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.
There will also be two reimagined works: "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" with a new book and with Connick playing a dashing psychiatrist; and a new "Porgy and Bess" in December starring McDonald that has been revised by director Diane Paulus and playwright-librettist Suzan Lori-Parks.
"Porgy and Bess," by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, has a new ending and some character development. It also has some controversy. Sondheim heard about the changes and sneered, kicking up an unusual public spat for a show still in the works and months before its Broadway arrival.
In an odd twist, Gershwin songs will also be heard in another show this season — "Nice Work If You Can Get It," a new screwball musical starring Broderick, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall ("Anything Goes") with a book by Joe DiPietro ("Memphis"). It will be Broderick's first Broadway musical since "The Producers."
Cult films this season are helping fuel two shows: A musical adaptation of the 2003 Tim Burton film "Big Fish" and an adaptation of the movie "Once," about a Dublin musician who falls in love with a Czech singer.
James Earl Jones will bridge last season and the new one, going from the chauffeur in "Driving Miss Daisy" to playing a former U.S. president in a revival of the political play "Gore Vidal's The Best Man" in the spring, just in time for the new election cycle. Jones, who has won two Tonys for "The Great White Hope" and "Fences," is believed to have been the first black actor to play an American president in the 1972 movie "The Man."
Times Square will also be haunted by an adaptation of the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore film "Ghost," making its way from London. The book was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who penned the script for the hit 1990 music, and the music is by former Eurythmics musician Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, who produced Alanis Morisette's "Jagged Little Pill." Casting hasn't been announced yet.
Another sort of haunting will take place when an adaptation of the classic Daphne du Maurier novel "Rebecca" makes its way to Broadway. The story, turned into an Oscar-winning film by Alfred Hitchcock, will have an original book and lyrics by Michael Kunze and music by Sylvester Levay. Though no cast has been named, Sierra Boggess, who just wrapped up "Master Class," is in negotiations to join.
One of the best little-engine-that-could stories this season will be "Lysistrata Jones," a joyful, youthful, basketball-themed musical written by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn that was last seen at a basement gym in Greenwich Village. The musical is loosely based on "Lysistrata," the circa 411 B.C. classical anti-war comedy by Aristophanes. The feel-good spirit surrounding the show would be amplified if its producers chose to cast the same energetic, fresh-faced crew on Broadway.
In the play category this season, two offerings will make the prestigious jump from off-Broadway: Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," which premiered at Lincoln Center Theater starring Stockard Channing last winter; and last year's "Venus in Fur," which will let audiences see Nina Arianda, nominated for a best actress Tony for "Born Yesterday," again in the role that helped catapult her into stardom.
Two plays by respected playwrights make their way to Broadway for the first time in Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Wit" and Fugard's "The Road to Mecca." Meanwhile, a ninth production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" arrives, this time with Blair Underwood and Daphne Rubin-Vega, and an eighth production of Coward's "Private Lives," now with Kim Cattrall.
Two established playwrights also return to Broadway. Auburn ("Proof") has a new play, "The Columnist," which makes its world premiere in April, and Rebeck's "Seminar" debuts starring Rickman, Rabe and Hamish Linklater. This year marks the centennial of Rattigan's birth and the Roundabout Theatre Company has revived his "Man and Boy" with Frank Langella.
Three playwrights combine for one show in "Relatively Speaking." Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Allen each contribute one-act plays that will be directed by John Turturro. Steve Guttenberg and Marlo Thomas are starring.
One of the most anticipated play revivals will be the spring production of "Death of a Salesman" starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, under Mike Nichols' direction. The Arthur Miller classic American tragedy was last seen on Broadway with Brian Dennehy as Loman in 1999, 50 years to the day after the original arrived in New York.
Perhaps the biggest concentration of stars on Broadway will be the night that Anthony Edwards, Morgan Freeman, Cheyenne Jackson, Christine Lahti, Rob Reiner, Yeardley Smith and Marisa Tomei appear in a staged reading of Dustin Lance Black's new play "8'' about California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. It's a one-night only event, set for Sept. 19.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits