Opening Soon: Broadway Musicals of Spring 2011

Do you feel it in the air, folks? The winter's going to break any day now (allegedly) and Broadway is warming up those marquees for the new residents. There will be laughs, there will be tears, and there will be horrible flops. Many original musicals and a pair of revivals are opening before the Tony Award deadline in May and it's hard to keep track of them all. In no particular order:

The Book of Mormon

Writers

Matt Stone (book), Trey Parker (book/lyrics), Robert Lopez (music/lyrics)

What is it?

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two Mormon missionaries. Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) is the perfect proper Mormon boy hoping to go on mission in Orlando, Florida. He is partnered with fat, dim Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) on a mission to Uganda. The comedic musical is supposed to be a cross between The Odd Couple and a coming of age/exploring the world story.

What to Expect The Book of Mormon will feature offensive humor but strong musical theater pedigree. Parker and Stone created the offensive but otherwise very traditional South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, which many believe to be one of the all time great movie musicals. The South Park creators team up with Robert Lopez, half of the writing team that created the Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q, another offensively comedic but traditionally written and staged show. This is either going to be a huge hit or be so offensive it flops spectacularly.

Preview/Opening Night

Previews begin 24 February. Opening Night is 24 March.

Catch Me If You Can

Writers

Terrence McNally (book), Mark Shaiman (music/lyrics), Scott Wittman (music/lyrics)

What is it?

Catch Me If You Can is based off the 2002 film of the same name, which was based on the life of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. Frank (Aaron Tveit) is a conman posing as various authority figures to steal money from people. He is pursued by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Norbert Leo Butz). How far can Frank spin his cons before the FBI catches up with him?

What to Expect

The creative team is almost identical to the multiple Tony Award winning musical Hairspray, including the same director (Jack O'Brien) and choreographer (Jerry Mitchell). Advance word suggests strong performances and decent material. The score is pop/rock theater, just like Hairspray. If you like that style of music, it'll be a fun night of theater.

Previews/Opening Night

Previews begin 7 March. Opening Night is 10 April.

The People in the Picture

Writers

Iris Rainer Dart (book/lyrics), Mike Stoller (music/lyrics), Artie Butler (music/lyrics)

What is it?

The People in the Picture is an original musical (as in, not based on another source) told in two different times. Raisel (Donna Murphy) is a young actress in pre-WWII Poland. She is the heart of the theater troupe. In 1970s NYC, Raisel is now Bubbie (still Murphy), trying to pass on her stories to her granddaughter. Her daughter Reid, however, does not want her to keep revisiting the past. It is, surprisingly, a comedy, albeit a heartfelt one.

What to Expect

The People in the Picture is part of the Roundabout Theater Company's season. That means it is a limited run show and will shutter before Fall. Roundabout puts interesting, challenging shows in NYC. Studio 54 is a great, intimate theater and should mean an exciting production. The little bit of scoring I've heard suggests a modern theater score in the Jason Robert Brown style--pop/rock influenced theater, but not a straightforward rock score. It is so rare for an actress like Donna Murphy to get to originate a role on Broadway in a new, original musical. There is so little information about this show it's hard to make a judgment call. Based on the caliber of the production company, venue, and leading lady, I think it's going to be a must-see show.

Previews/Opening Night/Closing Night

Previews begin 1 April. Opening Night is 28 April. Closing Night is scheduled for 19 June, though Roundabout could extend it into July if the cast is still available.

Baby It's You

Writers

Floyd Mutrux (book), Colin Escott (book)

What is it?

Baby It's You is a jukebox musical about unexpected songwriter Florence Greenberg (Beth Leavel), a 1950s New Jersey housewife who became the writer of all the music of girl group The Shirelles.

What to Expect

This is another jukebox musical from the creators of Million Dollar Quartet. They plan on making a quadrilogy of jukebox musicals about the history of Rock 'n Roll in America. Beth Leavel is a great comedic actress and the source music is fun. It will more than likely be another show that plays like a concert, where the plot is not nearly as important as the music.

Previews/Opening Night

Previews begin 26 March. Opening Night is 27 April

Sister Act

Writers

Alan Menken (music), Glen Slater (lyrics), Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (book)

What is it? Sister Act is a musical adaptation of the hit Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name. Lounge singer Delores Van Cartier (Patina Miller) is forced to hide in the convent of Mother Superior (Victoria Clark) after becoming a key witness for the prosecution against the mob. Delores poses as a nun and helps save the convent by taking control of the choir.

