 2017. The London production is currently in its fourth and final year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The show opened to mixed reviews but that didn't stop it from breaking house records. American audiences who are familiar with the original 1971 film will recall the unforgettable performance of the late Gene Wilder as the even wilder Willy Wonka. Filling Wilder's shoes in the American stage version will be two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle (Something Rotten! and Peter and the Starcatcher).

While the score will include original tunes by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, you couldn't ask for a better songwriting team than Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman of Hairspray fame to write the additional songs. The likes of Mariah Carey, Maroon 5, Josh Groban, and the cast of "Glee" have covered one of the film's most popular songs, "Pure Imagination." The revamped Broadway version will be directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O'Brien (Hairspray), who's also helming the fall revival of The Front Page starring Nathan Lane. Creating the dance moves in Wonka's whimsical world is Emmy Award winning choreographer Joshua Bergasse ("Smash"). Charlie And The Chocolate Factory will begins previews on March 28, and opens on April 23 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Based on the creative team and star, the whole musical concoction could end up being very scrumdidilyumptious!

Dan Bacalzo, Contributing Writer

I fell in love with the score for William Finn's Falsettos back in the early 1990s, when I was a young gay man coming of age in Wichita, Kansas. Here was a quirky musical gem that featured neurotic yet relatable gay relationships, fraught family ties, and a moving story of community in the face of the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. I'm thrilled that the tuner is returning to Broadway in a production starring such terrific actors as Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, and Stephanie J. Block, and helmed by the musical's book writer, James Lapine. The production begins previews at the Walter Kerr Theatre on September 29, opens on October 27, and is scheduled to close on January 8, 2017.

Simon McBurney and his company Complicite have produced some amazing theatrical works that combine gripping storytelling with ingenious design. Their latest effort, The Encounter, is an immersive experience utilizing aural technology in a way that I don't think has ever been done on Broadway. The production begins previews at the Golden Theatre on September 20, opens September 29 and runs through January 8, 2017. Another theatrical innovator is playwright Qui Nguyen, whose delightful pop culture-infused sensibility--complete with hilariously over-the-top martial arts sequences--firmly established his reputation as part of the Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company. Nguyen's latest play, Vietgone, is being presented by Manhattan Theatre Club, and utilizes his parents' experiences as Vietnamese refugees in what promises to be a wild ride that takes unexpected turns. The production begins previews on October 4 at the company's home at New York City Center Stage 1 and opens on October 25.

The queer and feminist theater company Split Britches presents the world premiere of Unexplored Ordinances at La MaMa E.T.C. Written and performed by downtown legends Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, the show takes inspiration from the unexploded Civil War ammunition buried in New York Harbor as well as the iconic film Dr. Strangelove, while also exploring issues of aging, desire, and uncertainty. The duo will be performing it in repertory with Retro(per)spective, which will allow audiences to see snippets of past work from this extraordinary company, founded in the early 1980s by Shaw, Weaver, and Deb Margolin. The production runs from October 6-23 at the company's home at 66 East 4th Street.

Cover photo (l to r): Laura Linney; Jake Gyllenhaal; Bette Midler; courtesy of artists' websites.
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Jil Picariello, Theater Editor and Contributing Writers Christopher Caggiano, Megan Wrappe, Justin Sharon, Bob Rizzo, and Dan Bacalzo are all frequent writers for ZEALnyc, providing reviews and features on all aspects of theater production.

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