So how should producers lure people to the theater (i.e., away from Netflix) in times of economic drought? After all, when an $11.50 movie ticket seems painful enough, $95 mezzanine seats are bound to be a tough sell.
But a known quantity is a good place to start. Hamlet—greatest play in the English language. Nice. Mythologizing the birth of rock—always a winner. Mythologizing America—even better. So, in addition to Jude Law, we get Memphis (the Shubert Theatre, Oct. 19) and a revival of the E. L. Doctorow riff Ragtime (Neil Simon Theatre, Nov. 15). But, if you’re up for something a little bit (but not too far!) off the beaten path, there’s a less familiar approach to musical hybridization and racial politics to be found in Fela! Directed by Bill T. Jones, the musical—which ran Off Broadway last year—chronicles the life and music of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti, portrayed by Sahr Ngau Jah (Eugene O’Neill Theatre, Nov. 23).
The safe-bet approach applies to playwrights, too. Superior Donuts (Music Box Theatre, Oct. 1) represents yet another Broadway transfer for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and Tracy Letts, author of the many-award-winning August: Osage County. Donuts stars Michael McKean (perhaps known best from the Christopher Guest oeuvre) as the owner of a run-down Chicago donut shop.
And safer still: Two of Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical “Eugene” plays, which trace the Brooklyn coming-of-age of writer Eugene Jerome, will be revived at the Nederlander Theatre. The first, Brighton Beach Memoirs (Oct. 25), depicts young Eugene as an awkward teen played by Noah Robbins; the second, Broadway Bound (Dec. 10), finds him (Josh Grisetti) embarking on a career as a radio comedian.
For theatergoers not in the mood for New York nostalgia, there’s another option available: Mamet bonanza! At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, the playwright will be directing his newest piece, Race—clearly not messing around with that title (Dec. 6). The play is about a law firm and is about —guess what?—RACE, and stars Richard Thomas, James Spader and Kerry Washington. In the meantime, a revival of Mr. Mamet’s 1992 play Oleanna will be at the John Golden Theatre (Oct. 11). Starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles as a professor and student who clash over sexual-harassment accusations, the show bills itself as “Mamet’s most controversial drama.” Hyperbole? We’ll see.
Naturally, Hamlet and Mamet aren’t the only ones gambling on celebrity to attract attention. Sienna Miller will make her Broadway debut in After Miss Julie (Roundabout Theater, Oct. 22), Patrick Marber’s reworking of the Strindberg play that transposes the action to England in 1945. Set on the night of the Labour Party’s landmark victory, the play finds Millers Sienna and Jonny Lee (the former Mr. Angelina Jolie) having sex across class lines—with dire consequences.
In lighter fare, Roundabout Theatre revives the 1960 hit Bye Bye Birdie with John Stamos and Gina Gershon (Henry Miller’s Theatre, Oct. 15). Remember that Mad Men episode where Ann-Margaret sang and the men of Sterling Cooper ogled? This is the musical behind the lechery.
But for a meta-fame experience—and a messy dissection of Hollywood life—there’s Wishful Drinking (Studio 54, Oct. 4), Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show based on a 2008 memoir of the same name. This is Leia on Leia—and on bipolar disorder, drugs and Paul Simon. In the end, we suppose, gossip is the safest bet of all.
‘The Right Inwardness’: Law’s Hamlet
The bad news: He’s balding. The good news: Jude Law is no longer so impossibly golden as to resist all mortal casting. In fact, he has been cast as the ultimate fallible human—Hamlet.
Michael Grandage directs the star alongside Geraldine James (as Gertrude) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Ophelia) in a production that previously played sold-out runs in London and Elsinore. And while Mr. Law may have garnered more stateside attention for his romantic escapades than his dramatic prowess, British critics were suitably impressed with his West End performance. (“Law’s Hamlet has the right inwardness and self-awareness,” wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian. “People who come to patronise him as a movie star essaying the great Dane will be in for a shock.”)
Of course, it’s impossible to dodge the trappings of celebrity altogether. Ex-love Sienna Miller’s simultaneous Broadway appearance (in After Miss Julie) ought to provide at least some tabloid fodder.
The Donmar Warehouse production of Hamlet began previews on Sept. 12, and will have its official premier on Oct. 6 at the Broadhurst Theater.