There is a pleasing continuity between the best (and the buzziest) Broadway shows of the last year and the fall’s most anticipated premieres. Stripped-down revivals are back, as is the charming and deeply personal one-woman show; the irresistibly entertaining jukebox musical; and the elegant (yet thoroughly unsentimental) reflection on aging and mortality.
Also in evidence—and thank goodness for them—are a spate of works reshaping the bounds of what can and should constitute a Broadway experience; Freestyle Love Supreme, Slave Play, and David Byrne’s intensely original American Utopia (which very narrowly missed this list) all come to mind.
Asked by the New York Times if he felt it important to provoke his audiences, Slave Play scribe Jeremy O. Harris had a pretty wonderful response: “You came to the theater to have something happen, didn’t you?” What is live performance, really, but a protracted artistic experiment—action yielding reaction? At its best theater is an elevating, challenging, inspiring force; an improbable alchemical event unfolding before one’s very eyes. Happily, from what we gather, a number of the shows on offer these next few months carry precisely that promise.
Herein, the nine that we’re most eager to slip in to this September, October, and November:
Certain Woman of an Age
Opening September 12
As the wife of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s 15th Prime Minister, and mother of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s 23rd, Margaret Trudeau knows from extraordinary circumstances. In Certain Woman of an Age—which will be staged at Audible’s Minetta Lane Theatre for three nights only this September—Mrs. Trudeau gives her account of the outsize figures and harrowing loss that she’s known in her 70 years, including the tragic death of her youngest son, Michel, in an avalanche in 1998. After a performance in Montreal this summer, Marianne Ackerman of the Globe and Mail applauded the one-woman show’s affecting candor. “The evening is both what you might expect from a 70-year-old flower child whose struggles for balance and independence have been lived out in the public eye, and utterly surprising. What she has to offer is hard-earned wisdom, a survivor’s tale.”
The Height of the Storm
Opening September 24
Following an acclaimed West End run last year, The Height of the Storm opens at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre next month with its central quartet intact: Jonathan Pryce (last seen opposite Glenn Close in The Wife), Dame Eileen Atkins, Lucy Cohu, and Amanda Drew. The play—translated by Christopher Hampton from playwright Florian Zeller’s French—centers on a long-married couple at the end of their life together. (One spouse, it would seem, has already died; but who it is is left deliberately, hauntingly vague.) In the Guardian, critic Michael Billington called the piece “beautifully elusive”, a moving portrayal of “the intimacies and tensions of family life.” “I can’t pretend to have got all aspects of this slippery, poetic play,” he admits, “but, as a colleague once said of Pinter, there is a positive pleasure in not understanding everything. What I can say for certain is that Zeller’s play penetrates the memory long after one has left the theater.”
Freestyle Love Supreme
Opening October 2
First performed in the early aughts, the improvised hip-hop show Freestyle Love Supreme is the dizzyingly brilliant brainchild of Wesleyan alumni (and fellow rap enthusiasts) Anthony Veneziale, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Hamilton director Thomas Kail. It appears this fall for a limited run at the Booth Theatre, with a rotating cast of players including Veneziale, Miranda, James Monroe Iglehart, Christopher Jackson, and Daveed Diggs. After a roughly five-week engagement at the Greenwich House Theater earlier this year, the Times’s Jesse Green remarked that “the real secret of the show is the cast’s commitment to deep attentiveness. Words and phrases called out by the audience, even those you thought had been discarded, whirl back into the narrative repeatedly, with all the punch of reprises.” Added the Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck, “[The cast’s] brains seem to be operating in another dimension entirely, leaving the rest of us in the dust.”
Opening October 6
Variously described as provocative, incendiary, and kinky, Slave Play bows at the Golden Theatre in October, giving the virtuosic young playwright Jeremy O. Harris his biggest platform yet. In it Harris considers race relations through the lens of interracial sexuality, mining startling truths from an outrageous—and often uproariously funny—premise: couples engaging (spoiler alert!) in “antebellum sexual performance therapy” overseen by a pair of social scientists. “The bravery of the play, multiplied by the absolute fearlessness of its actors, makes us braver, too,” Vulture’s Sarah Holdren wrote last December, when Slave Play was mounted at the New York Theatre Workshop. “It speaks wittily and wisely, and without a one-size-fits-all conclusion, of the trail of fears, assumptions, and aggressions that stretches behind every one of us as a hurting, wanting body moving through a still-wounded, very much not post-race world.”
