A little less glitz on Broadway this season

By Mark Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 3:31 a.m. MDT

In this theater publicity image released by The Hartman Group, Richard Fleeshman, left, and Caissie levy are shown in a scene from "Ghost The Musical." "Ghost The Musical" is one of the new anticipated productions coming this season.

Sean Ebsworth Barnes, Sean Ebsworth Barnes, Associated Press

NEW YORK — If Broadway last season was dominated by a glitzy Spider-Man, Broadway's new season seems to be shaping up more like his workaday alter ego Peter Parker.

A quieter, less risky year is in the cards, with fewer big movie stars hitting the boards and less razzle-dazzle in favor of more tried and tested material. Spidey's follies have given way to Sondheim's "Follies."

Last year's big celebrity draws — Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Kiefer Sutherland, Daniel Radcliffe, Pee-wee Herman, Vanessa Redgrave, Ben Stiller, Edie Falco — give way to seasoned stage stars such as Michael Cerveris, Matthew Broderick, Frank Langella, Alan Rickman, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, John Lithgow, Lily Rabe and Cynthia Nixon.

Along with those established stars will be veteran writers: Arthur Miller, Noel Coward, Woody Allen, Athol Fugard, Tennessee Williams, Terence Rattigan, Theresa Rebeck, David Auburn and David Henry Hwang.

The new season actually began right after the Tony Awards with the official opening of a little musical called "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." After a full season of previews, accidents, mocking, rejigging and cancellations, the $75 million show has settled down to become a consistent top earner.

Perhaps the spectacle at the Foxwoods Theatre affected producers this year — huge risky gambles with splashy, overtly commercial productions seem to have been greatly minimized. For many shows, either the actors or the material has already proven its strength. And following a season that had plenty of new musicals and relatively few play revivals, the reverse is now the case.

One of the most anticipated plays will be Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," a fictional drama about the night before the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Two other emerging female playwrights also make their Broadway debuts. Lydia R. Diamond offers "Stick Fly," a drama about a well-to-do black family with Alicia Keys producing, and Lisa D'Amour brings her darkly comic play "Detroit" in the spring.

The first new musical — and one of the few — will be "Bonnie & Clyde," starring Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan as the bank-robbing lovers with music by Frank Wildhorn. The stars might not be household names, but they're old hands with gorgeous voices. Wildhorn, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from his last season offering "Wonderland," which was poorly received.

There will be four musical revivals: Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita"; Stephen Schwartz's "Godspell"; "Funny Girl" with Ambrose; and Sondheim's "Follies," which wowed the crowds in Washington, D.C., and kept the cast of Peters, Jan Maxwell and Elaine Paige for the drive north.

The musical about Eva Peron marks the first time the Tony Award-winning musical has been mounted on Broadway since it made its way there more than 30 years ago. Casting has been wily, with a mix that includes a celebrity (Ricky Martin plays Che), a theater pro (Cerveris will be Juan Peron) and an emerging talent in Argentine actress Elena Roger, who got rapturous reviews in the title role in London.

Laying the groundwork for the "Evita" revival will be the original stars together in concert. Patti LuPone (the original Eva) and Mandy Patinkin (her Che) will perform their touring concert at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. During the show, LuPone and Patinkin sing songs by Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Another show imported from London will be "End of the Rainbow," a play with music about Judy Garland's last few months alive, starring Tracie Bennett. From closer to home — Chicago's Goodman Theatre — comes the new comedy "Chinglish" by Hwang.

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