Most Anticipated Shows of the 2015-16 Broadway Season

Chris Peterson

With Hamilton already burning up the box offices, is there a lot to still be excited about this season on Broadway? 

You bet there is! 

This season will feature some pretty spectacular revivals as well as some interesting premiers both in musicals and plays. Here are some we're particularly excited about. 

Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Opening: April 21, 2016

Story: A backstage musical about the events that led to the creation of the groundbreaking Eubie Blake-Noble Sissle musical Shuffle Along. 

On paper, this is going to be quite the show. With an all-star cast which includes Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Brian Stokes-Mitchell and Joshua Henry, director George C. Wolfe and choreographer Savion Glover, this is surely going to get some Tony attention. Enough to give Hamilton a run? Maybe. 

China Doll

Opening: November 19, 2015

Story: A two-character play about a billionaire, Mickey Ross (Pacino), who has just bought a new airplane for his young fiance as he prepares to go into semi retirement. Ross in the process of leaving his office, and is giving last minute instructions to his young assistant. He takes one last phone call… 

One of the greatest actors of our time, with one of the greatest American playwrights and one of the best directors working today? With those three names attached, what theatre-aficionado isn't excited about seeing this?

Spring Awakening

Opening: September 27, 2015

Cast: Austin McKenzie, Sandra Mae Frank, Patrick Page, Marlee Matlin and Camryn Manheim

Based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 German expressionist drama about adolescent unease, rebellion and sexuality. The limited engagement at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre —performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and spoken English by a cast of 27, including both hearing and non-hearing actors.

Since this opened in CA, we've been crossing our fingers for a New York opening and now we're just two weeks away from previews! Deaf West have blown NY audiences away before with Big River, so we cannot wait to see this re-imagining of one of the best pieces of work of the 21st Century. 

Old Times

Opening: October 6, 2015

Cast: Clive Owen, Eve Best, Kelly Reilly

Deeley is quite looking forward to meeting Anna, his wife Kate’s friend from long ago. But as the night goes on, Anna’s visit quickly shifts from an ordinary sharing of memories to a quiet battle for power. Original music by Tom Yorke.

While the plot of the play is certainly intriguing enough, it's the original music my Radiohead's Tom Yorke that's caught our interest. 

Dames At Sea

Opening: October 22, 2015

John Bolton, Mara Davi, Danny Gardner, Eloise Kropp, Lesli Margherita and Cary Tedde

Story: Ruby steps off a bus from Utah and into her first Broadway show, but hours before the opening night curtain is to rise, the cast learns their theater is being demolished. So Ruby and the cast, with the help of some adoring sailors, set a plan in motion to perform the show on a naval battleship.

After years of being a staple of community, regional and educational theatre, Dames at Sea will finally hit a Broadway stage. I've seen the show a couple of times and I'm hoping that they take another look at the material and beef it up a bit. If they've done that, then you can expect a fun time. 

The Gin Game

Opening: Oct. 14, 2015

Cast: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson

Story: An elderly couple at a nursing home play an increasingly tense series of gin rummy games as they expose truths about their failures, disappointments and insecurities.

The Gin Game is a wonderful piece of theatre, with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, it could be even better. With three Tony awards between them, these two are living theatrical legends and the chance to see them together on stage for the first time in 50 years is something that shouldn't be missed. 

 On Your Feet!

Opening: November 5, 2015

Cast: Ana Villafañe, Josh Segarra

The story of two people who — through an unwavering dedication to one another and their pursuit of the American dream — showcased their talent, their music and their heritage to the world in a remarkable rise to global super-stardom.

With the soon to be absence of Mamma Mia there is definitely room for an upbeat jukebox musical and On Your Feet! looks to be the perfect fit. I don't know how much Estefan's music will interest Broadway audiences, but it will certainly bring a new flavor to the genre. 

The Crucible

Opening: April 7, 2016

Cast: Ben Whishaw, Saoirse Ronan, Ciaran Hinds. Sophie Okonedo

Story: Arthur Miller's political allegory framed as a story about a man falsely charged with witchcraft in colonial, Salem, MA. 

