Spring 2020 Broadway Preview: Familiar Stars, Familiar Stories, With A Few Curveballs

For all the Broadway lore and persistent hope that a show on the Great White Way will make new stars and break new ground, the appeal of Broadway increasingly has become its familiarity – familiar stars, familiar stories – and that seems especially true in the Spring 2020 season.

Mrs. Doubtfire Deja Vu

Of the 20 shows currently scheduled to open on Broadway between January and the end of April, nine are revivals. The 11 others include a stage adaptation of a hit movie (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” about a man who disguises himself as a woman, following up on last season’s “Tootsie,” a stage adaptation of a hit movie about a man who disguises himself as a woman), an adaptation of a bestselling novella, and three shows that had recent successful runs Off-Broadway.

Among the familiar stars in this season’s shows: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker (a married couple playing three couples in “Plaza Suite”), David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood (in “A Soldier’s Play”), David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker (in “How I Learned to Drive”), Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lawrence Fishburne, Katrina Lenk, Tracy Letts, Laura Linney, Patti LuPone, Rob McClure, Debra Messing, Laurie Metcalf, Jessie Mueller, Sam Rockwell, and Cary Grant (as a character, portrayed by Tony Yazbeck in “Flying Over Sunset”)

Broadway producers are arguably favoring safety over risk and perhaps banking on the expectation that, at the dawn of a new decade full of uncertainty, theatergoers too will find reassurance in the familiar.  In 2020, Broadway seems clear-eyed only about the past.

Now, to be fair, even some of the revivals are being marketed as markedly fresh takes. The sixth Broadway production of West Side Story is “remixed for the 21st Century,” which means, in part, lots of videos. The fifth Broadway production of the Sondheim/Furth musical “Company” is now “regendered,” centering around a a single 35-year-old woman named Bobbie, portrayed by Katrina Lenk.

And some of the familiar works of theater were groundbreaking for their time…and remain so now, albeit in a different way. “A Soldier’s Story,” the 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning play, is getting its first Broadway production, marking the Broadway debut of its 80-year-old playwright, Charles Fuller. Similarly, this season features the first Broadway production of “How I Learned To Drive,” another Pulitzer-Prize winning play that touches on an explosive social issue. It marks the sophomore Broadway effort by Paula Vogel, who made her Broadway debut just three years ago with “Indecent.” It’s worth noting that the Broadway production of this play features the same lead actors that were in the original 1997 Off-Broadway production, David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker, who have since come even more familiar faces.

If familiar doesn’t always mean wishy-washy or comfortable, new doesn’t necessarily mean pointed or cutting-edge. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone claiming a lack of originality in this season’s new musical about three historical figures who took LSD (“Flying Over Sunset”)  or the rock concert by the executed wives of Henry VIII (“Six”), or the darkly absurdist political parable about a town council meeting (“The Minutes”)

Still, some might see the Spring 2020 season on Broadway as resembling a season at the Opera, in its reliance on a repertory of old favorites. There is a difference, though. This is not a musical repertory. Twelve of the 20 are straight plays.

Below is the rundown on the 20 shows going chronologically by opening dates. Things are likely to change — additions, subtractions, rescheduling — in the weeks and months ahead. For updates, and to see the rest of the Broadway season, check out my Broadway 2019-2020 Season Guide

JANUARY

My Name is Lucy Barton
MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater
First Preview: January 6, 2020
Opening:January 15, 2020
Closing: February 29, 2020
Written by Elizabeth Strout. Adapted by Rona Munro
Directed by Richard Eyre
Cast: Laura Linney
In this solo play adapted from the best-selling novel, Laura Linney plays Lucy Barton, a woman who wakes after an operation to find – much to her surprise – her mother at the foot of her bed. They haven’t seen each other in years.

A Soldier’s Play
Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater
First preview: December 27, 2019
Opening: January 21, 2020
Written by Charles Fuller
Directed by Kenny Leon
Cast: David Alan Grier, Blair Underwood
The first Broadway production of the play that premiered in 1981 at the Negro Ensemble Company (which co-starred a little known Denzel Washington) about a black soldier in 1944 who is charged with investigation the murder of a black Sergeant on a Louisiana Army base.

Grand Horizons
Theater: Second Stage’s Helen Hayes
First Preview: December 20
Opening: January 23, 2020
Written by Bess Wohl
Director: Leigh Silverman
Cast: Priscilla Lopez, Maulik Pancholy, Ashley Park, Thomas Sadoski, Michael Urie
Bill and Nancy have spent 50 full years as husband and wife. But just as they settle comfortably into their new home in Grand Horizons, the unthinkable happens: Nancy suddenly wants out. As their two adult sons struggle to cope with the shocking news, they are forced to question everything they assumed about the people they thought they knew best.

