Culture

On Deck: A Look at Broadway Shows Hitting the Stage This Season

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Let’s face it, even if Denzel Washington wasn’t starring in the Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s post-war masterpiece this spring, I was stealing its title -“The Iceman Cometh” – to herald Greg Hildreth’s creation of sun-loving snowman Olaf in Disney’s Broadway iteration of its highest grossing animated film of all time. Yep, I’m actually that gay for “Frozen.” From witnessing a tween Anna nearly trampled by an adult during the opening day “rope drop” at EPCOT’s new Frozen attraction to sobbing into my umpteenth tequila and OJ watching Elsa’s big ice castle “Let It Go” number over and over on the seat-back of a 14-hour Emirates flight from Dubai, this musical about a one-woman Geostorm has really been there for me in a very personal way.

That’s not to say its path to the Great White Way has been any less messy than the long-haul flight’s drunken cryer. The tale of Elsa, the ice princess just a pair of opera gloves away from freezing the kingdom of Arendelle like a ShopRite pea, has already chomped its way through two directors, two designers and three choreographers like a hungry snow monster. Casts have been shaken like cubes in a rocks glass and even poor Marshmallow, the aforementioned snow monster, is history, but the musical, resting on the good bones of Hans Christian Andersen’s fable The Snow Queen, is betting a modest 30 million dollar production budget against the 2013 film’s 1.2 billion dollar take. Husband and wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have added 12 new songs and the St. James Theatre bar has added pricey, ice-blue mommy juice insuring this one will have no problem busting Broadway’s smudged and finger-printed kiddie glass ceiling.

For those who prefer their princesses on the crispier side, there’s three-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad as the 15th Century country girl with Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine of Alexandria on psychic speed-dial, all telling her to swipe France back from the English. Rashad goes from Maid of Orleans to baby back ribs entree and all before her 20th birthday at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Broadway space. Brit powerhouses like Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton have tackled this role onstage, not to mention French new wave beauty Jean Seberg actually catching fire in Otto Preminger’s 1957 film adaptation, but with cultural relics as far and wide as operas and video games, Rashad recently told The New York Times she’s not having any of it. “As amazingly daunting as it is,” she said of the many iterations of the girl-saint, “I only have what I have in front of me, in terms of the writing, and my instincts.”

From burned at the stake to burning up the disco, the late Donna “I’m A Fire” Summer brings her “Hot Stuff” to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The five-time Grammy winner is in quite capable hands with two-time Tony winner Des McAnuff at the helm of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and no less than three Donnas on stage from Color Purple Tony-winner LaChanze tackling the rafter-raising, late life Summer to new discovery Storm Lever taking on “Duckling” Donna. Just the fact that Summer’s childhood moniker, so hysterically captured in her 2003 memoir Ordinary Girl, has stuck around in McAnuff’s book for the show seems promising. And though this idea has been kicking around since 2000 with Summer herself starring under the Ordinary Girl banner, McAnuff seems schooled enough in her hard knock resume to leave in the conniving managers and abusive men, even her final battle with cancer. Will McAnuff keep his gender-blind casting from the out of town tryouts, with female actors tackling the roles of Summer’s brilliant producer Giorgio Moroder and her agent and William Morris chief Norman Brokaw? Heaven knows, but this bio-musical sets the bar quite high for Tina Turner’s upcoming effort in the West End and Cher’s Broadway bio next fall.

And while many gays beefed with Summer all the way to her obit at age 63 and the line “she alienated gay fans when she was quoted as having described AIDS as divine punishment for an immoral lifestyle,” Summer always denied making the statement and eventually reconciled with the gay community and overcame their boycotts. They can have no such beef with this season on the Great White Way, though, as Mercedes Ruehl and Michael Urie team as mother and son for a Broadway revival of Harvey Fierstein’s 1982 Tony-winning Torch Song Trilogy at the Hayes Theater. Urie plays Fierstein’s creation Arnold Beckoff, a pre-RuPaul’s Drag Race gender illusionist navigating 1980s New York and its swirling tides of gay liberation and assimilation.

Dialing the princess phone decades further back, Mart Crowly’s landmark, 1968 off-Broadway play that was adapted into a 1970 film by William Friedkin finally hits Broadway’s Booth Theatre in a Ryan Murphy production of The Boys in the Band starring Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells, Matt Bomer with Zachary Quinto holding court as Harold, who introduces himself to the black-turtlenecked cast as “a 32-year-old, ugly, pock marked Jew fairy” and whose rallying cry is “give me librium or give me meth.”

And while both of these plays enjoyed successful runs off Broadway before their transfer, the real highlight of this season’s queer triumvirate arrives direct from a sold-out run at London’s National Theater and just nabbed six nominations for the Brit equivalent of the Tony Award. Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield and Russell Tovey are all hopping the pond with this epic, eight-hour revival of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America. But like those other two gay revivals, this complex cycle is set in Manhattan, opening in the mid-80s with many of its characters wrestling with AIDS and angels. The question is, as the newest of the bunch, but still a quarter century old, will this two-parter read as period piece or speak to contemporary audiences about our current political climate? Let’s just say Reagan’s America looks a lot like Trump’s. “It’s important to be reminded of what we have overcome,” Ryan Murphy says, “and how much further we still have to go.”

Clocking in at a slightly more manageable five hours, this season’s other British two-parter import is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We’ve got lots more to say in a separate article about the dearth of female villains here, but what you really need to know about this look at Potter 19 years on is arrive early. If you haven’t read the eight Potter books at all, or read them a long time ago, the playbill contains a brief synopsis of each of the books as they apply to what you’re about to see. When Angels in America had its initial Broadway run, I saw part two weeks before seeing part one. Not so with Mr. Potter. Part one definitely cliff-hangs into part two so you’ll want to see them both and you’ll also want to see them in order. You might also want to brush up on Time-Turners, although they function somewhat differently 19 years later.

Finally, out-of-towners frequently ask, if I only have time to see one thing on Broadway, what should I see? After they tell me they’ve already seen Frozen, I would direct the book-buying public toward the Roundabout Theater’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 Victorian Burlesque Travesties. The play is set in Arendelle-adjacent Zurich during the first world war and centers on Brit Henry Carr, played here by Tom Hollander, who just earned an Oliver nomination for the role during its start at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory. The play borrows heavily from the plot of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as Carr interacts with everyone from Dada Manifesto author Tristan Tzara to James Joyce as he was writing Ulysses. Like most good Stoppard, this one will come with a reading list you’ll need to plow through before you even get to the theater. No Potter-y synopsis here. And one of those documents should definitely be the letter Carr’s widow sent the playwright after the play’s first performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in London on June 10, 1974. Stoppard himself has remarked, “I am indebted to Mrs Noël Carr, particularly, for her benevolence towards me and towards what must seem to her peculiarly well‐named play.”