FEATURE: 2019 Fall Season Preview

FEATURE: 2019 Fall Season Preview

The city that never sleeps also boasts a theatre scene that never sleeps.  While the fall season doesn’t kick into gear until after Labor Day, this past summer saw a handful of notable productions on the boards. 

On Broadway, a well-reviewed but sparsely attended revival of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon (read my review) opened in May and closed a month early.  In contrast, the Broadway transfer of the Public Theater’s “Sea Wall/A Life” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge (read my review) continues to pack them in, as does “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” (read my review), which now holds claim to the second highest ticket price on Broadway (after “Hamilton”) and more songs per minute than any other musical, ever.  

Off-Broadway, a trio of superb new musicals opened this summer: Michael R. Jackson’s “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons (read my review), Dave Malloy’s “Octet” at Signature Theatre (read my review), and Lynn Nottage, Duncan Sheik, and Susan Birkenhead’s “The Secret Life of Bees” at Atlantic Theater Company.

As for plays, Bess Wohl’s “Continuity” at Manhattan Theatre Club (read my review) and “Make Believe” at Second Stage (read my review) were highlights of the summer, along with Halley Feiffer’s “Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow” at MCC Theater (read my review), Chris Urch’s “The Rolling Stone” at Lincoln Center Theater (read my review), and Lydia R. Diamond’s “Toni Stone” at Roundabout Theater Company (read my review). 

Also, “Bat Out of Hell—The Musical” was a thing that happened (read my review).

With the summer now behind us, below is an overview of all that’s coming this fall (spoiler alert: it’s a lot). 

In addition to the two plays and one musical that opened over the summer, the fall season on Broadway will feature six new plays, three play revivals, three new musicals, two magic shows, one snow show (!), one “theatrical concert”, and one “hip-hop, improv, live music experience”.

Fresh from a sold out run on the West End, a revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal”, a searing drama about an illicit affair, opened last night starring Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox (review forthcoming) (runs through December 8th at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre).  Later this fall, Roundabout Theatre Company will present a revival of Tennessee Williams’s “The Rose Tattoo”, starring Marisa Tomei as a widow who rekindles her desire for love, lust, and life in the arms of a fiery suitor (opens October 15th; runs through December 8th at the American Airlines Theatre).

Turning to new works, playwright Robert Schenkkan returns to Broadway with “The Great Society”, the second installment of his LBJ series following the success of 2014’s “All the Way”; this time Brian Cox plays the role of President Johnson in the years 1964 to 1968 (opens October 1st; runs through November 30th at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre).  Following a sold out run at New York Theatre Workshop last fall (read my review), “Slave Play”—Jeremy O. Harris’ provocative play about race, love, sex, and sexuality in 21st-century America—makes the leap with most of its stellar cast intact (opens October 6th; runs through January 5th at the Golden Theatre).  Here’s a tip: you do not want to miss this one.

Manhattan Theatre Club presents the acclaimed West End production of French playwright Florian Zeller’s “The Height of the Storm”, starring Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins as a married couple whose erstwhile happy life together unravels (opens September 24th; runs through November 17th at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre).  Mary-Louise Parker makes the first of her two Broadway appearances this season in Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside”, a gripping two-hander about an encounter between a writing professor and her challenging student that received raves at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018 (opens October 17th; runs through January 12th at Studio 54).  And Second Stage Theater presents the Steppenwolf production of Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts’ “Linda Vista”, a comedic look at one man’s mid-life crisis (opens October 10th; runs through November 10th at the Helen Hayes Theatre). 

Perhaps the most notable new play of the entire season will be Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance”, an epic, two-part, modern adaptation of E.M. Forster’s “Howard’s End” set among a group of Millennial-aged gay men in New York as they contend with the legacy of the AIDS crisis (read my review from London) (opens November 17th at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre).  After seeing it in London last December, I can safely predict this will be THE play of the year.  Get tickets now.

Like last season, it is a light fall for new musicals on Broadway.  Following a North American tour, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical”, based on the hit young adult book series, will play a limited run (opens October 16th; runs through January 5th at the Longacre Theatre); I saw the Off-Broadway iteration in 2017 and found it thoroughly charming.  Adrienne Warren *becomes* the titular diva in “TINA: The Tina Turner Musical” (read my review from London) (opens December 5th at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre) and “Jagged Little Pill”, a new musical inspired by Alanis Morissette’s eponymous 1995 album, makes its bow after generating good buzz at A.R.T (American Repertory Theatre) in Cambridge in 2018 (opens December 5th at the Broadhurst Theatre).

And now for something completely different: English mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown makes his Broadway debut with “Derren Brown: Secret” (opens September 15th; runs through January 4th at the Cort Theatre), Lin-Manuel Miranda presents “Freestyle Love Supreme”, a “hip-hop, improv, live music experience” created 15 years ago and presented Off-Broadway last year (opens October 2nd; runs through January 5th at the Booth Theatre), and music legend David Byrne appears in “American Utopia”, a theatrical concert presentation of his latest album with choreography and musical staging by Annie-B Parson (opens October 20th; runs through January 19th at the Hudson Theatre). 