FEBRUARY

West Side Story
Theater: Broadway Theater
First Preview: Dec 10, 2019
Opening: Feb 20, 2020
Writers: Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Director: Ivo van Hove
Cast: 23 in all, with Isaac Powell as Tony and Shereen Pimental as Maria
The fifth Broadway production of the musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, transposed to warring street gangs in 1950s New York. Belgium avant-garde theater artist van Hove has cut the intermission and the song “I Feel Pretty” and added many videos.

MARCH

Girl From the North Country
Theater: Belasco
First Preview: February 7, 2020
Opening: March 5, 2020
Written and directed by Conor McPherson
Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan
Set in 1934 at a guesthouse in the heartland of America, a group of travelers pass in and out of each other’s lives, and share stories that awaken each other with passion, fury and, beauty. This originated at the Public Theater. My review Off-Broadway.

Six
Brooks Atkinson
First preview: February 13
Opening: March 12
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss;

Pop-concert musical featuring the six wives of Henry VIII.

The Minutes
Cort
First preview: February 25
Opening: March 15
Written by Tracy Letts
Closing: June 14

Letts’ most political work to date is a dark comedy about a town council meeting in the fictional town of Big Cherry that turns ominous.

Hangmen
John Golden Theater
First preview: February 28
Opening: March 19
Closing: July 18

A dark comedy by Martin McDonagh about a retired executioner who now presides over a pub, visited by a mysterious gentleman.

My review Off-Broadway


Company

First Preview: March 2
Opening: March 22
Music by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth
Cast: Patti LuPone, Katrina Lenk
The fifth production of the musical about a single 35-year-old with married friends, this one is “re-gendered” so that the protagonist is now a woman, Bobbie.

The Lehman Trilogy
Nederlander
First preview: March 7
Opening: March 26
Written by Stefano Massini
Directed by Sam Mendes
Cast: Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, Ben Miles
The history of the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers over 164 years, starting with the arrival of the three Lehman brothers from Bavaria in the mid nineteenth century. My review of The Lehman Trilogy when it was at Park Avenue Armory in April.

Diana
Longacre
First preview: March 2
Opening date: March 31
Book by Joe DiPietro; Music and lyrics by David Bryan
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Cast: Jeanna de Waal as Princess Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles,
Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles, Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth

APRIL

Mrs. Doubtfire
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
First Preview: March 09
Opening Date: April 5, 2020
Cast: Rob McClure

A new musical based on the Robin Williams 1993 movie. When out-of-work actor Daniel Hillard loses custody of his kids in a divorce, he disguises himself as Scottish nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire in a desperate attempt to stay in their lives

Caroline, or Change
Roundabout’s Studio 54
First preview: March 13
Opening: April 7
Book and lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Cast: Sharon D. Clarke
An import of a West End production of the 2003 musical about Caroline, an African-American maid whose world of 1963 Louisiana ripples with change both large and small

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Booth
First preview: March 3
Opening: April 9
Closing: August 2
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Rupert Everett, Laurie Metcalf, Patsy Ferran, Russell Tovey
The fifth Broadway production of Albee’s 1962 play about George and Martha, a middle-aged history professor and his wife, who bicker in front of new colleague Nick and his young wife Honey, as the liquor flows.

Plaza Suite
Hudson Theater
First preview: March 13
Opening: April 13
Closing: July 12
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by John Benjamin Hickey
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker
In this first revival of Simon’s 1968 comedy, Broderick and Parker (married in real life) perform as three couples  in three one-act plays all taking place in the same suite in the Plaza Hotel

American Buffalo
Circle in the Square Theater
First preview: “March”
Opening: April 14
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Neil Pepe
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell
The fourth Broadway production of Mamet’s rat-a-tat play about three low-level crooks conjuring up a get-rich-quick scheme

Flying Over Sunset
Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont
First preview: March 12
Opening: April 16
Book by James Lapine, music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Michael Korie
Director: James Lapine
Cast:Carmen Cusack, Harry Hadden-Paton and Tony Yazbeck
Cary Grant, Clare Boothe Luce and Aldous Huxley all revealed during their lifetimes that they had taken LSD. This new musical imagines their gathering together to get high.

Birthday Candles
Theater: Roundabout’s American Airlines
First Preview: April 2
Opening: April 21
Written by Noah Haidle
Director: Vivienne Benesch
Cast: Debra Messing
Messing portrays a woman whose birthdays we see her celebrate, from her age 17 to 101.

How I Learned to Drive
MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater
First preview: March 27
Opening:April 22
Written by Paula Vogel
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Cast: David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker
The revival of playwright Paul Vogel’s Pulitzer-winning 1997 play about a charismatic child molester and the niece who recalls him with ambivalence. The play marks Vogel’s second show on Broadway (after Indecent), and features the original Off-Broadway stars.

Take Me Out
Theater: Second Stage’s Helen Hayes
First Preview: March 31
Opening: April 23
Written by Richard Greenberg
Director: Scott Ellis
Cast: Jessie Williams and Jesse Tyler Ferguson
A revival of the Tony-winning play about the coming out of a gay baseball player.

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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