Winer is chief theater critic and arts columnist for Newsday, which she joined in 1987.
Whatever else a new year means, the winter/spring season on Broadway is the time producers roll out their big, new shows. After a relatively sleepy autumn for new ideas (OK, let’s assume the singular “Hamilton,” which exploded over the summer, is exempt from all generalizations), the second half of the 2015-2016 theater year promises double the number of new musicals, with a renewed emphasis on offbeat subjects and original scores.
At this point in the fluid schedule, we have 17 openings, two fewer than last year at this time, but one more than in the fall. I count six intriguing new musicals — seven if the pre-Broadway tryout of “Gotta Dance” in Chicago gets here before the April 28 Tony cutoff.
Oddly enough, our Brit-driven Broadway will not be hosting any London imports — at least so far. And, although our star-struck commercial theater won’t be hurting for sparkle (Jessica Lange and Forest Whitaker in plays by O’Neill, Ben Whishaw in Arthur Miller, Lupita Nyong’o in a drama about women prisoners in Liberia), most of the star power will come from actors rooted and nurtured right here.
This includes four of the most gifted musical talents of their generation — Audra McDonald in the updated spin on “Shuffle Along,” Carolee Carmello in “Tuck Everlasting,” Jessie Mueller in “Waitress” and Laura Benanti in the season’s only musical revival, the tender “She Loves Me.”
Frank Langella, who was ours before he was big on large and small screens, returns for the premiere of “The Father,” one of just four new plays. (Two, “The Humans” and “Eclipsed,” are transfers from Off-Broadway.) Also, Jeff Daniels (“Blackbird”) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Fully Committed”) — both stage-born and bred — will be back in two of the season’s six play revivals.
Here is the season, listed chronologically within genres.
“Our Mother’s Brief Affair” (opens Jan. 20, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.) Linda Lavin stars in the New York premiere by Tony-winning playwright Richard Greenberg — his 11th collaboration with the Manhattan Theatre Club. In this one, a family tries to process the reality of the titular revelation.
“The Humans” (opens Feb. 18, Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St.) Pulitzer-finalist Stephen Karam, discovered three plays ago by the Roundabout Theatre Company, makes his Broadway debut in this rich, funny and disturbing family tragic-comedy about a haunted Thanksgiving.
“Eclipsed” (opens March 6, Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.) The Public Theater couldn’t begin to print enough tickets to meet the demand to see the Kenyan-raised film star Lupita Nyong’o in Danai Gurira’s drama about captive “wives” of rebels during the Liberian civil war. Now Broadway gets a chance.
“The Father” (opens April 12, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.) Frank Langella plays a retired dancer who lives with his daughter in this psychological mystery by French playwright Florian Zeller. Doug Hughes (“Doubt”) directs the American premiere, translated by Christopher Hampton.
“Disaster!” (opens March 8, Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.) This one wins the award for best title that’s asking for trouble, but, this time, it’s intentional. A spoof of those all-star ’70s disaster movies, the musical takes place at the opening of a disco on Manhattan’s first floating casino. The cast of recognizable comic experts includes Roger Bart, Kerry Butler, Kevin Chamberlin, Faith Prince, Rachel York, Adam Pascal and co-author Seth Rudetsky. (A smaller production of the show was a cult hit several years ago Off-Broadway, but I’m counting this one as new again.)
“Bright Star” (opens March 24, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.) Steve Martin and Edie Brickell cowrote this bluegrass musical about unlikely lovers in the Deep South in the ’20s and ’40s. Walter Bobbie (“Chicago”) directs.
“Tuck Everlasting” (opens April 26, Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.) Claudia Shear (“Dirty Blonde”) wrote the book and Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon,” “Something Rotten”) directs and choreographs this musical adaptation of the novel and 2002 movie about an adventurous young girl and a surprising family.
“Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed” (opens April 28, Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.) Imagine the talent — Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter and many others — in a new version of Eubie Blake’s historic black musical, with a book by director George C. Wolfe. (Warning: McDonald will not perform June 20-Sept. 27.)
“American Psycho” (opens in April, date to be announced, Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.) Bret Easton Ellis’ dark novel about a real killer of an ’80s Wall Street hotshot probably did not make you want to sing and dance. But here’s the musical, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening”), directed by Rupert Goold and starring Benjamin Walker (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”).
“Waitress” (opens April 24, Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.) Diane Paulus (“Pippin”) directs this adaptation of the 2007 movie about temptations offered to the winner of a baking contest in a small, stifling town. Tony-winner Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful”) stars.
“Noises Off” (opens Jan. 14, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.) Andrea Martin, Megan Hilty, Rob McClure and many other amusing talents co-star in this revival of Michael Frayn’s comedy — considered, without much argument, the best backstage farce of our time. British director Jeremy Herrin (“Wolf Hall” on Broadway) stages the intricately-timed havoc.
“Hughie” (opens Feb. 25, Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.) Forest Whitaker plays the small-time crook with a big-time monologue and Frank Wood is the hotel night clerk in this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s two-character conversation about a dead guy named Hughie. Jason Robards introduced the lead to Broadway in 1964 and Al Pacino directed himself in the drama in 1996.
“Blackbird” (opens March 10, Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.) In 2007, Jeff Daniels played a 50-something office worker and ex-con who is confronted, years later, by the preteen with whom he had sex. Michelle Williams plays Lolita, all grown-up, in David Harrower’s drama about a love that dare not speak its age. Joe Mantello again directs.
“The Crucible” (opens April 7, Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St.) Ben Whishaw makes his Broadway debut in Ivo van Hove’s revival of Arthur Miller’s furious and haunting 1953 parable set in the Salem witch trials but aimed at more contemporary witch hunts. Van Hove already stunningly reinvented Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” on Broadway this fall, so expect the unexpected.
“Long Day’s Journey into Night” (opens April 27, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.) Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher, Jr., tackle Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical masterwork in this much-anticipated revival.
“Fully Committed” (opens April 25, Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.) Jesse Tyler Ferguson may be identifiable by millions as a member of TV’s “Modern Family,” but he has been a New York theater favorite for years. Ferguson, also a summer regular at Shakespeare in the Park, stars in Becky Mode’s one-man comic showcase about a reservationist at New York’s trendiest restaurant.
“She Loves Me” (opens March 17, Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.) Scott Ellis directed a triumphant revival of this endearing 1963 romantic musical for the Roundabout Theatre in 1993. In honor of the company’s 50th anniversary, Ellis returns to the show about two salespeople in Budapest in the 1930s, based on a Hungarian play that’s also the inspiration for the films “The Shop Around the Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail.” Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi co-star with a cast that includes Jane Krakowski. Music is by Jerry Bock, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, also represented on Broadway now in a little show called “Fiddler on the Roof.”