Can any of the major star-driven plays set to open on Broadway over the next few months match the off-stage drama that consumed the theater world last week? It would be hard for any play to top the rumors and Twitter meltdowns that accompanied Shia LaBeouf‘s eleventh-hour exit from “Orphans” with less than a month to go before its Broadway debut.
But fret not theater fans, stars so big they need only use their first names (“Bette” and ‘Tom” and “Alec”) are still on tap to blaze across the greater Broadway area. After all, it’s nearly spring — that time of year when a horde of Hollywood stars make the cross-country pilgrimage to New York to prove their theatrical mettle — and maybe pick up a Tony Award to boot.
Last season, theater producers benefited enormously from this talent infusion. Thanks to star-studded revivals, such as “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, which arrived with higher ticket prices, Broadway hit a record $1.14 billion in sales in 2011-12, according to the Broadway League.
The lineup of plays and musicals hitting Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters is again a star-studded one, filled with stage newbies and theater veterans. Tom Hanks and Jane Lynch will be making their Great White Way debuts this season (Lynch, jumping in as a replacement in “Annie”), while old hands like Alec Baldwin will again tread the boards.
A number of hot talents are making their presence felt behind the scenes. “Kinky Boots,” a new musical from pop icon Cyndi Lauper, and “Matilda,” a musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book from Australian comedian Tim Minchin, are two shows are arriving with big expectations.
For producers, the appeal of going with a star is obvious. Having someone like Hanks above the title can mean big money. Premium tickets for “Lucky Guy” are currently on sale for $350.
But the hazards can be great too, even for film and TV actors who were enthusiastically received in prior stage engagements. Take Scarlett Johansson: She won a Tony three years ago for “A View From the Bridge” but found that taking on the sultry role of Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” left critics cold.
Here’s a look at some of the stars soon heading for New York stages.
Where/When: Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Previews begin Feb. 18, opens March 7.
Theatrical Experience: Taylor, who wrote “Ann” in addition to starring in it, has been a force in theater for decades, appearing on stage in Los Angeles and New York in plays like “Breakfast With Les and Bess” and the original productions of “Butley” and “The Cocktail Hour.”
Why We’re Psyched: As viewers of “Two and a Half Men” know, Taylor, who plays a man-chasing mother on the popular sitcom, has a dry delivery that can make any quip sing and sting.
In the role of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, she has been given the rare politician who also knew a thing or two about selling a joke. Just re-watch her 1988 DNC speech in which she said George H.W. Bush had been “born with a silver foot in his mouth,” to get a flavor for her populist humor. Taylor couldn’t ask for better material when it comes to getting an audience’s endorsement.
Play: “Hands on a Hardbody”
Where/When: Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Previews began Feb. 23, opens March 21.
Theatrical Experience: He’s no stranger to Broadway, having earned a Tony nomination for “The Will Rogers Follies.”
Why We’re Psyched: Carradine has an easygoing charm and an impressive set of pipes. The star of “Deadwood” and “The Duellists” has picked an idiosyncratic vehicle for his return to the musical theater. “Hands on a Hardbody” is derived from a 1997 documentary about a group of Texans who undergo feats of endurance to win a truck. Think of it as a fresh spin on “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” except a little funnier. With a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright (“I Am My Own Wife”) and music by Phish member Trey Anastasio, there’s plenty of star power to go around in this slice-of-life tale.
Play: “Lucky Guy”
Where/When: Broadhurst Theatre. Previews begin March 1, opens April 24
Theatrical Experience: Pretty limited. This A-lister made his theater debut as a servant in a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, according to the New York Times. “Lucky Guy” marks his first time on Broadway.
Why We’re Psyched: It’s Tom “Forrest Gump” Hanks in a play by the late, great Nora Ephron. Their previous collaborations include beloved romantic comedies like “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” so when they get together they have a history of sparkle. This play centers on a tabloid columnist in 1980s New York, a bygone era before Disney and Guy Fieri took over Times Square. Hanks and Ephron should make for spirited tour guides through all that urban rot.