In celebration of Miller's 100th Birthday, I'm personally thrilled to see this one make its way back to New York. It features a strong cast and I love the choice of Tony Winner Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth Proctor.

Fiddler on the Roof

Opening: December 17, 2015

Cast: Danny Burstein, Jessica Hecht and Adam Kantor

The story of Fiddler - inspired by the stories of Sholom Aleichem - concerns Tevye and his daughters, who are yearning for something new even as great changes are happening in the world outside their village of Anatevka.

Fiddler on the Roof has an incredible and devoted following. Beyond the fantastic music and dance, there are wonderful themes of family, love and of course, tradition. The announced cast is exceptional with Broadway Icon, Danny Burstein leading the way as Tevye, the cast also features vets such as Jessica Hecht and Adam Kantor with Bartlett Sher directing. 

Therese Raquin

Opening: October 29, 2015

Cast: Keira Knightley, Gabriel Ebert, Judith Light and Matt Ryan

Story: A quiet young woman with a restless spirit, Thérèse (Keira Knightley) submits to a loveless life at the side of her weak and selfish husband (Tony Award® winner Gabriel Ebert, Matilda), and her controlling mother-in-law (two-time Tony Award winner Judith Light, The Assembled Parties) … until she meets his childhood friend, Laurent (Matt Ryan, “Constantine”). When their overwhelming passion spins violently out of control, they realize that love can be a dangerous game, and sometimes there is no winner.

Roundabout Theatre Company is bringing Emile Zola's classic novel to Broadway with a star studded cast that is surely going to get some attention. While Knightley is known for her blockbuster and period films, she does have some West End credits to her name an a Olivier Award Nomination as well. Matched with a cast of Gabriel Ebert, Judith Light and Matt Ryan, the one will certainly be one to see. 

Allegiance

Opening: November 8, 2015

Cast: George Takei, Lea Salonga, Telly Leung, Katie Rose Clarke, Michael K. Lee, Christopheren Nomura, Greg Watanabe

An epic story of love, war and heroism set during the Japanese American internment of World War II, following the story of the Kimura family in the weeks and years following Pearl Harbor, as they are relocated from their farm in Salinas, California to the Heart Mountain internment camp in the rural plains of Wyoming. 

There's a lot to be excited about this one. Whether it's the Broadway return of Lea Solonga, or the chance to see George Takei, there are plenty of reasons to see this. But for me, it's the chance to see a powerful story of a Japanese family going through the internment during World War II, a period in American history that isn't covered nearly enough. 

As you can see, there is plenty to be excited about this coming season. We'll be there, will you?

Michael Arden: Inspiring Change with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Spring Awakening

Adriana Nocco

Deaf West Theatre’s recent production of Spring Awakening, directed by the multi-talented Michael Arden, was a triumph, acclaimed by both critics and the public. It employed both the musical’s English text and American Sign Language (ASL) to tell the story, and was apparently amazing in every way. Theatregoers everywhere cannot seem to stop talking about the potential (likely) mounting of this production of Spring Awakening as a Broadway revival. Most are incredibly excited by the prospect, and I for one am as well, especially since I very recently performed in a production of Spring Awakening and the show is still fresh in my mind.

I unfortunately was not able to see the production of Spring Awakening that Michael Arden helmed as director during its limited Los Angeles engagement. However, this past April, I did witness Michael Arden’s work on a different dark musical, as a leading actor rather than as a director. Sadly, the musical ultimately did not make the big move to Broadway, and I was highly disappointed. I figured I would shed some light upon the brilliance of the production that I did see as a tribute to Michael Arden’s creative abilities, and sincerely hope that his revolutionary reinvention of Spring Awakening will be granted the opportunity to reach Broadway audiences.
On April 5th, I saw a matinee performance of the new musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was being performed as a limited engagement at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey from the beginning of March until the beginning of April. Peter Parnell wrote the book of the musical, Alan Menken wrote the music, and Stephen Schwartz wrote the lyrics (both Menken and Schwartz are famous for the prior writing they have done for Broadway and otherwise). Scott Schwartz, Stephen Schwartz’s son, directed this production of the musical (which had previously been mounted at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California). It starred Michael Arden as Quasimodo, Patrick Page as Dom Claude Frollo, Ciara Renèe as Esmerelda, Erik Liberman as Clopin Trouillefou, and Andrew Samonsky as Captain Phoebus de Martin.  