The Rose Tattoo
Opening October 15
Reprising a role that she played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival three years ago, Marisa Tomei will star as Serafina Delle Rose in The Rose Tattoo—a revival of Tennessee Williams’s 1951 drama, memorably adapted to the screen in 1955—at the American Airlines Theatre, with Trip Cullman (Choir Boy, Lobby Hero) directing. The play’s main action hinges on a reclusive widow coping both with loss and with the stirring promise of new romance—for her as well as for her teenage daughter, Rosa (played in this production by Ella Rubin). In his 2016 review, Charles Isherwood commended Tomei as “an actor capable of unleashing all the pain and passion that define this lively if not always lovable character.” The striking set design, conceived by Mark Wendland, reimagines The Rose Tattoo’s Gulf Coast community (situated somewhere “between New Orleans and Mobile,” Williams writes) with a flock of plastic flamingos and footage of endlessly crashing waves.
The Sound Inside
Opening October 17
The coming Broadway season will be a busy one for Mary-Louise Parker. Before reappearing as Li’l Bit in Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive—a role that she originated off Broadway more than 20 years ago—next spring, she revisits The Sound Inside, a play that she did in Williamstown last year, at Studio 54. Written by the novelist and playwright Adam Rapp, the drama’s focus is an ailing creative-writing professor (Parker) and a talented but challenging student (Will Hochman, who reprises his role in the Williamstown production) with whom she develops a knotty relationship. Steve Barnes of Albany’s Times Union deemed the piece “a meditation, by turns ponderous and sumptuously eloquent, on writing, writers, and the nature of identity and self when both are used in service of a narrative.” The Times’s Jesse Green called Parker’s performance “sensationally controlled,” a master class in empathy and nuance: “By now we know how relentlessly [Parker] hounds after the truth of even the most complicated and surreal situations. That skill is tested even further in The Sound Inside, which asks her to maintain a solidly corporeal characterization…while also rendering several crosscutting layers of possibility at once.”
Little Shop of Horrors
Opening October 17
Now, this should be fun: At the Westside Theatre on 43rd Street, Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, and Christian Borle will soon join forces in an intimate revival of Little Shop of Horrors, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s 1982 musical comedy. (Just off of helming Burn This, Michael Mayer will direct; years ago he worked with Groff on Spring Awakening.) Famously and wonderfully weird, the show is about a bloodthirsty plant; its hapless caretaker, Seymour (Groff); Seymour’s love interest, Audrey (Blanchard); and Audrey’s twisted, dentist boyfriend, Orin (Borle).
Playing to a crowd of just 270 people, the new production honors Ashman’s wariness of Broadway pomp. (Keen to maintain its scrappy, satirical fun, for five years the playwright and lyricist propped Little Shop up at the 299-seat Orpheum Theatre in the East Village.) For Groff, who has long been fond of the material, the cozy scale only sweetens the pot. “It’s a musical that I’ve always been obsessed with,” he professed to Entertainment Tonight.“To get to return the show to its small, tiny-theater roots is going to be really exciting.”
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Opening November 7
At long last Tina: The Tina Turner Musical arrives in New York, where it bows at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre this November. In London critics were effusive in their praise of star Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along), who ably sees Turner through her now legendary transformation from Anna Mae Bullock of Nutbush, Tennessee, to a tortured wife and global superstar. “Warren ignites the theater,” Variety’s David Benedict reported last year. “Vocally, she has everything from Turner’s low, cat-like purr best heard in the lamenting verse of ‘Private Dancer’…up through the blowtorch power of the rock-steady middle register to the flame-thrower rasp and roar of the head voice, all coupled to a machine-gun vibrato that shakes the walls of the building.” Added Stephen Dalton of the Hollywood Reporter, “Tina sheds little new light on a familiar triumph-over-adversity story already laid out in Turner’s best-selling 1986 autobiography I, Tina and Brian Gibson’s 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do With It. Even so, [director] Phyllida Lloyd’s production is a rollicking rollercoaster ride, delivered with stylistic verve and fireball energy by a high-caliber cast and crew.”
Opening November 17
The Inheritance, another West End transfer, was littered with prizes in London before it reached the United States, winning Olivier Awards for best actor (Kyle Soller), best director (Stephen Daldry), best lighting design (Jon Clark), and best new play. Playwright Matthew Lopez based his two-part, seven-hour play on E. M. Forster’s Howards End—but instead of conjuring hazy Edwardian England, he drew up a sprawling group of gay men in contemporary and late-20th-century New York City, grappling with the aftereffects of the AIDS crisis. Writes Time Out London’s Alice Saville,“The Inheritance circles round questions of what one generation passes from another, whether it’s real estate or wisdom, and how this cycle was broken by the huge death toll exacted by AIDS….Daldry’s production is particularly strong on hauntings, creating tear-pricking moments that fill the stage with a cavernous sense of loss.” Matt Trueman, noting that it is “beautifully acted throughout,” places The Inheritance as a direct (and worthy) descendant of Angels in America. Like the latter play, Trueman says, “The Inheritance…is a vast, imperfect, and unwieldy masterpiece that unpicks queer politics and neoliberal economics anew. In addressing the debt gay men owe to their forebears, it dares to ask whether the past hasn’t also sold the present up short.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue