Broadway’s Spring Preview

Broadway’s Spring Preview: Turns by Bette Midler, Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson
Shows to look forward to include: ‘Picnic,’ ‘Cat on a Hot TIn Roof,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Ann,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ and more

The second half of Broadway’s 2012-13 season, already in progress, got a whole lot more interesting last week.

On Monday, word came that the delectable Bette Midler will star as Tinseltown superagent Sue Mengers in a solo drama.

A day later, news broke that the acclaimed English actress Fiona Shaw will play the Virgin Mary in a one-woman play.

It’s the Divine Miss M versus the even more Divine Miss M.

Broadway works in weird, wonderful ways – and hooray for that. After the lackluster autumn on the Great White Way, we could all use some jolts of excitement, along with shows and stars to look forward to.

Like Tom Hanks, who’s making his Broadway debut playing a rock-star Daily News columnist, and Alec Baldwin who returns to Broadway to tangle with stage rookie Shia LaBeouf.

Also on deck: Scarlett Johansson tackling Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Bobby Cannavale cutting up in Clifford Odets’ “The Big Knife.” And then there are the songs: new musicals from Cyndi Lauper, Roald Dahl’s dark mind, Barry Manilow, the Motown songbook and a member of Phish.

By the end-of-April cutoff for Tony Awards consideration, 20 shows are set to open.

Intrigued? Read on.

Spicy deviled eggs and desperation are on the menu in William Inge’s still-resonant 1953 Pulitzer-winning portrait of small-town women. Their lives change when a cocky, chiseled charmer drifts into town. Maggie Grace (“Taken”), Sebastian Stan (“Gossip Girl”) and Ellen Burstyn star in the Roundabout revival. (In previews; opens tonight at the American Airlines.)

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
She won a Tony for Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.” Scarlett Johansson prowls anew as Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams’ juicy 1955 Pulitzer-winning potboiler. Benjamin Walker plays her boozy husband in a tale bubbling with sexual angst, secrets and lies and a hint of hope. (In previews; opens Thursday at the Richard Rodgers.)

“Manilow on Broadway”
His name is Barry, he is a showman. Brooklyn’s own Barry Manilow returns to Broadway for the first time in two decades, singing hits that made him a star. That means tunes like “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs” and “Copacabana (at the Copa).” The limited engagement, recently extended due to fan demand, runs through Feb. 24. (Previews begin Friday; opens Jan. 24 at the St. James.)

“Bonnie & Clyde” Tony nominee Laura Osnes trades robbing banks for royal treatment. Osnes stars in a fresh take on the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic about a magical makeover. Look for additional R&H songs and tweaks to the tale by ever-clever writer Douglas Carter Beane. “It’s not just a love-at-first-sight story,” says Osnes. (Previews begin Jan. 25; opens March 3 at the Broadway.)

The larger-than-life late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, whose 1988 speech at the Democratic National Convention put her in the national spotlight, was fierce and funny and a recovering alcoholic. “The Practice” Emmy-winner and “Two and a Half Men” star Holland Taylor funnels all that into her solo show. (Previews begin Feb. 18; opens March 7 at the Vivian Beaumont.)

“Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Man magnet Holly Golightly was made famous on film by Audrey Hepburn. On Broadway, “Game of Thrones’ ” Emilia Clarke stars as the good-time girl with a naughty past. Stylish, “romantic … and candid” is how Richard Greenberg, who’s dramatizing the novella, describes the tone of the 1943 New York story. (Previews begin March 4; opens March 20 at the Cort.)

“Hands on a Hard Body”
A, well, driven group of 10 Texans enter a grueling endurance contest in which the prize is a new truck. How’s that for an out-of-the-box idea for a musical? It’s based on the 1997 documentary, with songs by “High Fidelity’s” Amanda Green and Phish’s Trey Anastasio. The book is by “I Am My Own Wife” Pulitzer winner Doug Wright. The cast includes Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster. (Previews begin Feb. 23; opens March 21 at the Brooks Atkinson.)

“Lucky Guy”
In Nora Ephron’s last major work, Oscar winner Tom Hanks takes center stage to demonstrate the rise and fall and rise of reporter Mike McAlary. His coverage of the Abner Louima case for the Daily News won the Pulitzer Prize shortly before McAlary’s death on Christmas Day 1998. Maura Tierney of “ER”and Hanks’ “Bosom Buddies” pal Peter Scolari co-star. (Previews begin March 1; opens April 1 at the Broadhurst.)

