Spring Arts Preview: Top 10 Plays and Musicals

What we're most looking forward to in theaters

Allison Case in 'Hands on a Hardbody.' (Courtesy Matthew Murphy)

Allison Case in ‘Hands on a Hardbody.’ (Courtesy Matthew Murphy)

Hands on a Hardbody
Brooks Atkinson Theatre 
Opens March 21
The weird, charming 1997 documentary about a group of Texans competing in an endurance contest to win a pickup has become a—hopefully—weird, charming Broadway musical. The creative team augurs well for charming weirdness: the book is by I Am My Own Wife author Doug Wright; the music is by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. Even weirder: it ís by all accounts a sympathetic, insightful commentary on financially struggling contemporary Americans—and when do you ever see that on Broadway?

Lucky Guy 
Broadhurst Theatre
Opens April 1
Sure, The Wood, last season’s bioplay about the controversial, beloved late Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, written by PR mogul Dan Klores and staged at the Rattlestick, was a bust. Which might not suggest we needed another version a year later. But this season’s take on the crusading, flawed journalist offers a Nora Ephron script and the Broadway debut of yet another Hollywood star: Tom Hanks.

Kinky Boots 
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
Opens April 4
La Cage Aux Folles meets Billy Elliot, with a Harvey Fierstein book and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, plus Jerry Mitchell directing—of course this is a hugely anticipated new musical. Based on the 2005 film, it’s the no-doubt heartwarming story of a struggling small-town shoe factory saved by the brilliant idea to start making women’s shoes designed for cross-dressing men. Drag queens, after all, just want to have fun.

Matilda The Musical
Shubert Theatre
Opens April 11
The Roald Dahl children’s book—about a little girl unloved at home but wildly successful in school and life—is coming to town as a big Broadway musical. First, though, it played London’s West End, where last year it won a record-setting seven Olivier Awards. Matthew Warchus directs a rotating group of four girls in the lead role, but don’t be misled into thinking it’s just a kids’ show. Word from London is that it’s fantastic—one of those Oliviers was for Best Musical.

The Nance
Lyceum Theatre
Opens April 15
The nance, in early-20th-century burlesque, was a campily gay stock character, typically played by a straight man. In The Nance, Nathan Lane plays a closeted gay man, pretending to be a straight man, who plays a gay man. The Victor/Victoria-ish premise is scripted by the hilarious Douglas Carter Beane, and Jack O’Brien directs. Cady Huffman, Mr. Lane’s Producers Ulla, is in the cast, too.

Orphans 
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
Opens April 18
If your only goal was to see Shia LaBeouf on Broadway this season, then Orphans is no longer your show. But the young movie star’s dramatic departure, and its epistolary fallout, only makes the production—a revival of Lyle Kessler’s 1983 drama about two orphaned brothers who kidnap an older man—more intriguing. Alec Baldwin, who may or may not have incited Mr. LaBeouf’s departure, still stars as the older man, Tom Sturridge still plays younger brother Phillip, and Ben Foster has joined the cast as younger brother Treat. Daniel Sullivan directs.

Here Lies Love
The Public Theater
Opens April 23
Four names: Imelda Marcos, David Byrne, Fatboy Slim and Alex Timbers. Here Lies Love was a concept album about the shoe-loving life of Mrs. Marcos, released in 2010 by Mr. Byrne, the onetime Talking Head and current downtown fixture, and Fatboy Slim, the British “Praise You” DJ-producer. With Mr. Timbers, the director who created Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, they’re turning it into a dance-music musical.

I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers
Booth Theatre
Opens April 24
One name: Bette Midler. The Divine Miss M is coming back to Broadway for the first time in more than 30 years, in a one-woman show about the Hollywood super-agent Sue Mengers. Ms. Mengers, who died two years ago, remained a power player even after her retirement, hosting legendary, intimate weekly dinner parties in her Beverly Hills home. Joe Mantello directs, and the playwright, John Logan, knows a thing or two about capturing larger-than-life personalities: he wrote the Mark Rothko bioplay Red.

Far From Heaven 
Playwrights Horizons
Opens June 2
Todd Haynes’s 2002 movie was a critical darling, a look behind the sunny façade of 1950s conformity, with a secretly gay suburban husband and his wife striking up a doomed interracial friendship, all filmed in a glossy, Douglas Sirk style. Take Me Out playwright Richard Greenberg has adapted it for a musical, with music and lyrics by the Grey Gardens team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie. The very accomplished Michael Greif directs, and—even better—Kelli O’Hara stars.

Natasha, Pierre, and
the Great Comet of 1812

TBA
Several critics and editors will tell you that immersive-theater experience—a musical adaptation of a bit of War and Peace—was the best thing they saw in 2012. (They all told this reviewer, who never got to it.) But after a month and change last fall at Ars Nova, the show disappeared. Now there are reports of a casting notice, with performances scheduled to begin April 1. There was no theater, and no specifics as of press time—but let’s hope this Comet returns.