Patti LuPone, Glenn Close and Bette Midler are back on Broadway. Joan of Arc is getting a rock musical adaptation from Alex Timbers while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is finally coming to the stage with a score from Hairspray’s stellar composing team. There’s also a number of new plays from exciting playwrights on the scene like Sarah Ruhl, Annie Baker and revivals of longtime favorites Eugene O’Neill and Lillian Hellman. This next year is going to be in need of some serious art, so we’re glad such an exciting crop of theatre artists took note.
Because the number of shows are infinite, we’ve focused on Broadway and Off-Broadway plays and musicals we’re excited to see this next year. It was harder than we imagined to narrow down the list to only 20. Some shows that didn’t make the list (17 isn’t enough!) do deserve a shout out like the Broadway revival of Miss Saigon, Sunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal, August Wilson’s Jitney and then a number of great shows rounding out the Lincoln Center and Manhattan Theatre Club seasons.
1. Sunset Boulevard
Glenn Close on Broadway? That’s enough to be sold. Even more enticing, she’s revising her role as Norma Desmond that won her the 1995 Tony and much acclaim. After running in the West End at the English National Opera, the Sunset Boulevard Broadway revival is directed by Lonny Price (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill). To add to the epic nature of Desmond’s character, a star starving for a comeback on the silver screen, the performance will have a 40-piece orchestra. Supposedly, this is the largest orchestra to this day on Broadway. There’s nothing quite like the majesty of Andrew Lloyd Webber (who will now have four shows on Broadway), and especially when paired with Close’s ability to captivate.
Previews begin February 2nd at the Palace Theatre.
2. The Glass Menagerie
Although the Tennessee Williams heart-breaking drama appeared on Broadway just four years ago, we’re interested to see Sam Gold’s new take. Sally Field’s Amanda should prove different from Cherry Jones’ or what we’ve seen before and opposite Tony winner, actor-director Joe Mantello, there should be electric performances. Laura will be played by Madison Ferris, an actress who uses a wheelchair, in her Broadway debut. With productions of late such as Richard III and The Elephant Man using able-bodies performers for characters with textually- supported mental and physical disabilities, we’re glad to see The Glass Menagerie make a progressive and important casting choice. The play is chock-full of tender and complicated relationships, something Gold has proven lately, with his Tony award for Fun Home, he takes profound and delicate care with.
3. Joan of Arc: Into the Fire
We’re excited to see this tale explored for a modern audience at The Public Theater this winter. Joan of Arc has been a figure of strength through history, and with a spin from David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads, and director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), it should rock our world. Brooklyn-based performer Jo Lampert (The Good Swimmer), will play Joan and the musical will focus in the rise of the girl known for her connection with God and her battle for belief.
Previews begin February 14th at The Public Theater.
We have to admit we’re mostly excited about this one to see newcomers Justice Smith and Lucas Hedges take their skills to the stage. Smith came onto the scene swinging with his leading role in Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down last year and Hedges in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. The play is from London-based playwright Anna Jordan (Chicken Shop) and director Trip Cullman, who continually directs great projects for Second Stage, MCC and Roundabout. The play sounds like a delicious coming-of-age story and we’re eager to see the young cast push their own boundaries.
MCC Theater performances began January 12th at The Lucille Lortel Theatre.
This play, from Chicago-based playwright Philip Dawkins, centers on an African-American transgender woman in her 60s who begins teaching an etiquette class at a LGBTQ community center. We’re thrilled to see MCC taking on a play that had an incredible run in Chicago last year and with such a diverse cast and crew. Directed by Will Davis, a trans-identified choreographer and director, the production has announced a news-worthy casting search for transgender and gender-nonconforming artists. Here’s a link if you want to be considered! We love seeing this focus on diverse voices in the theatre community.
The play will kick off MCC’s 2017-18 season this fall at The Lucille Lortel Theatre.