“Kinky Boots”
Four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein and Broadway rookie and pop icon Cyndi Lauper are the creative brains behind this sparkly, spike-heeled 2005 movie-turned-musical. This is a rags-to-riches true story of a failing British shoemaker who turns the family business around by making fetish wear. (Previews begin March 3; opens April 4 at the Al Hirschfeld.)

The “Transformers”’ reluctant hero, Shia LaBeouf, is Treat, a petty crook getting by on scams and schemes and crummy daytime TV in North Philadelphia. “30 Rock” Emmy-winner Alec Baldwin is an infamous Chicago gangster visiting the City of Brotherly Love – and getting kidnapped by Treat. Written by Lyle Kessler, the play premiered 30 years ago, but is on Broadway for the first time. (Previews begin March 19; opens April 7 at the Gerald Schoenfeld.)

“Pump Boys and Dinettes”
High-octane gas isn’t the only thing flowing at the gas station and diner alongside a North Carolina highway. There’s also music, thanks to four guys and two gals, who sing about love, life and the nearby shopping mall. (Previews begin March 19; opens April 8 at Circle in the Square.)

Direct from its hit run in London, this musical is based on a typically dark-edged Roald Dahl kids’ book. The story’s about a little girl with big smarts, nasty parents and psychokinetic powers. Matilda (four girls share the role) uses everything she’s got to rid her school of a horrible headmistress. (Previews begin March 4; opens April 11 at the Shubert.)

“Motown the Musical”
The new jukebox musical follows Motown founder Berry Gordy from boxer to music mogul and 1960s star-maker, who launched the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes and Michael Jackson and many others. The show is threaded together with hits from the Motown catalogue and stars Brandon Victor Dixon, a Tony nominee for “The Color Purple.” (Previews begin March 11; opens April 14 at the Lunt-Fontanne.)

“The Nance”
Tony winner Nathan Lane, so great as the prickly overseer on TV’s “The Good Wife,” returns to Broadway as a closeted gay man posing as a straight man playing a gay man on the burlesque circuit in 1930s New York. It’s another offering from Douglas Carter Beane. (Previews begin March 21; opens April 15 at the Lyceum.)

“The Big Knife”
Clifford Odets – take 2. Following on the heels of the revival of “Golden Boy,” this Odets drama stars Bobby Cannavale, fresh from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” He plays a Hollywood actor whose stardom costs him big-time. How timeless is that? (Previews begin March 22; opens April 16 at the American Airlines.)

“The Assembled Parties”
Judith Light and Jessica Hecht star in Richard Greenberg’s drama about a well-to-do upper West Side Jewish family whose lives are shaken and stirred by a houseguest at a holiday party. (Previews begin March 19; opens April 17 at the Samuel J. Friedman.)

“The Testament of Mary”
Fiona Shaw, who won a Tony playing the child-murdering “Medea,” does a total 180. She plays Mary, mother of Jesus, and, in this one-woman show by Colm Tóibín, tells her side of the story about her son’s puzzling life. (Previews begin March 26, opens April 22 at the Walter Kerr.)

“The Trip to Bountiful”
Cicely Tyson stars as Carrie Watts, an aging widow who leaves behind her son and daughter in a small Houston apartment to visit the home where she grew up. Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Williams and Condola Rashad co-star in this tender drama from Horton Foote. (Previews begin March 31; opens April 23 at the Stephen Sondheim.)

“I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers”
In her first Broadway turn in 30 years, Bette Midler plays Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, who amassed an A-list roster of talent in the ’70s (Barbra Streisand and Steve McQueen, included) and gave herself the title of superagent. The play is by John Logan, whose drama about painter Mark Rothko, “Red,” won a Tony. (Opens April 24 at a theater to be announced.)

Circus acrobatics, Bob Fosse choreography and songs by Stephen Schwartz (including the rousing “Corner of the Sky”) are on tap in this musical revival. “Pippin” follows the title character, son of the 8th-century King Charlemagne. The show comes direct from an enthusiastically received run at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre. (Previews begin March 23; opens April 25 at the Music Box.)

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