Winer is chief theater critic and arts columnist for Newsday, which she joined in 1987.
We may wonder about springtime ever coming, but Broadway has no doubts. Welcome to March and April, the mad months for openings before the gate comes down on eligibility for Tony Awards. Seventeen shows will open between Sunday and April 24 -- including five new American plays, four new musicals and more than a few revivals of plays and musicals never before seen on Broadway.
It appears the Tony committee is anticipating a crunch of hard decisions -- or a hunger for broader marketing. At a recent meeting, the number of potential slots for play, musical, play revival and musical revival was raised from four to five -- provided there are nine or more contenders in each category. As Variety endearingly describes this, the major categories have been "supersized."
Tony nominations are announced April 29, and the CBS telecast is June 8. Here is the future until then:
ROCKY (opens Thursday, Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway). With some of the wackiest creative bedfellows of the season, Rocky Balboa has been brought to musical life with a book by Sylvester Stallone and Thomas Meehan ("Annie"). The score is by the seriously conventional team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty ("Ragtime"), with direction by wild-card innovator Alex Timbers ("Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"). Oh, and fight choreography is by Steven Hoggett, the Brit who designed the weirdly enchanting movement of "Once."
ALADDIN (March 20, New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St.). Disney hasn't had a big new family show since the unfortunate "Little Mermaid" glubbed in 2008. This one includes songs from the 1992 film along with some that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote for early drafts of the movie. Casey Nicholaw ("The Drowsy Chaperone") directs.
LES MISÉRABLES (March 23, Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.). Again? In fact, this is a restaged edition of the long-running Masterpiece Musical, with newcomer Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean and Will Swenson (who made love not war as Berger in "Hair") as Inspector Javert.
MOTHERS AND SONS (March 24, Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.). Tyne Daly plays a mother who, years after her son died from AIDS, encounters his partner. Frederick Weller and Bobby Steggert co-star in this latest by Terrence McNally ("Love, Valour, Compassion").
IF/THEN (March 27, Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.). Idina Menzel catapulted into tween-girl diva-dom in Elphaba's green paint in "Wicked." Now she is back playing a 40-year-old who returns to New York to make a fresh start. Author Brian Yorkey, composer Tom Kitt and director Michael Greif -- the creative team of "Next to Normal" -- explore the heart of another complicated woman.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN (April 3, Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.). Denzel Washington is the star and the reason for this revival of Lorraine Hansberry's classic drama about three generations of a black family in Chicago. LaTanya Richardson Jackson was recently cast to play his mother, replacing Diahann Carroll, who dropped out during rehearsals. Is Washington, 59, too old to play Walter Younger, meant to be in his mid 30s? Or isn't that why they call it acting?
THE REALISTIC JONESES (April 6, Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.). Playwright Will Eno is a provocative, controversial voice Off-Broadway, but now Broadway gets to know why he's worth the arguments. His play about suburban neighbors with the same last name stars Michael C. Hall, Marisa Tomei, Toni Collette and Tracy Letts.
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (April 10, St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.). Woody Allen's '20s backstage-Broadway movie seemed like a Broadway musical when it got seven Oscar nominations in 1994. Now it is one -- Allen's first -- directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman ("The Producers") and starring Zach Braff, with Marin Mazzie in Dianne Wiest's star dressing room as Helen Sinclair.
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL (April 13, Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway). This late addition to the end-of-season crowd stars Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in Lanie Robertson's two-character musical, which ran Off-Broadway in 1986. Since no one is quite sure whether this will be classified as a musical or a play with music, theater people are debating in which category McDonald -- who already has five Tonys -- will be looming.
OF MICE AND MEN (April 16, Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.). Just when you think James Franco has done everything, he discovers he hasn't yet made his Broadway debut. Consider it done. He plays George, the protective friend of Chris O'Dowd's slow-witted Lenny in John Steinbeck's adaptation of his 1937 classic novella.
ACT ONE (April 17, Lincoln Center Theater). Moss Hart's 1959 autobiography is generally agreed to be one of the best theater memoirs -- maybe even one of the best memoirs -- ever written. James Lapine adapts and directs this new play, with Tony Shalhoub and Andrea Martin.
VIOLET (April 20, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.). Sutton Foster plays a disfigured woman on a quest through the Midwest in this Broadway premiere of Jeanine Tesori's haunting chamber musical. The show, which first ran Off-Broadway in 1997, was seen for one dazzling concert performance with Foster last summer as part of Tesori's first season as director of the Off-Broadway edition of the Encores! series.
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN (April 20, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.). Daniel Radcliffe, whose impressive Broadway work has moved far from any shadow of Harry Potter, had a triumph in London last summer in this revival of Martin McDonagh's very dark Irish comedy. Radcliffe plays Cripple Billy, an orphan desperate to be cast in a Hollywood film being made about life on the islands off the west coast of Ireland. Michael Grandage directs the Broadway premiere of the play, which was seen at the Public Theater in 1998 and the Atlantic in 2008.
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN (April 21, Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.). Estelle Parsons stars as an aging artist who resists being forced into a nursing home and Stephen Spinella plays her estranged son in Eric Coble's drama.
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (April 22, Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.). Who would have thought, in 1998, that this way-downtown musical about an East German transgender rocker would have been welcomed on Broadway? And who would have imagined that the ever-charming and multitalented Neil Patrick Harris for this one?
CASA VALENTINA (April 23, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.). Harvey Fierstein takes a break from creating smash musicals with this play about a real-life resort in the Catskills, where, in the early '60s, straight men came to dress up as women. Master director Joe Mantello stages the historical journey with such theater luminaries as Reed Birney, John Cullum and Larry Pine.
CABARET (April 24, Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.). Broadway comes back to the cabaret with the return of Sam Mendes' spectacularly down-and-dirty 1998 revival of the John Kander and Fred Ebb classic. Alan Cumming returns as the Emcee, the role that kicked off his American career, with Michelle Williams making her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles.