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?

What is the Definitive Musical of the 21st Century So Far?

Chris Peterson

Interesting question right? This was asked of me the other day by a reader of this blog. It's one of the few times I actually replied with, I Don't Know. 

We're only a decade an a half into the new century, yes we've already seen some of the best pieces of work of all time come out since 2000. 

So if you had to pick one, what would it be? Here are some candidates and the cases for and against them being the definitive musical of the 21st Century so far. 

Wicked

Case For It:  Wicked has been a titan on Broadway since it opened 12 years ago. Financially, it's become one of the most successful musicals in history. The success of the Broadway production has spawned several other productions worldwide, including various North American productions, a long-running Laurence Olivier Award–nominated West End production and a series of international productions. Since its 2003 debut, Wicked has broken box office records around the world, currently holding weekly-gross-takings records in Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and London. In the week ending January 2, 2011, the London, Broadway, and both North American touring productions simultaneously broke their respective records for the highest weekly gross.  In the final week of 2013, the Broadway production broke this record again, earning $3.2 million. The West End production and the North American tour have each been seen by over two million patrons.

Beyond the financials, you could argue that no musical since 2000 has had a larger impact on pop culture. Songs like "Defying Gravity" and "For Good" have become anthems and no musical has appealed more young women more than this one.  

Case Against It: The truth is, Wicked isn't a great musical. The score is poppy, inconsistent, hardly compelling and generic. The choreography is borderline non-existent and the book is ironically colorless. Wicked also failed to win many of the big Tony Awards that year, getting dominated by the smaller Avenue Q. here is an argument also that Wicked represents everything wrong with 21st Century musical theatre where shows rely on big budgets and special effects, rather than the content of the material. 

Spring Awakening

ase For It: The original Broadway production won 8 Tony Awards, including Tonys for Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor. The production also garnered 4 Drama Desk Awards while its original cast album received a Grammy Award. The success of the Broadway production has spawned several other productions worldwide, including various US productions, a short West End production that won 4 Laurence Olivier Awards including Best Musical, and a series of international productions.

Its original cast is now a who's who in the entertainment industry with Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, Skylar Astin, John Gallagher, Jr., Jennifer Damiano  and Krysta Rodriguez. 

Since its closing, it has become a staple among colleges, high schools and community groups. A much heralded production from Deaf West Theatre is making the move to Broadway in the fall and talks of a movie adaptation are moving closer to confirmation as well. It's also one of the few pieces ever to tackle the subject of teenage sexuality. 

Case Against It: While the score is overall excellent, you could argue that there isn't a single iconic song in the entire show. It ran on Broadway for less than three years and most importantly, there have been better dramatic musicals than this in the same decade. 

The Producers

Case For It: The first big hit of the 21st Century. After the opening, The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box-office ticket sales in theatre history, taking in more than $3 million. At the 2001 Tony Awards, it won 12 out of its 15 nominations, becoming one of the few musicals to win in every category for which it was nominated. It was also the first comedy to win Best Musical in nearly a decade. 

Case Against It: The Producers' success largely rested on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's shoulders. The loss of the original stars had a detrimental effect on the success of the production, prompting the return of Lane and Broderick for a limited run from December 2003 to April 2004. You could also say that its impact has been largely forgotten, especially after a more and lackluster film adaptation. And while its humor certainly opened the door for many more outrageous comedies to come after, its music was more of an homage to golden age of musical theatre rather than showing us anything new. 

In The Heights

ase for It: What musical has done a more effective job of reaching new audiences and introducing hip hop to Broadway? In addition to its popularity among the younger generation, it proved to be a financial hit as well. The producers announced on January 8, 2009 that the show had recouped its $10 million investment after 10 months. 

It would go onto win 4 Tonys including Best Score and Best Musical thus launching composer Lin-Manual Miranda's rise to become a Broadway icon. Will we be talking about Hamilton in the same regard? We shall see. 

Regardless, In The Heights has become one of the most produced shows by colleges, high schools and community theaters. Especially in more urban areas where musical theatre is not often successfully produced.

Cast Against It: If we're being honest, the book of the show is downright terrible. It's a shame Miranda didn't take more a control with that. And while there is certainly a mix of musical styles, the piece relies on its hip hop infused roots, does that make it the defining musical of the past 15 years? 

Next to Normal

Case for It: The most iconic piece of musical theatre to properly address the effects of Bipolar Disorder, Next to Normal has been a culture smash. Reviews for the original Broadway production were more and favorable.  Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote that the Broadway production is "A brave, breathtaking musical. It is something much more than a feel-good musical: it is a feel-everything musical." Rolling Stone Magazine called it "The best new musical of the season – by a mile." Next to Normal was on the Ten Best of the Year list for 2009 of "Curtain Up". 