The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical tells the story of a deformed outcast named Quasimodo who is kept hidden and pent up as a slave in the church bell tower of Notre Dame by his guardian and uncle, an Archdeacon named Frollo who places what he perceives to be religious piety, righteousness and purity above all else. Frollo believes that Quasimodo’s severely deformed face is the result of Quasimodo’s father’s (Frollo’s brother’s) sin: sleeping with and impregnating a gypsy woman. (Ironically, he becomes sexually attracted to another gypsy woman named Esmerelda and torments himself for it because this goes against everything he has always so rigidly believed in). Frollo’s treatment of Quasimodo, gypsies, and anyone who is different or who believes in something different than his church is one of the many ways in which one of the musical’s overarching themes, punishing “the other,” is demonstrated. 

It certainly must have been difficult for the creative team of this production to decide upon a tone for the piece due to Hunchback’s story’s vastly different source materials. The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s origins stem from an 1831 novel of the same name written by Victor Hugo, which possesses a very dark story and tone, but also claims to draw influence from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was an animated film. This musical’s tone, a prominently dark one, was set almost immediately, when Michael Arden walked onstage and strapped Quasimodo’s hump onto his back in front of the audience; this made audience members such as myself feel pity, for it was as if we were witnessing him physically strap on the burden of Quasimodo’s tragic, dark story, preparing to carry it around with him for the duration of the show. Additionally, the impressive work of Alexander Dodge, the set designer of the production, definitely helped establish a foundation for the dark world of The Hunchback of Notre Dame from the very beginning. It was beautiful yet haunting and overwhelming, and made me feel as if I were trapped in the world of oppression and religious pressure alongside the musical’s central characters. 

The upstage area was made up of hard, strong, oppressive-looking rows of wooden structures that functioned as church pews. These pews dominated the background of the set, demonstrating traditional religious values’ domination over the world of Hunchback, and also functioned as a seating place for the Continuo Arts Symphonic Chorus members (a local choir that was prominently featured vocally in the production). Whenever a scene took place in the bell tower in which Quasimodo is pent up, a huge row of Cathedral bells would be flown down from the ceiling. Quasimodo would ring the bells throughout the show; they served as a motif, a symbol of simultaneous hope and desperation, for they were the only sound that Quasimodo was permitted to hear by Frollo other than Frollo’s own voice (Quasimodo is so isolated and alone inside the bell tower that he constantly hallucinates that the tower’s gargoyles are talking to him, serving as his conscience). A sound designer created the overwhelming ringing sound effect and definitely made it seem as if the onstage bell structures were producing it themselves. 

The lighting design (by Howell Binkley) of The Hunchback of Notre Dame also served as a crucial element in the process of setting the mostly dark tone of the show. In most scenes, deep, dark reds and blues drowned the stage, creating an illusion of light shining through the stained glass windows of an almost maleficent-seeming church whose vast influence causes most of the antagonism in the central characters’ lives. The lighting design particularly stood out to me during a song entitled “Hellfire” (which is basically what I refer to as Frollo’s ‘villain anthem’). In “Hellfire,” Frollo sings about his tormenting, lustful desire for Esmerelda, a gypsy woman he saw dancing out on the street. He prays desperately and wonders why, if he is such a righteous man, he still feels what is considered to be “sinful” desire for a “sinful” gypsy “blazing in me out of all control.” Frollo concludes that it is not his fault, but rather Esmerelda’s for being a “witch” and casting some sort of evil spell on him; he claims that the devil is “so much stronger than a man,” singing: “Destroy Esmerelda and let her taste the fires of hell, or else let her be mine and mine alone.” Throughout the song, as Frollo illustrated his complex, racing thoughts, what started out as a light amount of red shining solely on Frollo himself became heavier, deeper and more spread out until the climax of the song was finally reached. When the climax of the song was reached, heavy, bright, aggressive reds drenched the entire stage and Frollo himself, creating the illusion of actual hellfire engulfing Frollo himself and everything in his path as well. 