6. Kid Victory
John Kander has a new musical. That’s all we needed to know. Oh, wait, and Liesl Tommy is directing? How much better can this coupling be? Kander, who composed Cabaret and Chicago, now focuses on a story about a seventeen-year-old boy who returns home to Kansas after an unsettling disappearance. Tommy recently showcased her directing chops withEclipsed on Broadway. Both artists are genius at weaving humor and intimacy into deeply tragic stories. We’re craving musicals that turn reality and honest emotion into song (can someone say Spring Awakening and The Color Purple?) and we’re eager to see any piece of work ready to take us on that provoking journey.
Previews begin February 1st at the Vineyard Theater.
7. War Paint
Nevermind the superstars that are involved in this musical. It’s about women revolutionizing the business workplace and that is crucial enough to include this show on our list. Now that we’ve prefaced this all, YES Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole are leading a musical created by the Grey Gardens team and, YES, the director of Rent. The Tony award-winning actresses should bring a heavy dose of passion to the story of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, two innovators who transformed the beauty industry. Their mastery, coupled with the subject matter, should make this musical something truly special
Previews start March 7th at the Nederlander Theatre.
8. Little Foxes
It’s rare we see actors who can vacillate between roles in one play. In this production, Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon will play both Regina and Birdie, changing roles each night. Both women are powerhouses and seeing them bring Lillian Hellman’s words to life should be a profound experience. Although written in 1939 and set in 1900 in Alabama, Little Foxes poses questions surrounding wealth, greed and the Patriarchy that modern audiences, especially with the current climate, should connect with.
Previews begin March 29 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
9. Hello Dolly
This is one of the musical revivals we’re most excited about this year. Already racking up a $525 premium ticket price tag (more than Hamilton!) and buzz around Bette Midler’s return to Broadway, the show should not be missed. Yes, there are less expensive tickets—don’t fret! Jerry Herman’s classic is jam-packed with comedy, pizazz and everything we want from a theatrical escape. Midler’s mastery combined with co-star David Hyde Pierce should be exactly what we need for a Saturday night out on the town!
Previews March 15, 2017 at the Shubert Theatre.
10. A Doll’s House Pt. 2
Fairly unknown new playwright Lucas Heath (The Christians), is taking one of classical theater’s most infamous endings and starting from a new beginning. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House closes with its heroine Nora leaving her family, leaving the audience with unanswered questions and an eagerness to see how she will fair. The character alone is worthy of a revisit and there’s no doubt veterans Laurie Metcalf (Miser) and Chris Cooper (Adaptation) will bring this new chapter to life. Sam Gold, also directing Othello and the aforementioned The Glass Menagerie, has great taste in writers, too—and taste we’ll take a chance on.
Previews begin April 1 at the John Golden Theater.
11. The Tempest
This rounds out Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Shakespearean trilogy set in a women’s prison which started with Julius Caesar in 2012 and then Henry IV two years later. Originating as productions at the Donmar Warehouse in London, Lloyd returns to St. Anne’s in Dumbo with a truly piercing take on Shakespeare’s magical classic. Harriet Walter, after playing Brutus and Henry IV, is back as Prospero, and if the last two performances are any example of what we’re to expect, she should be mesmerizing. We still have a deep appreciation for actors who know how to handle the text while still putting a modern, intimate spin on characters who have been played time and time again. Yes, Lloyd’s skill with gender-defying casting is extraordinary and in many ways has revolutionized theatre. But we’re not eager to see this just because its an all-female cast. We’re eager to see text brought to life in shockingly relevant, heartbreaking and vivacious ways—and with all women, there’s no way we won’t see this performance get to to the heart of Shakespeare’s last play.
Currently running at St. Anne’s Warehouse.
12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
We can’t believe this story hasn’t come to Broadway yet. It’s Broadway bait, with its over-the-top circumstances, visual playgrounds and songs just made to fill a theater—“Pure Imagination!” With Hairspray songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and director Jack O’Brien, scene design/costumes by Mark Thompson (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, West End) and Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher) in the title role of Wonka, this should be a choice for those family weekend outings—or your own nostalgia. All visual aspects aside, Roald Dahl’s seemingly simple fairytale has its dark sides. We wonder how this production will interpret the underlying dread that runs, quietly, through the chocolate streams.
