Stars Light the Great White Way

Whitney Spaner

Elizabeth Taylor did it, Richard Burton did it and Julia Roberts did it, too: movie stars have always had a special relationship with the Broadway stage. "When it's working, the audience is into it, and you're on Broadway—nothing beats it," says film star Jeff Daniels, one of many actors making the pilgrimage from Hollywood to the Great White Way this spring. The actors come to shake off the glitter and get down to the core of their craft, while producers are happier than ever to use celebrities to sell tickets (especially given the times). Whether they get rave reviews, flub their lines or, ahem, overdose on sushi, audiences will line up to see a familiar face. Here are some must-see shows—and their famous stars—up this season.

33 Variations
There's never a dull moment when Jane Fonda is around. To wit: protesters who remember her as "Hanoi Jane" launched a peaceful demonstration outside the Eugene O'Neill Theatre during a preview performance of 33 Variations, a new play by Tony-winning director Moisés Kaufman. The two-time Oscar winner, not seen on Broadway since before Barbarella, plays a musicologist obsessed with Beethoven's 33 variations of a single waltz. Tom Hanks' son Colin also stars, and an onstage pianist plays Beethoven's music throughout.
Opens March 12 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen both won Tony Awards for their Broadway debuts in the '80s but haven't been back to the stage since. Now starring opposite each other in Impressionism, a new play by American playwright Michael Jacobs, Irons plays a traveling photojournalist who falls for a New York gallery owner (Allen). Directed by Jack O'Brien, a Tony winner for his ambitious three-part production of Coast of Utopia in 2007, Impressionism is a sweeping portrait of the love and healing found in art.
Opens March 12 at the Schoenfeld Theatre.

Blithe Spirit
Angela Lansbury made her Broadway debut in 1957 and has since played almost every character worth the effort in musical theatre (Auntie Mame, Mama Rose in Gypsy and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, to name a few). But she's best known as Jessica Fletcher, the murder-mystery writer with a penchant for bicycles from TV’s Murder, She Wrote. In Blithe Spirit, a revival of a 1941 farce by renaissance man Noël Coward, Lansbury plays Madame Arcati, a psychic who conjures up the spirit of a novelist's not-so-nice first wife, who didn't get the "'til death do us part" memo. My Best Friend’s Wedding's Rupert Everett plays the writer in his Broadway debut.
Opens March 15 at the Shubert Theatre.

God of Carnage
A new play by Yasmina Reza, God of Carnage premiered in London last year and has attracted perhaps the most star-studded cast of this season. James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels play two couples arguing over an altercation their sons had on the playground. Below-the-belt insults are hurled back and forth with expert comedic timing. Gandolfini, known for his role as mob boss Tony Soprano, can't just order a hit to solve this one.
Opens March 22 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Exit the King
Susan Sarandon hasn't been on Broadway since the Nixon era, when she was in, well, An Evening with Richard Nixon and… by Gore Vidal. She returns this year opposite another disillusioned ruler in Exit the King, written by Eugène Ionesco and translated by Sarandon's costar and fellow Oscar winner, Geoffrey Rush. The absurdist comedy revolves around an ailing and incompetent 400-year-old king (Rush), who receives news that he's about to die in 90 minutes (the show unfolds in real time following the grim delivery). Playing his first and second wives are Sarandon and Six Feet Under little sister Lauren Ambrose. (This king has a thing for redheads.)
Opens March 26 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

9 to 5: The Musical
Just as film stars come to Broadway, so, occasionally, do their movies. Dolly Parton has set her sights on Manhattan with this musical adaptation of the 1980 flick that launched her film career. She stays behind the scenes here, but her country twang and working-girl appeal still take center stage in 9 to 5: The Musical; Parton is the show's composer and lyricist (and she even serenaded the audience before a performance when the show previewed in LA). This production features another well-known actress: Allison Janney (of The West Wing and Juno) stars in the role Lily Tomlin made famous.
Opens April 30 at the Marquis Theatre.