Paper Mill’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame possessed a truly incredible Ensemble cast, and I felt that each and every cast member exceeded expectations. For instance, Ciara Renée (previously of Pippin fame) played Esmerelda; I loved both the musical’s treatment of Esmerelda as a strong, independent, capable woman, and the way that Renée brought her to life. However, I felt that the two highlights of the production were Patrick Page as the pious yet conflicted Frollo and, of course, the phenomenal Michael Arden as the tormented, isolated Quasimodo. Both Page and Arden have powerhouse voices, and each of them conveyed such complexity and agony within their performances. Page’s Frollo was tyrannical, but everything he ever did was rooted in the beliefs that were taught to him from a very young age and in his desire to be morally upstanding. During Frollo’s most vulnerable moments, in which he doubts everything he ever believed in, Page was able to evoke sympathy in me that I did not believe I could feel towards Frollo; Page illustrated a truly vivid and complicated character. 

Arden’s Quasimodo spoke with a strangled voice, which was ironically fitting due to the oppression he constantly faced, but when he sang, the beauty of his liberated singing voice rang out (like a bell, if you will). I felt that his desire to see the world and to be free of its oppression was perfectly illustrated through the difference between Quasimodo’s slurred speaking voice and his soaring singing voice. Combine that clever choice with the rest of Arden’s touching performance, which demonstrated innocence (and the loss of it), pain, longing, fear and simultaneous bravery, and Arden had me in the palm of his hand the entire time. In one scene, Quasimodo is publicly shamed and beaten, and his tortured cries and sheer terror were absolutely heartbreaking to bear witness to. Arden’s performance made me feel, and also made me think, as did The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a whole. 

I have come to realize that both Spring Awakening and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are dark musicals that are difficult to present unless a strong creative team and talented cast who are up to the challenge are on hand. I have also come to realize that, although The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Spring Awakening are different in many ways, are actually about the same thing at their cores. (I find it quite interesting that Michael Arden has been involved with both so recently.) Both are about the immense amount of influence that religion can have over society (in these cases, said influence was too extreme and was harmful), but more importantly, both are about society’s punishment of that which it feels threatened by. Spring Awakening and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are each thought provoking and, in my eyes, are capable of inspiring change. I believe that The Hunchback of Notre Dame should have moved to Broadway, and am disappointed that musicals with dark tones like it are often panned and tossed aside. Yes, theatre should serve as an escape from reality, but it should also serve as a vehicle through which the human experience (flaws and all) is demonstrated. Theatre should be a forum for thought, reflection, and subsequent change.

I wish that Hunchback had been given a chance to shine on a Broadway stage. However, I am thrilled that Spring Awakening (a different dark musical) was such a success when it first opened and will likely have the chance to move audiences and inspire change once again, this time in the image of a new creative vision. Well done on both counts, Michael Arden. You are a gift to the theatrical community.  

Everything you need to know about Spring Awakening’s potential return to Broadway

Erin Conley

This morning, theater fans around the world rejoiced at the news that Spring Awakening is poised for a Broadway revival. First reported by Deadline, rumor is, the acclaimed production recently presented in Los Angeles by Deaf West Theatre and director Michael Arden’s Forest of Arden will transfer to Broadway this fall, as soon as producer Ken Davenport is able to secure a theater. 

While many fans are ecstatic, others seem to think this revival is happening perhaps too soon, considering the original production, which won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical and launched the careers of Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr, Skylar Astin, and more, opened in 2006, just under a decade ago. This turnaround would be much quicker than that of most musical revivals, but there are a few important things to know about what would make this production very different from the Spring Awakening most fans know and love. 

