What to see on Broadway in 2017: Bette Midler, Amélie and a chocolate factory
By Alexis Soloski
December 28, 2016
If what’s wanted is farce and tragedy, drama and very black comedy, the inauguration of the 45th president ought to be just the ticket. As pertains to theater, the Broadway spring season promises helicopters and gypsy cabs, woodchucks and gentlemen callers, French naifs sand New York sophisticates – a mix of serious art and candy-coated entertainments.
There’s nothing her to rival the playful innovations of the fall – Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812; Dear Evan Hansen; Oh, Hello; The Encounter – and a few too many works are revivals and movie adaptations. But there’s seemingly sufficient variety. Unless, of course, one falls victim to a Groundhog Day-style loop and must repeat the same show over and over, which is actually how a lot of seasons feel.
Most of the new musicals are not precisely new, with Groundhog Day perhaps the most eagerly awaited of the bunch. Composer Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus have a go at replicating the magic of Matilda in this adaptation of the beloved Bill Murray film, which is part caustic comedy and part Zen koan. Andy Karl stars as a reporter in existential and temporal crisis and the advance reports from London suggest this role might just make him a star. As his character must relive the same day, expect a lot of reprises.
Another film-based London import is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with Christian Borle in the plum-colored finery originally modeled by Douglas Hodge. With any luck this is the show to help Broadway up its dreary concessions routine. An adaptation of a less edible film, Anastasia, with its Hartford Stage pedigree and proven creators (Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens), brings a white Russian to the Great White Way. Amélie, the first post-Hamilton show for actor Phillippa Soo, also owes a debt to cinema, and imports a madcap Frenchwoman.
The rare musical to defy the film adaptation trend is Come From Away, which is based on the true story of planes grounded in Newfoundland just after 9/11. In the present political climate, this may take on an aura of wish fulfillment. And there’s also Bandstand, an original musical that merely sounds like an adaptation, a tale of a ragtag group of second world war veterans aiming to become sultans of swing.
Meanwhile, helicopter blades will whirr as the London revival of Miss Saigon transfers here and petticoats will swish as the indomitable Bette Midler greets Hello, Dolly!
Midler is perhaps the biggest musical star to grace the stage this season. It is seemingly a brilliant concurrence of actor and role and she has the advance box office to show for it.
But many other film and television stars are set to appear in revivals, including Allison Janney (Six Degrees of Separation); Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon (The Little Foxes); Kevin Kline and Cobie Smulders (Present Laughter), Sally Field and Finn Wittrock (The Glass Menagerie), and John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito as a family plus a furniture dealer in Arthur Miller’s The Price.
The Present, a new version of Anton Chekhov’s chaotic first play, stars Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh. August Wilson’s Jitney, the only of his century cycle plays never to have appeared on Broadway, includes a cast of seasoned Wilson interpreters.
The wholly original plays, all of which played off Broadway, include Paula Vogel’s enchanting Indecent, based on true events concerning Broadway’s first lesbian kiss and the obscenity charges that ensued. Meanwhile, the queer hero of Joshua Harmon’s affecting, Significant Other can’t even get a date, let alone a vice rap. Relationship are even trickier in JT Rogers’s shrewd Oslo, in which a couple of Norwegians nearly make peace in the Middle East.
If that all sounds rather serious, though by no means humorless, there’s the purportedly uproarious The Play That Goes Wrong, a farce about a disastrous evening of amateur dramatics. Because it’s funny when it’s a play. Less so when it’s an election.