17 new plays set to revitalize Broadway

David Leonard as Miss Trunchbull in "Matilda." David Leonard as Miss Trunchbull in "Matilda." Photo Credit: Handout

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Linda Winer Newsday theater critic and arts columnist Linda Winer.

Winer is chief theater critic and arts columnist for Newsday, which she joined in 1987. ...

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Not to be a downer at the start of a new year. But doesn't it seem a bit ominous that by the time the splendid revival of "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" closes its limited run Feb. 24, there will be exactly two productions -- "Annie" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" -- left from the fall season?

To be fair, a couple of holiday shows, "A Christmas Story" and "Elf," shouldn't count in our tally. And one strictly limited engagement, let's call it "Al Pacino's Glengarry Glen Ross," never intended to run beyond Jan. 20.

But that still leaves just two holdovers from the 16 plays that opened since September. This is bad -- except for the part about leaving space for 17 more for the winter/spring. Among those are more promising new musicals than just passed our way -- including the incoming British blockbuster, "Matilda," and "Kinky Boots," based on the 2005 film, with score by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein. (Bet rehearsals are fun.)

The season continues the pretty wonderful tilt in the direction of new American plays. Among them are two -- "The Assembled Parties" and an adaptation of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" -- by Richard Greenberg, who has been absent from the New York stage for far too long.

What? You say you want stars? How about Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron's "Lucky Guy"? Scarlett Johansson in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"? Alec Baldwin and Shia LaBeouf in a revival of Lyle Kessler's raucous "Orphans"? Nathan Lane in Douglas Carter Beane's "The Nance," named after the stereotypical comic homosexual '30s burlesque? Bobby Cannavale in "The Big Knife"? And if Cannavale doesn't seem like a big star to you, you haven't been paying attention.

Briefly, in chronological order, we can look forward to this kind of spring:

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"The Other Place" (opens Thursday, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.) Laurie Metcalf repeats her stunning portrayal of a disturbed neurologist in Sharr White's drama, seen at MCC Theater in 2011, and now co-starring Daniel Stern.

"Picnic" (Jan. 13, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.) Maggie Grace ("Lost"), Ellen Burstyn and a bushel of New York theater pros recreate a balmy Midwest Labor Day in William Inge's 1953 Pulitzer winner.

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (Jan. 17, Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.) Scarlett Johansson, who won a Tony for her Broadway debut in "A View from the Bridge," takes on Tennessee Williams' sultry Maggie the Cat, with Benjamin Walker ("Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson") as her ambivalently irresistible Brick.

"Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" (March 3, Broadway Theatre, Broadway at 53rd Street) Shall we count this one as a new musical? The show was written for TV and now, for its Broadway premiere, has a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, plus the addition of several songs from the R&H trunk.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (March 20, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.) Holly Golightly -- the reason more than a few impressionable women moved to New York -- is likely to be closer to Truman Capote's woman of the night than to Audrey Hepburn's free spirit in Richard Greenberg's adaptation. Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones") has the challenge of making us forget the formative movie.

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"Ann" (March 7, Beaumont, Lincoln Center Theater) Holland Taylor wrote and stars in this play about the late Ann Richards, the singularly colorful Texas governor.

"Hands on a Hardbody" (March 21, Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.) Doug Wright ("I Am My Own Wife") wrote the book and Amanda Green ("Bring It On") the score for this adaptation of the 1997 documentary about hard-luck Texans in a contest for a new truck. They have to keep a hand on its hard body for days in the sun in order to win it.

"Lucky Guy" (April 1, Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.) Tom Hanks makes his Broadway debut in this play about the late New York journalist Mike McAlary, who won a Pulitzer for covering the Abner Louima case while struggling against cancer. The drama is by the late Nora Ephron, who finished it right before she died.

"Kinky Boots" (April 4, Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St.) A young man is forced to try to save his family's shoe factory after his father suddenly dies in this musical adaptation with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Cyndi Lauper in her Broadway debut as a composer.

"Orphans" (April 7, Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.) Alec Baldwin and Shia LaBeouf star in this revival of Lyle Kessler's 1983 drama about orphaned brothers who kidnap a father figure.

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"Pump Boys and Dinettes" (April 8, Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway) This 1981 blue-collar musical was written by the original actors, who also played their own instruments. Who better to direct a revival than John Doyle, who had Patti LuPone play the tuba in "Sweeney Todd"?

"Matilda the Musical" (April 11, Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St.) This is the one you've heard roaring all the way from London. The Royal Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Roald Dahl's story about a plucky little girl and scary adults is directed by Matthew Warchus ("God of Carnage," "The Norman Conquests") and choreographed by Peter Darling ("Billy Elliot").

"Motown" (April 14, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.) Legendary producer Berry Gordy tells his story about the careers of Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and many others. At least we know the score will be good.

"The Nance" (April 15, Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.) Douglas Carter Beane's highly-anticipated new play stars Nathan Lane as a closeted gay man in the '30s who works in burlesque, playing the stereotype comic homosexual.

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"The Big Knife" (April 16, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.) Bobby Cannavale ("Glengarry" and "Boardwalk Empire") grapples with integrity as a Hollywood star with a secret in Clifford Odets' 1949 drama.

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"The Assembled Parties" (April 17, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.) Judith Light and Jessica Hecht are part of the seemingly perfect Upper West Side Jewish Family in 1980 and in 2001 in Richard Greenberg's new drama.

"The Trip to Bountiful" (April 23, Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St.) Geraldine Page won an Oscar in 1986 for her portrayal of an elderly woman who wants to go home to small-town Texas in Horton Foote's drama. In this black revival, Cicely Tyson takes the journey, joined by Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Williams and Condola Rashad.

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