Opens March 28th at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
13. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
At first hearing about the news of Sweeney Todd returning to a NYC stage, we weren’t running to get tickets—we may have even felt indifferent to it. But when announced that The Barrow Street Theater in the West Village was taking hold of Sondheim’s horror classic and the London Tooting Arts Club staging, we got very interested. This production will transform the black box space into Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pies shop. Yes, it will even be open for audiences to enjoy their very own Meat Pie and Mash before the show. Sound gross? It’s not. The former White House pastry chef, Bill Yosses is the brains behind it (pun intended). Enveloping the audience and taking a play most known for being performed in Prosceniums, to a much more in-your-face, or mouth, experience sounds like a thrill ride for sure.
Opens February 14th at the Barrow Street Theater.
14. Escaped Alone
Huffington Post recently called Caryl Churchill as “the greatest living playwright” during a review of her new play at BAM, Escaped Alone. We could argue that, but there is substantial evidence to support that theory. Churchill has written plays that are revolutionary for feminism and culture, Top Girls comes to mind. Her Cloud Nine is on most any college or high school theatre reading list. Her knack for identity exploration in ways that holds mirrors up to your own is startling. Now, she’s centering her new work on four women in their 70s. Rarely is there a play that focuses on four female main characters, let alone in their 70s. There’s not much that reveals the plot, but the tagline on the BAM site is worth sharing, purely for its enticing simplicity. “Three old friends and a neighbor. A summer of afternoons in the backyard. Lingering sunshine and inevitable darkness.”
Runs February 15-26th at the BAM Harvey Theater.
15. The Antipodes
Even before playwright Annie Baker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for The Flick, she was premiering some incredible work at Atlantic Theater Company, Soho Repertory and taking home the Obie Award two years in a row. Her ability to explore human relationships, all the awkward, tense, beautiful moments that occur in silent connection, is what makes her stand out. The Antipodes is a follow up to her play John during her Signature Theatre residency. If you didn’t see John, in short, it centered on a couple at a Bed and Breakfast on vacation and all the secrets that come to light. Signature has been hush-hush about the plot for Baker’s new play, but given her past work, we’ll go in blindly.
Opens April 4th at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre.
16. The Hairy Ape
We were waiting to find a play this year that would challenge the class divide America is suffering from so greatly right now. To our surprise, it came in the form of Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 play that focuses on these issues in the industrial age. Ivo van Hove’s A View from the Bridge is another recent success of an older play whose themes still proved incredibly relevant for the social and political climate. The Hairy Ape is no Arthur Miller, though, and much more surreal. Director Richard Jones is taking on the play’s re-imagining with Tony nominee Bobby Cannavale starring. Set in New York and with a big fist-it-to-the-man theme, we’re excited to see this story in this particular space.
Previews begin March 25th at the Park Avenue Armory.
This is an amazing play. It seems like the perfect cap on our list because of its heartbreaking, profound and delicate portrayal of female beauty and exploitation. In a time when the respect of the feminine body is at risk, this play is a perfect choice for Signature Theatre’s season. Inspired by the real-life Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, the story chronicles her journey away from her home in South Africa to be showcased in front of British and Parisian audiences for her Steatopygia. The parallel between 19th century London’s fascination with the female buttocks area and modern culture’s is undeniable and Susan-Lori Parks confronts the issue with introspection and honesty. Parks is a genius with her writing, literally, she’s a MacArthur “Genius”Award recipient and the first African American woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Venus is a work of art that gives much needed weight and relevancy to the crop of plays coming to NYC theatre this year.
Opens April 25th at The Irene Diamond Stage.
Meredith Alloway is a producer, filmmaker and Lois Lane by night for Paste, Filmmaker Magazine, Nylon, Complex and Collider. She currently resides in NYC, but is a Texan by heart and will always be an unabashed Shakespeare and Fosse fanatic. Instagram adventures: @atwwalloway.