EMILIA CLARKE & GEORGE WENDT
Play: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Where/When: Cort Theatre. Previews begin March 4, opens March 20
Theatrical Experience: Clarke is a classically trained actress, courtesy of Drama Centre School in London, but this will mark her Broadway debut. Wendt (“Cheers”) has worked on Broadway and in regional theater, appearing in productions of “Elf” and “Hairspray.”
Why We’re Psyched: Clarke’s steely work as an aspiring monarch with a brood of dragons is one of the highlights of “Game of Thrones.”
This Richard Greenberg adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella aims to de-glamorize the story of Holly Golightly and show the desperation behind the glittering facade. If Clarke can stand down Dothraki warrior, she should be more than a match for the ghost of Audrey Hepburn and the beloved movie version.
ALEC BALDWIN & BEN FOSTER
Where/When: Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Previews begin March 19, opens April 7
Theatrical Experience: Zilch in the case of Foster, who was an emergency replacement for Shia LaBeouf. Baldwin was nominated for a Tony for his performance as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1992 and has appeared in plays by the likes of Shakespeare and Joe Orton.
Why We’re Psyched: LaBeouf had planned to use this play to prove that there’s more to him than “Transformers,” but headed for the exit door before hitting the stage. Foster originally auditioned for LaBeouf’s role, but lost out to the bigger star. That’s no knock on his talent. He’s been an intense and gripping presence in films like “The Messenger” and “3:10 to Yuma,” but it remains to be seen whether his cinematic sizzle translates to live theater.
Play: “The Assembled Parties ”
Where/When: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Previews begin March 21, opens April 19
Theatrical Experience: She’s a theater veteran, who most recently picked up a Tony Award last year for her supporting turn in “Other Desert Cities.”
Why We’re Psyched: The stage has been liberating for Light, who made a name for herself in the 1980s sitcom “Who’s the Boss,” but has revealed unacknowledged depths as a performer in challenging dramas like “Wit” and “Lombardi.” If the world premiere of the new drama from Tony Award-winning “Take Me Out” writer Richard Greenberg works out as planned, it will pull back the curtain on the lives of an Upper West Side Jewish family with humor and heart, as only the best plays can.
BOBBY CANNAVALE & RICHARD KIND
Play: “The Big Knife”
Where/When: American Airlines Theatre. Previews began March 22, opens April 16.
Theatrical Experience: Cannavale may be familiar as the terrifying, hot tempered gangster on “Boardwalk Empire,” but he’s no slouch when it comes to theater. He most appeared opposite Al Pacino in last fall’s revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and earned Tony nominations for “The Motherf—er with the Hat” and “Mauritius.” Kind, the inept press secretary on “Spin City,” has appeared as a replacement in such plays as “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and “Sly Fox.”
Why We’re Psyched: It’s not just the stars who arrive with Hollywood pedigree. This revival of Clifford Odets’ play centers on Tinseltown secrets. It’s a noirish tale about a screenwriter forced to compromise his moral code to satiate his studio bosses.
Odets, whose tumultuous stint writing for the pictures in L.A. inspired the Coen Brothers’ movie “Barton Fink,” knew of which he wrote. “The Big Knife” features the dramatist at his most biting and cynical. In other words, just the way we like him.
Play: “The Testament of Mary”
Where/When: Walter Kerr Theatre. Previews begin March 26, opens April 22.
Theatrical Experience: Shaw is known for her small screen work on “True Blood” and as Harry Potter’s muggle aunt in the film franchise, but she’s a legend among theater lovers, with a trophy case full of Olivier Awards to prove it.
Why We’re Psyched: This adaptation of Irish author Colm Toibin’s novella marks the reunion of Shaw and director Deborah Warner, who previously caused critics’ pulses to gallop over their acclaimed productions of “Medea” and “The Waste Land.” Their latest collaboration seems bound to stir controversy, centering, as it does, on Jesus’ mother Mary, who in Toibin’s telling is grappling with the death of her son and somewhat put off by his worshipful disciples. It could be Broadway’s answer to “The Last Temptation of Christ,” making it a must-see for any self-respecting theater devotee.