The Deaf West production is presented simultaneously in English and American Sign Language. 

Deaf West is an LA-based theater company whose mission is to produce theater that is fully accessible to both communities. Their Spring Awakening has been produced twice in LA, first at Inner-City Arts’ 99-seat Rosenthal Theater in the fall of 2014 and more recently at the significantly larger 500-seat Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Both runs were critically acclaimed and financially successful, and there has been buzz about a possible NY transfer since the Annenberg run concluded less than a month ago. 

The cast, which remained largely consistent for both runs, was comprised of half hearing actors and half deaf or hard-of-hearing actors. While every member of the cast used ASL, the characters portrayed by deaf actors (characters very intentionally chosen by Arden) were paired with a hearing actor who portrayed their “voice,” mirroring them, playing an instrument, singing the songs, and delivering the dialogue in English while their deaf counterpart did so in ASL. The production also featured new choreography by Spencer Liff, who seamlessly wove ASL into the movement to great effect.

This would not be the first time a Deaf West production transferred to Broadway. 

Their acclaimed production of Big River opened on Broadway in 2003, where it ran for 28 previews and 67 performances. The role of Tom Sawyer was played by a young Michael Arden in his Broadway debut.  About half the characters, including the leading role of Huck, were played by deaf or hard-of-hearing performers. All dialogue and lyrics in the production were both spoken or sung and signed, making the production equally accessible to hearing and deaf audiences. The character of Mark Twain (portrayed by Daniel H. Jenkins, who portrayed the role of Huck in the original Broadway cast) was expanded, so that that actor also provided the voice of Huck, portrayed by Tyrone Giordano, who is deaf. The production would be nominated for two Tony Awards and won a Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. 

Original Broadway cast member Krysta Rodriguez and 1st National Tour cast member Andy Mientus appeared in the most recent iteration. 

Among the cast changes for the 2015 Annenberg production were the addition of two well-known Spring Awakening alums. Rodriguez, who was a swing in the original Broadway production, played Ilse, a role she used to understudy. Mientus reprised the role of Hanschen, which he previously played on the 1st National Tour. There is currently no news on casting for the potential Broadway production. 

Michael Arden’s backstory for the concept is fascinating. 

Back in September, Arden told Theatermania about his concept for the production, which he initially developed with Mientus, who happens to be his fiancé. He imagines this version of the small German town where the show takes place has been hit by an epidemic that left many people without hearing. What makes Spring Awakening different from Deaf West’s prior productions is that for the first time, the fact that some characters are deaf and some are hearing is commented on and incorporated into the plot. Moritz and Wendla are among the characters played by deaf actors, which adds even more depth to their already tragic arcs. 

It would be Spring Awakening as you’ve never seen it before, in the best way possible. 

I was fortunate enough to see both iterations of the Deaf West production in LA. Having seen the Broadway production and national tours around a dozen times combined over the years, I couldn’t believe how much this stunning iteration of the show opened my eyes to aspects of the story I’d never considered before. It truly felt like seeing it for the first time, which is impressive for a work I felt so familiar with. I have never believed Spring Awakening to be a perfect show as written, but this production succeeded in finding an answer for many of the moments I once found lacking in character development or depth. I truly believe this is Spring Awakening the way it was always meant to be staged, and I hope the Broadway transfer rumors are true so more audience members can experience its magic. 

Click here to read OnStage's review of Deaf West Theatre's production of Spring Awakening:

10 Must-Know Locations for LA Theater Fans

Erin Conley

When I first moved to LA four years ago, I was nervous about the theater situation. Having spent the first 22 years of my life living within 3 hours of New York City, I was concerned I’d be disappointed by the quantity, quality, or accessibility of theater. Luckily, LA has proved me wrong. While no other city can ever compare to New York, I now truly believe LA has the second best theater scene in the country.

