Top Ten Theater

What we're most looking forward to in theater this season

Man and Boy, American Airlines Theatre
opens Oct. 9
Frank Langella’s back! Frost/Nixon’s Nixon returns to the stage with a drama by the beloved British playwright Terence Rattigan. Mr. Langella’s knack for being imposing, stentorian and vituperative will come in handy in Mr. Rattigan’s tale of a brutal financial wizard fallen on hard times, one who must exploit his son in order to stay afloat. Is this to be the Inside Job of Broadway—a play that exposes the vanities and degradations of the world’s financial markets? We don’t know—but with Mr. Langella involved, we’re willing to go along for the ride!

 

The Mountaintop, Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
opens Oct. 13

Samuel L. Jackson is headed to Broadway. Unlike Mr. Langella in Man and Boy, he has no stage experience to draw on, unless you count decades of speaking with convincing authority to his on-screen castmates. Thankfully, Mr. Jackson’s stage debut won’t require him to move far beyond the role he’s best at—an authoritative speaker who’s right about things and knows what to do—as he’s playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Katori Hall’s play. The production, which co-stars Angela Bassett, takes place on the night before King’s assassination. Doubts about Mr. Jackson’s film-star-to-stage trajectory might be further assuaged by the fact that he is playing a reverend—which is to say, the reverend!—and anyone who’s seen Pulp Fiction is aware that Mr. Jackson knows his way around scripture.

Relatively Speaking, Brooks Atkinson Theatre
opens Oct. 20
John Turturro is a man who can do it all—he hops from Transformers flicks to directing this evening of one acts—and yet he’s the least significant draw of the evening. It’s easy to get upstaged when the plays you’re directing were written by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen. With few if any plot details to go on, we’re latching onto all the Hollywood names strewn around Relatively Speaking: the cast is to include Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge Simpson), Steve Guttenberg and Marlo Thomas. But we’re going for Woody Allen, even as we hope this side project doesn’t distract him from his yearly movie.

Godspell, Circle in the Square Theatre
opens Nov. 7
The long-deferred Godspell revival (it was supposed to debut back in 2008!) finally arrives with a musical take on the Jesus/Judas schism—and it’s just in time for a concurrent revival in American evangelical belief (which, to be fair, never really went away) and Lady Gaga’s single “Judas,” which tells the same story through more abrasive music. The tale of Jesus (played here by TV cutie Hunter Parrish, whose pipes haven’t really been tested in his role on Weeds) has been entrusted to director Daniel Goldstein, previously known for the Elvis jukebox musical All Shook Up. The only thing that’ll be shaking viewers is religious fervor—or, failing that, a sugar-shocked devotion to the pop tunes that underpin it!

Venus in Fur, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
opens Nov. 8
The comedically inclined Nina Arianda rose to Broadway-baby fame this year in her ditzy role in Born Yesterday. That show has closed, and Ms. Arianda has gone back to her roots, joining the Broadway production of a show whose cast she was in off Broadway. David Ives’s play depicts a gifted young actress who’s desperate for a lead role in a new play written by a gifted and manipulative playwright (played in this production by Hugh Dancy, Mr. Claire Danes himself). Ms. Arianda, on the back of her Born Yesterday success and the coming Broadway bow of a show for which she’s already earned raves, will likely come to see the part of “striving, desperate actress” as yet more of an acting challenge, one that we assume she’ll be able to surmount.

Seminar, John Golden Theatre
opens Nov. 20
Alan Rickman is a Tony-nominated stage actor who recently performed Ibsen at BAM. Nevertheless, to a generation of magic-loving kiddies who’ve burned through their Harry Potter DVDs, he’ll always be known as Professor Snape. Mr. Rickman’s sticking to the villainous-professorial type in Seminar, in which he plays a literary prof who turns a small group of students against one another with the most potent tool in his arsenal: intellectual envy. The play is by up-and-comer Theresa Rebeck and also stars the young theater scion Lily Rabe—whose recent turn in The Merchant of Venice showed how little schooling she needs on the finer points of acting.

An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, Ethel Barrymore Theatre
opens Nov. 21
Patti LuPone, the best (if not the last!) great stage diva, has always known that her most compelling character was herself. Now, untrammeled by character or book, she’s finally gracing audiences with the full LuPone in a 63-night stand during which she’ll perform Broadway standards with Mandy Patinkin, her onetime Evita costar. He’s also directing—little to cry for, here, but the missed opportunity passing by the producers of next year’s Evita revival—can’t they just bring back Mandy and Patti for another round?

Bonnie and Clyde, Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
opens Dec. 1
Is there any movie less suited for a stage adaptation than the shoot-’em-up flick fueled by jarring cuts and close-ups of Faye Dunaway’s cheekbones? Probably! But none come to mind—which is why the producers of Bonnie and Clyde are taking the fall’s most delightful risk. Laura Osnes of Anything Goes and Jeremy Jordan of Rock of Ages play the two young lovers who rob banks—and who knows, maybe their good looks and Broadway-tested voices will make audiences fall in love with the violent criminals they play. The ongoing economic crisis, too, may help convince the audience that this Depression duo, doin’ it for themselves, are heroic in their amorality.

Stick Fly, Cort Theatre
opens Dec. 8
One of many female playwrights breaking new ground in their careers this Broadway season (Seminar’s Theresa Rebeck and The Mountaintop’s Katori Hall among them), Lydia R. Diamond emerges with Stick Fly. Produced by the singer Alicia Keys, it tells the story of an upper-class black family on a Martha’s Vineyard holiday. Plays with African-American casts have spelled gold at the box office in the past decade with the likes of A Raisin in the Sun and The Color Purple, but Stick Fly is an unknown property—one that has played at regional theaters around the country in preparation for its, and Ms. Diamond’s, breakthrough.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, St. James Theatre
opens Dec. 11
Does Harry Connick Jr. even record albums, or whatever he used to do, anymore? The lad’s got the bug—the Broadway bug! It’s the only explanation for his perpetual rediscovery of theatrical ephemera like On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane musical from the 1960s better remembered for its film adaptation, if it’s remembered at all. This version will feature a new book, though Mr. Connick’s character is to remain a professor and hypnotist, swooning over his late wife. This will be one of the top musicals of the year for the standards-mad crowd that made Promises, Promises a hit—on a clear wintry night, some people may just want to see 45 years into Broadway’s past!

daddario@observer.com

Top Ten Theater