New York without Broadway? It would be like Venice without canals. So it’s heartening to see that nearly a year into the Great Recession, the lights of the Great White Way continue to burn bright. And if it takes Hollywood bold-facers and revved-up revivals to amp up the wattage, so what? Variety has always been key to Broadway’s success, and if deftly navigated, this fall’s offerings have everything it takes to add a jolt of electricity to a Gotham jaunt.
Yes, despite Manhattan’s bumpy economic topography, Broadway blazes. “I can’t say the economy didn’t affect us at all, but Broadway’s just not one of those things that’s totally economy-dependent,” says Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League. “We had a record-breaking season and we believe that we have every opportunity to do that again this year.”
In Broadway’s 2008-09 season, 43 shows opened, the highest number of shows since the 1982-1983 season when 50 productions opened. And shows grossed approximately $943.3 million, up a bit from the previous season’s $937.5 million.
This year, there’s even a new venue coming to town: The totally restored Henry Miller's Theater — Broadway’s fortieth—where a much anticipated revival of spirited 1960s musical "Bye Bye Birdie" flies in on the wings of stars John Stamos and Gina Gershon (still catching her breath after last year’s "Boeing-Boeing").
“The shows with the big stars like "A Steady Rain", a drama with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, are generating buzz, as is "Hamlet" with Jude Law. “ St. Martin says, adding that “sometimes the big shows with the big names do really well, but look at "West Side Story", "In the Heights" or "Billy Elliot" — none of them have a name star and yet they’re all knocking it out of the ballpark.”
Jude Law is, of course, very hot onscreen, and reason enough for theater-goers to put their perhaps antiquated notions of "Hamlet" to the side and run to the Broadhurst Theater. There, fresh off the heels of powerhouse performances in London and Denmark, the English hottie will storm and brood his way across a deliberately spare stage.
But a feminine touch is also the thing, and for that, we have the lovely Sienna Miller making her Broadway debut in "After Miss Julie". This modern reimagining of August Strindberg’s "Miss Julie" — which brought lust, class rivalry and a few sharp blades to an aristocratic kitchen in Sweden — is by über-talented playwright Patrick Marber, of Closer fame.
For sheer psychedelic musical exuberance, you can’t beat the latest Broadway revival of "Hair". Gavin Creel as Claude and Will Swenson as Berger steal the show.
And speaking of hair, what about the back story of cinema’s most celebrated braided buns? That’s right, we’re talking about Princess Leia, or rather the iconic Carrie Fisher in her deliciously named one-woman show, "Wishful Drinking". She dishes on mother Debbie Reynolds, ex-husband Paul Simon and much more at Studio 54. In November, heavyweight David Mamet rolls out his new play "Race", starring David Alan Grier and James Spader. But you can dip into "Superior Donuts" right now: Tracy Letts’ entertaining new play comes to Broadway direct from a sold-out engagement at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
Letts, whose "August: Osage County" earned him a Pulitzer Prize, says, “I was eager to do something in a different key. I had the idea for a culture clash comedy set in a doughnut shop: "Superior Donuts" takes place in the historic area of uptown Chicago.”
The action centers around Arthur, the owner of a doughnut shop, who clings to the past and resists change, but when a bright-eyed youth named Franco asks him for a job, an unexpected and life-changing friendship begins. “I think "Donuts" was popular [in Chicago] because it addresses some universal concerns, and celebrates a certain Midwestern ethos and a certain quality of the Chicago character, which is straightforward and no B.S.”
Stars, Shakespeare, and doughnuts with a social undercurrent ... When St. Martin of the Broadway League says, “I don’t think there’s ever been a more diverse grouping of shows as now,” she’s not kidding.