What to Expect

If the London reviews are any indication, Sister Act is a commercial musical that chooses the easy way out of every possibly compelling moment of stage craft. It is an enjoyable show, but one that could be much stronger if it was designed as a play, not a money-making vehicle. Patina Miller won accolades and awards for her performance on the West End and Victoria Clark will surely do great things with Mother Superior. It's standard Menken/Slater scoring. Take that however you want to.

Previews/Opening Night Previews begin 24 March. Opening Night is 20 April.

Wonderland

Writers

Frank Wildhorn (music), Jack Murphy (book, lyrics), Gregory Boyd (book)

What is it?

Wonderland is a new adaptation of Lewis Caroll's beloved children books. Alice (Janet Dacal) is a modern NYC woman who travels below the streets of NYC to a world filled with strange characters. She is trying to find her way back to her daughter Chloe (Carly Rose Sonenclar) and her husband Jack (Darren Ritchie), who has just signed divorce papers. By traveling through Wonderland, Alice rediscovers what is important in her life.

What to Expect

Frank Widlhorn wrote the music to Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernell. He also wrote the music for Dracula and The Civil War. That puts him roughly at 50/50 for hits and misses. However, the man knows his way around a catchy melody. The musical has been in development for years and the entire team is dedicated to bringing together this innovative show. This is the kind of musical I want to succeed. Judging by early word, I'm still hopeful that everything can be pulled together in time for its Broadway opening.

Previews/Opening Night

Previews begin 21 March. Opening Night is 17 April.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Writers

Stephen Elliott (book/music/lyrics), Allan Scott (book/music/lyrics)

What is it?

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is an adaptation of the cult hit film of the same name. It tells the tale of three friends--drag queens--who go on a road trip. The musical adaptation adds in some additional back story and some innovative set design to the experience.

What to Expect

It's a drag musical that had a hit run in Toronto. Even though the marketing is downplaying the drag angle, rest assured that this is the Priscilla that fans of the film want to see. The cast is strong and the design photos I've seen are impressive. Essentially, everything is based off of the bus the friends travel in, opening and transforming into all the other set pieces. Think of this as a smarter, better plotted Mamma Mia! for the kind of experience you can have.

Previews/Opening Night

Previews begin 28 February. Opening Night is 20 March.

Anything Goes

Writers

REVIVAL: Cole Porter (music/lyrics), a whole bunch of book writers (original, 80's adaptation, this production's changes)

What is it?

Anything Goes is the madcap story of the S.S. America's voyage, featuring lounge singer Reno Sweeney (Sutton Foster), almost Wanted criminal Moonface Martin (Joel Gray), and personal assistant Billy Crocker (Colin Donnell). The "plot" is a loose, nonsensical vehicle to connect one great Porter song to the next.

What to Expect?

Kathleen Marshall is directing and choreographing, so the dance numbers will be slick and impressive. Sutton Foster can sing and tap, so Reno will actually be in all the big tap numbers for once. Joel Gray is a consummate professional that--though long in the tooth for Moonface--will make the best of his character's slapstick comedy and silly songs. You can do worse than a slick Anything Goes.

Previews/Opening Night

Previews begin 10 March. Opening Night is 7 April.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

Writers

REVIVAL: Frank Loesser (music, lyrics), Abe Burrows (book), Jack Weinstock (book), Willie Gilbert (book)

What is it?

How to Succeed… is the hit 1960s musical about rising up the corporate ladder. It's fun.

What to Expect

Screaming fan girls because Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe will be playing leading man J. Pierrepont Finch? Facetiousness aside, this is a great show. The creative team is taking a big risk in bumping down the age of all the main characters, which will either succeed or fail miserably. Anderson Cooper will replace Walter Cronkite as the narrator of the show, describing how a worker can climb the corporate ladder. Bonus points are duly awarded for finally putting Christopher J. Hanke--one of the most underrated Broadway actors--is starting with a show that is almost guaranteed not to flop. He's given stellar performances in horrible flops Cry Baby (mediocre show + middling sales = short run) and In My Life (the only good part of the bad show). Fingers crossed.

Previews/Opening Night

Previews Begin 26 February. Opening Night is 27 March.

That Spider-Man show is allegedly opening 15 March. Allegedly. I'm not holding my breath. There's also a revival of Godspell trying to break through by Fall 2011, so that might pop up at the last minute, as well. I say see The Book of Mormon and The People in the Picture before parsing through the more commercial, almost-guaranteed longer run productions.