broadway preview: the stars come out

Whitney Spaner, 02/03/2010

Now that film stars are as common in Broadway productions as spunky Midwestern kids with big dreams and small suitcases are at the Port Authority, you can catch glimpses of celebrities casually sitting in the audience to support their friends and family. A few nights ago, at the Cort Theater on West 48th Street, I was seated behind Naomi Watts. She was smiling and chatting at the end of the play, no doubt proud of her husband—and fellow film star—Liev Schreiber, whose performance as Eddie Carbone in the new revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge was spectacular.

In addition to A View From the Bridge, 2010 also brings the revival of several other classic plays and musicals. (Proven material tends to attract celebrities like Schreiber and Denzel Washington; they can be comforting in a way, reminding audiences that we've been through hard times before.) As for new material this season, Broadway continues to mine pop culture to produce big shows for the masses, but this season also features smaller affairs. Here are 12 shows to look forward to in the first few months of the new decade.

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber. Photo: Joan Marcus

A View From the Bridge 
Scarlett Johansson makes her Broadway debut alongside Liev Schreiber in Arthur Miller's 1955 drama about a longshoreman who falls in love with his niece (Johansson). Betrayal and tragedy quickly follow. After Johansson received rave reviews for her performance (a rarity among film actresses' stage debuts), she was elated, telling that staying in New York was well worth forgoing the Hollywood awards season. "I'd give any awards show for this. Not that awards shows aren't fun. They're a wonderful part of the Hollywood community, but now I'm a part of the Broadway community." And we're happy to have her.

Denzel Washington is giving Broadway another go after his debut in 2005 as Brutus in Julius Caesar (his reception from critics was lukewarm). He was famously snubbed at the Tony Awards that year, but as Troy Maxson—the charming, adulterous, tragic hero in Fences, one of August Wilson's plays in his famous Pittsburgh Cycle—Washington may fare better come the awards show next year. Regardless, he has big shoes to fill—after all, James Earl Jones originated the part in 1987. Last year's Oscar nominee for best supporting actress, Viola Davis, plays the role of his strong, long-suffering wife, Rose.

Kelsey Grammer. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

La Cage aux Folles 
It's surprising to see yet another revival of La Cage aux Folles, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's colorful musical about a drag queen club in Saint Tropez, after an unsuccessful six-month run only five years ago. But this new production is transferring from the resourceful Menier Chocolate Factory in London, where recent successful productions of Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music got their start. It will be interesting to see sitcom staple Kelsey Grammer star as Georges, the more masculine half of the gay couple who owns the club, and it's always fun to watch the leggy Cagelles perform in drag.

Kristin Chenoweth. Photo: Tony D'Orio

Promises, Promises 
After a few years in Hollywood, Broadway's reigning queen, Kristin Chenoweth, takes her rightful spot back on stage in Promises, Promises, alongside Will & Grace's Sean Hayes. Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach's swinging '60s musical was based on Billy Wilder's film The Apartment. It was heralded as the first of its kind in 1968 for its rhythmic beats and racy subject matter (think: sex in the workplace). Although less than revolutionary now, the cast and fabulous dance numbers like "Turkey Lurkey Time" will be something to see.

Christopher Walken. Photo: Joan Marcus

A Behanding in Spokane 
To meet this year's blood-and-gore quota, Martin McDonagh returns to Broadway—after picking up a few Oscars in Hollywood last year for his film In Bruges and his short Six Shooter—with the world premiere of this new play (his first to be set in America). A Behanding in Spokane has a plot that would make the Coen Brothers drool, involving a man (Christopher Walken) who is trying to retrieve his missing hand from two crooks, played by Hurt Locker star Anthony Mackie and Broadway's resident hipster Zoe Kazan. Sam Rockwell adds to the hysteria as a jumpy hotel clerk.

Laura Linney (left) and Alicia Silverstone. Photo: Joan Marcus

Time Stands Still 
In Time Stands Still, an intimate and introspective new play by Donald Margulies, Laura Linney—an actress who can pretty much do no wrong—plays a trust-fund baby who gets her kicks by photographing Middle Eastern war zones. When she's injured by a roadside bomb, her longtime boyfriend and fellow war journalist, James (Brian d'Arcy James), brings her home to their Brooklyn loft, which proves to be quite the adjustment. Any chance to see Linney act is worth it, and co-star Alicia Silverstone more than holds her own against Linney and Broadway vets Brian d'Arcy James and Eric Bogosian.

Connie Ray, Sean Dugan, Cotter Smith, Patrick Heusinger, Maddie Corman and Patrick Breen. Photo: Francesco Carrozzini

Next Fall 
Written by first-time playwright Geoffrey Nauffts, Next Fall is about a long-term relationship between two gay men who share a life but not always the same view. One is an atheist, but the other (played by the very good-looking Patrick Heusinger) believes you can't get to heaven without believing in Jesus. When first produced last year at Naked Angels theater company, it received fairly good reviews, but it's going to take a rave for this little-play-that-could to make it to the Tony Awards.

Photo: Joan Marcus

Sondheim on Sondheim 
With his 1973 musical A Little Night Music revived on Broadway this past December, audiences were once again reminded of Stephen Sondheim's lyrical and musical brilliance. Sondheim on Sondheim began as iSondheim, a multimedia retrospective produced last year in Atlanta, and now (after a much-needed name change) the show will star Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and Leslie Kritzer, among others.

John Gallagher, Jr. (left) and Tony Vincent. Courtesy,

American Idiot 
You wouldn't think the spiky-haired, eyeliner-wearing members of punk-rock band Green Day would even want to see a Broadway show—let alone make one—but the same could be said about The Who, and we all know how popular Tommy became. This new musical, based on Green Day's 2004 concept album American Idiot, is directed by Michael Mayer, Broadway's hippest director, and debuted this past fall at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in San Francisco to a sold-out crowd. Spring Awakening breakout star John Gallagher Jr. plays Johnny, an angst-ridden kid from Middle America who leaves to find a better life in the big city, only to discover drugs, addicts and more angst. In the last decade, jukebox musicals and pop songwriters like Duncan Sheik, Boy George and, more recently, David Bryan from Bon Jovi proved to be fixtures on the Great White Way, but are there enough hoodie-wearing, hair-dye-happy preteens to make this musical a success? Perhaps. Regardless, the producers are hoping that audience members will have the time of their lives.

Kevin Chamberlin (center) and company. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Addams Family 
Inspired by Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons rather than the popular television series or movie franchise of the same name, the musical version of America's freakiest family reportedly has had a lot of work to do between its out-of-town tryout in Chicago and its Broadway debut. But with a mouthwatering cast, including Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia and Nathan Lane as Gomez, there's still hope that it will do the original Addams Family proud. (Besides, we hear there's a tap-dancing-on-a-coffin sequence that's to die for.)

John Selya and Holly Farmer. Photo: Greg Mooney

Come Fly Away 
The music of Frank Sinatra will be given the Twyla Tharp treatment this spring, and let's hope Ol' Blue Eyes fares better than Bob Dylan did when the famous choreographer set Dylan's music catalog to dance in 2006 for the ill-fated The Times They Are A-Changin'. But with the help of some of her regular star dancers, like John Selya and Rika Okamoto, Tharp's picked herself up, dusted herself off and is stepping out with Sinatra, looking to bring back the success she experienced with Movin' Out, her 2002 ode to Billy Joel. This new show features 15 dancers and a 19-piece band, and incorporates classic Sinatra songs like "My Way" and "Fly Me to the Moon."