Next to Normal was also one of the first shows to utilize Twitter to boost its popularity. n May 2009, about six weeks into the Broadway run, Next to Normal began publishing an adapted version of the script over Twitter, the social media network. Over 35 days, the serialized version of the show was published, a single line from a character at a time. The Twitter promotion ended the morning of June 7, 2009, the morning of the 2009 Tony Awards. The initiative earned the musical the 2009 OMMA Award for Best in Show Situation Interactive.

Since then its become a community theatre staple as well as colleges. 

Case Against It: It didn't run on Broadway that long, clocking in just over 733 performances. It's also one of the only musicals on this list that didn't win Best Musical(inexplicably losing to Billy Elliot). It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama even though it had not been on the list of three candidates submitted to the twenty-member Pulitzer Prize board by the five-member Drama jury which caused a lot of controversy at the time. 

So which do you think is the defining musical of the past 15 years? Is it one not even on this list? What about Hairspray? Thoroughly Modern Millie? Spamalot? American Idiot? 

As you can see, it's a very hard, but fun, question to answer. 

 

The Timeless Themes of Spring Awakening

Rikki Ziegelman

Everyone has one show that has stayed with them for years, and for years to come. Whether it was the first show you saw as a child, the first show you were in, or just a show that has the lyrics to explain how you feel, when you're at a loss for words. Theatre has a certain way of moving individuals by creating characters that can comprehend their surroundings, whenever we have trouble doing so. 

One show that holds a certain significance in my heart is Spring Awakening, for its immense impact on the theatre community as well as on my endeavor as a performer. Each lyric, each movement, and each line holds such symbolism. Albeit the show is set in Germany during the 1800’s, it's themes and motives still hold true in the 2015 technology-run society. The show recently announced its return to Broadway after Deaf West Theatre’s extremely successful run in California.. The show hasn't even been closed for a decade and yet theatre goers seem to be raving about its return. But what is it about Spring Awakening that is so appealing to audiences?

Spring Awakening is about rebellion, which is interesting because the show is so religion and authority based. It's about coming to terms with your motives and how they will further affect your family, your friends, and yourself. There is a constant mention of God and Christ; yet, Act I ends with a sex scene that is questionably considered a rape. So morally, are these kids obtaining to their religious standards by constantly praying? Or, are they “inept” and “degenerate” for experimenting with their innocence? Can prayer excuse your mistakes, or are these actions even considered mistakes at all?

Spring Awakening is about power and dominance. Power among peers, power among elders, and power among significant others. There is a reason why Wendla wants to know so much about her body and her sexuality, there's a reason why Moritz acts up during Latin class, there's a reason why Melchoir is so persistent when Wendla is just about to say yes to having sex. They yearn for power- both consciously and subconsciously. Which is why the finale, “Song of Purple Summer,” is so crucial to the shows ending. The color purple symbolizes royalty, and with royalty comes power. Power over others, power over situations, power to succeed. 

Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Spring Awakening is about innocence. These kids are so desperate to know more about themselves in terms of their sexuality. They know what they read in books, they know what they feel, and they know how they want to feel- but how to perform all of these actions and how to handle the sensation is what they struggle with. Some may argue that Melchoir raped Wendla, which is a valid accusation because of the play version and Wendla’s confusion and questioning. Others may argue that Melchoir was just as innocent as Wendla was- he knew how sex worked and that he wanted to release his “frustration,” but he had no idea what he was doing to the innocent lady lying before him. 

Spring Awakening is about change. Change within yourself, change within others, and change within time. “Purple Summer” is an important symbol for the allusion of time- for it is a flower that blossoms every summer. Time passes, flowers are planted, blossom, and then they fade away. No matter the weather or the time; just like us. We are born, we live, we die. We beat on no matter what because that is life. We have changes within ourselves, such as puberty, sexual awakening, or moving past your former mistakes. We change every single day whether we want to or not. 

So back to reality now- why is this 18th century show so important to us? Why do we adore it so much? Because we identify with the kids struggling with themselves. No matter what age you are or where you are in your life. Maybe you aren't right now, maybe not yesterday, and maybe not tomorrow. However at some point we all will struggle with a fight for power. At some point we will lose our innocence in some way, shape or form. At some point we have or have had a spring awakening, and we will chant our song of purple summer.

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: