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September 3, 2011

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Broadway offers less razzle-dazzle this season

IF Broadway last season was dominated by a glitzy Spider-Man, its new season seems to be shaping up more like his workaday alter ego Peter Parker.

A quieter, less risky year is in the cards, with fewer big movie stars hitting the boards and less razzle-dazzle in favor of more tried and tested material. Spidey's follies have given way to Sondheim's "Follies."

Last year's big celebrity draws - Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Kiefer Sutherland, Daniel Radcliffe, Pee-wee Herman, Vanessa Redgrave, Ben Stiller, Edie Falco - give way to seasoned stage stars such as Michael Cerveris, Matthew Broderick, Frank Langella, Alan Rickman, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, John Lithgow, Lily Rabe and Cynthia Nixon.

Along with those established stars will be veteran writers: Arthur Miller, Noel Coward, Woody Allen, Athol Fugard, Tennessee Williams, Terence Rattigan, Theresa Rebeck, David Auburn and David Henry Hwang.

The new season actually began right after the Tony Awards with the official opening of a little musical called "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." After a full season of previews, accidents, mocking, rejigging and cancellations, the US$75 million show has settled down to become a consistent top earner.

Perhaps the spectacle at the Foxwoods Theater affected producers this year - huge risky gambles with splashy, overtly commercial productions seem to have been greatly minimized. For many shows, either the actors or the material has already proven its strength. And following a season that had plenty of new musicals and relatively few play revivals, the reverse is now the case.

One of the most anticipated plays will be Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," a fictional drama about the night before the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Two other emerging female playwrights also make their Broadway debuts. Lydia R. Diamond offers "Stick Fly," a drama about a well-to-do black family with Alicia Keys producing, and Lisa D'Amour brings her darkly comic play "Detroit" in the spring.

The first new musical - and one of the few - will be "Bonnie & Clyde," starring Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan as the bank-robbing lovers with music by Frank Wildhorn. The stars might not be household names, but they're old hands with gorgeous voices. Wildhorn, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from his last season offering "Wonderland," which was poorly received.

There will be four musical revivals: Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita"; Stephen Schwartz's "Godspell;" "Funny Girl" with Ambrose; and Sondheim's "Follies," which wowed the crowds in Washington, DC, and kept the cast of Peters, Jan Maxwell and Elaine Paige for the drive north.

The musical about Eva Peron marks the first time the Tony Award-winning musical has been mounted on Broadway since it opened there more than 30 years ago. Casting has been wily, with a mix that includes a celebrity (Ricky Martin plays Che), a pro (Cerveris will be Juan Peron) and emerging talent in Argentine actress Elena Roger, who got rapturous reviews in the title role in London.

Another show imported from London will be "End of the Rainbow," a play with music about Judy Garland's last few months alive, starring Tracie Bennett. From closer to home - Chicago's Goodman Theatre - comes the new comedy "Chinglish" by Hwang.

There will also be two reimagined works: "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" with a new book and with Harry Connick Jr playing a dashing psychiatrist. A new "Porgy and Bess" will open in December starring McDonald. It has been revised by director Diane Paulus and playwright-librettist Suzan Lori-Parks.

Cult films this season are helping fuel two shows: A musical adaptation of the 2003 Tim Burton film "Big Fish" and an adaptation of the movie "Once," about a Dublin musician who falls in love with a Czech singer.


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