2014 Broadway season promises surprises

Bryan Cranston as LBJ in in 'All the Bryan Cranston as LBJ in in 'All the Way." Photo Credit: American Repertory Theater / Evgenia Eliseeva

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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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Trend-spotting is always slippery business when the holiday tourists are gone and work begins in earnest for Broadway's busy winter-spring season, which officially ends April 24. But here are 10 themes and highlights that, if we squint, we can discern at a distance. How they play out, of course, is for another day.

UNPREDICTABLE STARS IN UNEXPECTED BROADWAY DEBUTS Bryan Cranston goes from playing the world's most beloved meth dealer in "Breaking Bad" to portraying Lyndon B. Johnson in his turbulent '60s presidency in "All the Way," opening March 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St. And if that isn't unlikely enough, how about prodigiously hip polymath James Franco co- starring with Chris O'Dowd in a revival of John Steinbeck's dust-bowl classic, "Of Mice and Men," opening April 16, Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St. Franco plays George, the protective friend of O'Dowd's slow-witted Lenny.

MORE AND MORE (AND MORE AND MORE) MOVIE ADAPTATIONS, BUT THESE HAVE PROMISE Woody Allen's adaptation of "Bullets Over Broadway," his '20s comedy about theater people and other mobsters, opens April 10 at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., directed by Susan Stroman. Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale star in an adaptation of "The Bridges of Madison County," based on the book (and film) about surprising love in the Iowa farmlands, opening Feb. 20 at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. And don't forget, no kidding, a singing and dancing and slugging "Rocky," opening March 13 at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway. Sylvester Stallone has co-written the book.

DOES ANYBODY WRITE ORIGINAL MUSICALS ANYMORE? Yes, we're looking forward to "If/Then," by the creative team behind "Next to Normal," starring Idina Menzel as a woman seeking a fresh start in New York on her 40th birthday, opening March 27, Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St. Also, Sutton Foster stars in the Broadway premiere of "Violet," Jeanine Tesori's smart and touching chamber musical -- an Off-Broadway hit in 1997 -- about a disfigured young woman on a journey, opening April 20 at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

FINALLY, NEW AMERICAN PLAYS THAT DON'T HAVE TO TRY OUT FIRST OFF-BROADWAY Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons," starring Tyne Daly as a woman whose son died years ago of AIDS, opens March 24 at the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St. John Patrick Shanley's "Outside Mullingar," featuring Debra Messing and Brian F. O'Bryne as middle-aged Irish introverts, opens Jan. 23 at the Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St. Also, musical-theater icon Harvey Fierstein returns to writing plays with "Casa Valentina," about a Catskill hideaway in 1962 where straight men dressed up as women, opens April 23 at the Friedman Theatre.

CAN NEIL PATRICK HARRIS PLAY A TOUGH ROCKER? He can sing, dance, do witty light comedy and charm anxious audiences at award shows. But can the genial multitalented fellow play a tough East German transgender rocker in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," a way-off-Broadway hit in 1998, opening April 22 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.?

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CAN DENZEL PLAY YOUNGER? This terrific actor, who won a Tony for his 2010 portrayal of a disillusioned garbage man in "Fences," will be 59 when he plays Walter Lee Younger in "A Raisin in the Sun." Lorraine Hansberry described the character in her 1959 landmark drama as "a lean, intense young man in his middle 30s." With Diahann Carroll playing his mother, we're inclined to shush gossips who have renamed the Younger family the Olders. Opens April 3 at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

HOW SOON IS TOO SOON? Both "Cabaret" and "Les Misérables" will be revived this spring. "Cabaret," which brings back Alan Cumming in his career-making performance as the emcee in Sam Mendes' 1998 revival, opens April 24 at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., where the production last played. Michelle Williams is Sally Bowles. In contrast, perhaps, "Les Misérables," which originally opened its long run here in 1987 and returned in 2006, comes in from the road March 23 at the Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., in what is called a "re-imagined" production.

PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG ARTIST AS A NEW PLAY It seems odd that no one has ever adapted Moss Hart's revered theater autobiography, "Act One," for the stage. But it feels right that the Lincoln Center Theater and director/adapter James Lapine will be the ones to do it, with Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana playing the legendary playwright/director at different ages. Opens April 17 at the Beaumont at Lincoln Center.

DISNEY'S AWESOME RECONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW AMSTERDAM THEATER Now that "Mary Poppins" has closed after more than six years, we have an excuse to revisit the exquisitely restored landmark theater, 214 W. 42nd St. A new stage version of "Aladdin" opens March 20, with a score that incorporates songs from the 1992 film with Howard Ashman/Alan Menken numbers they wrote for early drafts of the movie.

MORE THAN DAVID BYRNE ENVY Sting doesn't open his first Broadway musical, "The Last Ship," until next fall. But the show has a tryout in Chicago this June and Sting released an album of songs from the autobiographical project last September. Unlike Byrne's immersive and structurally experimental "bio-rock musical" about Imelda Marcos, "Here Lies Love," this is said to be colored with folk music from the fishing village near where Sting grew up and has a traditional book about the plight of struggling shipbuilding workers. Although he sings on the album, he won't be in the show.

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