CICELY TYSON, CUBA GOODING JR., VANESSA WILLIAMS
Play: “The Trip to Bountiful”
Where/When: Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Previews begin March 30, opens April 23.
Theatrical Experience: It’s welcome back time for Tyson, who hasn’t appeared on the Great White Way for 30 years. Prior to her long hiatus, she had more than a half-dozen credits to her name. Williams has appeared on Broadway, mainly in musicals like “Into the Woods” and “Kiss of the Spider-Woman.” Gooding Jr. will make both his Broadway and stage debuts with the play.
Why We’re Psyched: Tyson is an actress of rare power, who has been consigned to supporting roles and glorified cameos in films like “The Help.” Horton Foote’s drama about an elderly woman who desperately wants to visit her hometown one last time will provide her with the kind of meaty showcase she’s been missing. The 1985 film version won Geraldine Page an Oscar. Will this “Bountiful” have a similar impact on Tony voters?
Play: “I’ll Eat You Last”
Where/When: Booth Theatre. Previews begin April 5, opens April 24
Theatrical Experience: The Divine Miss M got her start on Broadway singing “Sunrise, Sunset” as a replacement in the 1967 cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” and went on to win a Special Tony for her revue “Clams on the Half Shell.” But it’s been 30 years since she last appeared on Broadway.
Why We’re Psyched: This one-woman show about chain-smoking super-agent Sue Mengers gives Midler a brassy part she can sink her teeth into. Mengers shattered every kind of glass-ceiling to become one of the most powerful women in Hollywood.
Midler’s life story isn’t so different. Here’s betting she makes audiences remember what they’ve been missing for three decades.
Where/When: Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Previews begin April 7, opens April 22.
Theatrical Experience: Cumming won a Tony for playing the Emcee in the 1998 revival of “Cabaret.” He’s also appeared on Broadway in revivals of “The Threepenny Opera” and “Design for Living.”
Why We’re Psyched: “The Good Wife” scene-stealer won’t have any co-stars to take focus from. This one-man show has Cumming playing all the parts in Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” — from the witches to Macbeth’s missus. He previously mounted a version of the production at the National Theatre of Scotland and the Lincoln Center Festival. Reviews were middling, but regardless of the quality, this kind of endurance act has to be seen to be believed.
JESSE EISENBERG & VANESSA REDGRAVE
Play: “The Revisionist”
Where/When: Cherry Lane Theatre. Previews began Feb. 15, opens Feb. 28.
Theatrical Experience: Extensive. Redgrave hails from one of England’s foremost theatrical families, so she practically grew up on the stage. On these shores, she won a Tony in 2004 for her work in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and nominations for “The Year of Magical Thinking” and “Driving Miss Daisy.” Eisenberg’s stage CV is more slender (whose isn’t?), but he’s performed in theater since he was a teen. He wrote his latest vehicle and made his playwriting debut two years ago with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s production of “Asuncion.”
Why We’re Psyched: It’s hard to think of more diametrically opposed actors. Redgrave is regality personified while Eisenberg seems to pulsate with anxiety and self-doubt. In “The Revisionist,” he will play a science-fiction author struggling with writer’s block, while she will portray his Holocaust survivor cousin. It’s challenging and provocative material, which sounds just about perfect for fans of the pair’s demanding, yet frequently devastating work.
Play: “The Madrid”
Where/When: Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Previews began Feb. 5, opens Feb 26.
Theatrical Experience: Falco has stayed active in Broadway even as her star rose in small screen shows like “The Sopranos” and “Nurse Jackie.” She numbers “Side Man” and revivals of “Frankie & Johnny the Clair de Lune” and “”˜night Mother” among her credits.
Why We’re Psyched: This theatrical world premiere unites Falco with playwright Liz Flahive, who has penned some of the strongest episodes of “Nurse Jackie.” On its best nights, the Showtime series ably combines humor and heartbreak. Not a bad prescription and one that likely applies to this story of Kindergarten teacher who decides to abandon her picture-perfect life.