What’s New?

Happy New Year!

I’ve been researching what’s new in new works for 2014. Since the regional theatre season announcements won’t be out for another couple months or so, I’m particularly interested in what new plays and musicals might be coming to New York, as I am planning an East Coast trip for April with a Manhattan stop.  But what is “new” these days?

It takes so long for a musical to get any kind of full production that by the time it opens on Broadway or Off Broadway, it may have been around for a decade in one form or another.  And it isn’t much easier to get a real New York opening for a play either.  I’m far from an expert, but from what I can glean, unless you’re a  playwright with a proven track record with a well-earned (but nevertheless rare) oil slick directly from Steppenwolf to Broadway, even a great play takes years: a regional production (or two), prizes and great reviews, and lots of luck and savvy backers and team members to get it to New York.

Stephen Sondheim said in the recent, excellent HBO documentary “Six by Sondheim” that Broadway used to be a place where new musicals would – after a brief out of town tryout – come to live or die.  It’s been a long time I think since that happened.  Now, it’s multiple workshops and readings and new works festivals and productions (where, if possible, they avoid calling it the “world premiere”) and tweaks and changes and re-writes.

Depending on who you talk to, this is mostly a good thing.  Theatre is a living,  breathing thing and it needs an audience to become what it can be.  Until a playwright hears the actors speak her words in rehearsal, and hears the audience respond at a reading, the line can’t be “done”; you can’t know if the scene works or if the flow is quite right.  To the extent all the time it takes for a new work to become a full world premiere is process, this is a good thing.  However, much of the extra delay is unfortunately due to the perceived and real economic risk of new theatre.  This is one of the myriad reasons our vital regional and smaller, independent theatre companies doing new work are so indispensable.  Without their nurturing of new voices and providing labs and stages for these early efforts, the first years of these multi-year journeys just wouldn’t happen.

So, what caught my interest in the upcoming New York offerings?  Here are a few among many promising new works:

If/Then –  A new musical by the creative team behind Next to Normal and starring Idina Menzel.

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel

The show was called a “winning blob” in a rather delightful review of its Washington D.C. run by Peter Marks,  which provides a great example of how a new musical can benefit from a pre-Broadway run, assuming of course that Marks was right – which I bet he was – and further assuming the creative team listened and made some corresponding changes.

Realistic Joneses — While I find somewhat distasteful the concept of “hot” or “fashionable” theatre artists, this playwright and director fit that description:  Written by playwright Will Eno and directed by Sam Gold, starring Michael C. Hall, Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei and Tracy Letts, this play about neighboring couples with the same last name and other things in common, premiered at Yale last year and will have its first preview in New York next month.

Act One — I loved this autobiography by Moss Hart and now the wonderful James Lapine has made part of the book  into a play under commission from the Lincoln Center Theatre.  Starring Tony Shalhoub who also participated in the developmental readings of the show at the Vineyard Arts Project last summer.  Opening in April.

Outside Mullingar — Pulitzer, Oscar, and Tony winning playwright John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) has a new play opening in a few weeks starring Brían F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing.


All the Way – I predict a Tony nom for this great play by Robert Schenkkan, directed by Bill Rauch (Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which originally commissioned the play and mounted its first production) and starring Bryan Cranston, Michael McKean, and Brandon J. Dirden.

P.S.  Additional bits and pieces:  I don’t know why The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – adapted by Simon Stephens from the novel by Mark Haddon – and which has won rave reviews and multiple awards in London,  including Best New Play of 2013, is not yet slated for a Broadway transfer.  It doesn’t make sense to me – it’s a great book and from all accounts a great play; it must be in the works but it’s not even on Playbill’s “In the Works” section of  the many possible 2014/2015 New York shows without dates or theatre details yet announced. [update:  Curious Incident IS coming to New York in the fall of 2014!] Of those, here are some of the more interesting:

David Cromer will be directing Nicole Kidman in a production of Sweet Bird of Youth;  Suzan-Lori Parks has written a new musical about the life of entertainer Ray Charles called Unchain My Heart, the rock musical The Toxic Avenger by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan (which had a successful Off-Broadway run in 2009) is casting for what they assert may be a pre-Broadway run at Houston’s Alley Theatre, Crystal Bowersox and Annette O’Toole will star in a new musical about Patsy Cline, The Roundabout is doing a revival of Dancin’,  the Bob Fosse revue; and, we’ll need to wait for 2015, but Hugh Jackman is coming back to Broadway in a new musical about Houdini written by Stephen Schwartz and Aaron Sorkin — sounds worth waiting for.  [Update 1/2/14: just heard that Hugh Jackman quit the Houdini project which is still going forward)

I wish you a great 2014 and encourage you to support new works at every stage (pun intended.)

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