A trio of holiday offerings will brighten the season (and keep some theatres warm for their spring tenants): a revival of Russian clown Slava Polunin’s “Slava’s Snow Show” (November 13th-January 5th at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre), perennial magic variety show “The Illusionists—Magic of the Holidays” (read my review from last season) (November 29th-January 5th at the Neil Simon Theatre), and the Old Vic’s production of Jack Thorne’s new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” (read my review from London) (November 20th-January 5th at the Lyceum Theatre).  It may sound basic (and the logo is cheesy), but this “A Christmas Carol” is a very special production of a well-known classic that is worth seeing.

As a teaser for the spring, Belgian auteur Ivo van Hove’s new production of “West Side Story”—the first-ever without Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography—starts previews at the Broadway Theatre on December 10th.  Something’s coming.  Will it be good?  Stay tuned to find out.

The Off-Broadway (and Off-Off etc.) season contains way too many productions to list, but below are some of the highlights of the fall:

  • Jacqueline Novak’s acclaimed comedy show “Get On Your Knees” continues at the Lucille Lortel Theatre until October 6th

  • Cusi Cram’s “Novena’s for a Lost Hospital” for Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is a site-specific communal experience to remember, honor, re-imagine, and celebrate St Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village; starring Kathleen Chalfant (September 5th-October 13th)

  • Roundabout Theatre Company presents “Scotland, PA”, a new musical re-telling of “Macbeth” set in a sleepy Pennsylvania town, based on the eponymous cult film (September 14th-December 8th); in October, Classic Stage Company presents the “real thing”, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” starring Mary Beth Peil and Corey Stoll (October 10th-December 15th)

  • Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, and Christian Borle will star in an intimately-staged revival of “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Westside Theatre that was just extended due to demand (September 18th-January 19th); bonus: Gideon Glick steps into the role of Seymour for two weeks in November

  • After a five year absence, “Forbidden Broadway”, the beloved musical satire show that lovingly ribs the Broadway community, is back with a new production entitled “The Next Generation!” (September 18th-November 30th)

  • MCC Theater presents the much-anticipated (and perhaps Broadway-bound) premiere of “The Wrong Man”, a new musical by Ross Golan starring Joshua Henry and directed by Thomas Kail of “Hamilton” and “Fosse/Verdon” fame (September 18th-October 27th)

  • The Public Theater presents a killer fall season, including the New York premiere of David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s new musical-within-a-play “Soft Power” (September 24th-November 3rd), a revival of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf” starring Jocelyn Bioh (October 8th-November 17th), and a rare staging of Tony Kushner’s first play “A Bright Room Called Day” (October 29th-December 8th), which premiered at the Public in 1985

  • jazz singer” is a theatrical exhumation of the first feature-length “sound film” “The Jazz Singer” that interrogates appropriation, assimilation, atonement, and whether escape from the specter of blackface is possible (September 24th-October 12th at the Abrons Arts Center)

  • The York Theatre Company’s Mufti series of rarely seen musicals performed in bare bones productions presents a fall trio of forgotten Cole Porter shows “Fifty Million Frenchmen” (September 28th-October 6th) and “Panama Hattie” (October 26th-November 3rd), and the revue “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” (October 12th-20th)

  • Harvey Fierstein stars as legendary political firebrand Bella Abzug in his new monologue play “Bella Bella” at Manhattan Theatre Club (October 1st-December 1st)

  • A new musical adaptation of “Cyrano” starring Peter Dinklage and with a score by members of The National plays at the New Group (October 11th-November 24th)

  • Signature Theatre’s fall season includes Anna Deavere Smith’s “Fires in the Mirror” (October 22nd-November 24th) and Horton Foote’s “The Young Man from Atlanta” (November 5th-December 8th)

  • Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn presents a revival of groundbreaking playwright María Irene Fornés’s “Fefu and Her Friends” (November 16th-December 8th)

  • And last but not least, New York Theatre Workshop presents the premiere of “Sing Street”, a new musical based on the 2016 film about teenage love and music in 1985 Ireland that is already creating Broadway buzz (November)

Other Noteworthy Goings On
The blessing and curse of covering culture in New York is that there are five things to do and see every night of the week.  Beyond Broadway and Off-Broadway, below is a short list of other noteworthy performances and events I’m looking forward to this fall: 

  • The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center is hosting a free exhibit on legendary producer and director Hal Prince (1928-2019) from September 18th to March 31st; check it out, but also check out these amazing free events

  • A new production of “Porgy and Bess” starts the Met Opera’s new season, with performances from September 23rd to February 1st, and The English National Opera and LA Opera’s production of Philip Glass’s 1983 opera “Akhnaten” will premiere at the Met Opera with performances from November 8th to December 7th

  • Jeremy Jordan kicks off a new season of the New York Pops on October 18th

  • The Glenn Miller Orchestra plays Town Hall on October 19th

  • New York City Center is presenting a two week engagement of “Evita” November 13-24th

  • NT Live will screen the Old Vic’s acclaimed production of “Present Laughter”, starring Andrew Scott, from November 28th

  • Revolutionary tap choreographer Michelle Dorrance’s company, Dorrance Dance, will perform at the Joyce Theater from December 17th to January 5th; take my advice and get tickets (later this season she choreographs the new musical “Flying Over Sunset”)

  • And, of course, the much anticipated film adaptation of “Cats” opens on Christmas Day

If you’ve made it this far, are you exhausted or exhilarated?  I’m a healthy bit of both.  Here’s to a great fall!

tl;dr for September 6th

tl;dr for August 24th