Sure, seeing theater is not always as simple here. While in New York I would often spontaneously get tickets to a show day of, LA life requires a bit more planning. Between traffic and the fact that runs are usually more limited and therefore often more difficult to get a ticket to,  I almost always plan my theater excursions in advance now (with occasional exceptions). Whether you’re looking for the biggest national tours or more intimate, local shows, the LA theater scene has a lot to offer even the most discerning theatergoer.

Here are 10 places any LA theater fan should familiarize themselves with. In no particular order:

1)    The Pantages Theater

Owned by the Nederlanders, this massive 2,703 seat venue is the number one stop for national touring productions when they come through LA. Their 2015-2016 season includes If/Then, Bullets Over Broadway, 42nd Street, and Beautiful. If you’re on a budget, keep an eye out for pre-show lotteries that some productions will hold, as well as Ticketmaster for cheap seats (often as low as $25) on the very edges of the orchestra.

2)    Center Theatre Group 

Their three non-profit theaters, the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theater feature a combination of large touring productions, exclusive limited runs, and new works. The Ahmanson is currently home to the kick-off stop on the Matilda tour and will feature The Sound of Music, The Bridges of Madison County, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, and Titanic later in the season. Meanwhile, the Taper will host Martin Sherman’s Bent and the Kirk Douglas the new musical Girlfriend this summer.

3)    The Geffen Playhouse

What I love about the Geffen is their frequent pre and post show events, which include “Talk Back Tuesdays,” a “Girls Night Out” event for each production, “Lounge Fridays,” and “Wine Down Sundays,” featuring a complimentary wine tasting in the lobby. This fall they will host the west coast premiere of These Paper Bullets, which features music and lyrics by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

4)    Rockwell Table & Stage

I find this fun cabaret-style venue to be LA’s answer to New York’s Joe’s Pub and 54 Below. Home to the “For the Record” concert series for years, you can currently take in either Cruel Intentions: The Unauthorized Musical Parody (which I highly recommend) or Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield while enjoying cocktails and food.

5)    North Hollywood Arts District 

This neighborhood is actually home to the highest concentration of operating theaters in a single square mile in the country, outside of New York. With some tickets as low as $15 and a great selection of nearby restaurants and bars, it’s the perfect choice for a theater night out.

6)    LA Theatre Works

This non-profit hosts an annual “radio theatre series,” where they combine audio theater, technology, and celebrities to produce various classic and contemporary plays, usually for one weekend only. Their 2015-2016 season is set to include Steel Magnolias, Jane Eyre, American Buffalo, God of Carnage, and more. Actors already scheduled to appear include Richard Dreyfuss, Kate Burton, and Jane Kaczmarek.

7)    Deaf West Theatre

This incredibly unique theater company produces plays and musicals in American Sign Language and English simultaneously to make the works fully accessible to both communities. They are currently coming off an incredibly successful and acclaimed run of Spring Awakening, directed by Michael Arden, which was probably the best piece of theater I have seen in LA to date.

8)    The Hollywood Bowl

I am mostly including the Bowl for their annual, star-studded, fully staged musical. I have seen Hairspray, The Producers, Chicago, and Hair, and this summer they are doing Spamalot. While I recommend low expectations considering the frequent stunt casting and brief rehearsal time, you can bring your own wine and snacks and have a really fun summer night out at one of LA’s most famous venues.

9)    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Located about 20 miles outside of LA, this frequent award winner always has a great season line-up for those willing to venture a bit outside city limits. Their upcoming season includes the west coast premiere of First Date, Rent, the pre-Broadway run of Empire: The Musical, about the construction of the Empire State Building, Dreamgirls, and The Little Mermaid.

10) La Jolla Playhouse

Located nearly 2 hours from LA, this one is much more of a commitment, but is frequently the home to some of the highest profile pre-Broadway tryouts on the west coast. Currently home to world premiere musical Come From Away, La Jolla will next feature the debut of Up Here, a new musical comedy from Frozen writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Any I missed? What is your favorite place to enjoy theater in LA?