Broadway shows opening fall 2012: from 'Chaplin' to 'Cyrano'

Zachary Unger as young Charlie Chaplain and Rob Zachary Unger as young Charlie Chaplain and Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplain in "Chaplin the Musical," at the Barrymore Theatre. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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When the 2011-2012 Tony nominators ignored just about everything that opened before last spring, we wondered if producers would bother with a fall season altogether.

But here we are with 16 upcoming Broadway openings, not counting "Elf" and "A Christmas Story: The Musical" at the holidays. And if we add those, plus "Bring It On" and "Harvey," which opened in the summer, we get 20 productions for the first half of the season, which ends Dec. 31. That's one more than the number we had at this time last year -- and the previous year.

Like last year, there are just as many plays as musicals (five each), and more play revivals (seven) than returns of familiar musicals (three). The other shocker, in our musical- and Brit-obsessed corner of the culture, is that all the new plays are by Americans.

Speaking of things American, it just may be excellent timing for "Annie," the little-orphan hit machine from 1977, when some pundits ascribed the unlikely success of the sunny and simple show to something called "Carter-era optimism." No kidding.

The musical, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, will be directed this time by James Lapine -- the sophisticated fellow best known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim, who also happens to make remarkable theater with child actors.

It may always be tomorrow somewhere in the world for the icon with the orange poodle wig and the pooch and the seven Tonys.

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But this will be Broadway's first "Annie" revival since 1997, the 20th-anniversary production that barely ran seven months. Perhaps nobody was talking about the New Deal in those prosperous times, much less singing about federal works projects. The new revival has the advantage, such as it is, of being a Depression-era musical in a Depression-mentality era.

Of course, neither "Annie" nor Broadway statistics will be the real story of the autumn. The news, just like last year, will be the stars.

Al Pacino is doing "Glengarry Glen Ross" again, but he's doing a different character than he played in the movie. Single mom Katie Holmes, who had a modest part in Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" in 2008, takes center stage in a new drama, "Dead Accounts." Paul Rudd and Ed Asner cross demographics in a dark comedy, "Grace." Henry Winkler takes on a comedy about the porn industry, "The Performers." Theater newcomer Debra Winger joins Broadway pro Patti LuPone in David Mamet's "The Anarchist," while Jessica Chastain, who sprang into consciousness with her Oscar nomination for "The Help," dares one of the stage's big female roles in "The Heiress."

It would be nice if, next spring, the Tony nominators found at least a few of them unforgettable. Here are 16 big shows coming to Broadway this fall.

1. Chaplin: The Musical (Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., Sept. 10). The most famous icon of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin, becomes bio-musical material, with Rob McClure playing the British-born artist from his tough boyhood on the streets through his death at 88 in 1977. Thomas Meehan ("Annie") wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Broadway newcomer Christopher Curtis and direction by Warren Carlyle ("Finian's Rainbow").

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2. An Enemy of the People (Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., Sept. 27). Henrik Ibsen's still-modern late-19th century drama about a doctor who tries to expose water contamination hasn't been produced on Broadway since a much earlier incarnation of the Lincoln Center Theater did it in 1971. The Manhattan Theatre Club brings a new adaptation, first done in London in 2008, and has cast such splendid actors as Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas. Doug Hughes ("Doubt") directs.

3. Grace (Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., Oct. 4). Michael Shannon, the deliciously creepy Prohibition guy in "Boardwalk Empire," has been delightfully making the rounds in Off-Broadway productions this year. Now he comes to Broadway with Paul Rudd and the redoubtable Ed Asner in Craig Wright's dark comedy about Gospel motels.

4. Cyrano de Bergerac (American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., Oct. 11). One of the most romantic of all the classics returns for the first time since Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner brought it to Broadway in 2007. This time, Edmond Rostand's drama about internal beauty will star Douglas Hodge, Tony winner from the most recent "La Cage aux Folles," as the poetic swordsman with the life-defining nose. Patrick Page, whose Green Goblin was the only real fun in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," also stars.

5. Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., Oct. 13). The Steppenwolf revival of Albee's devastating 1962 domestic dissection arrives with massive acclaim both from Chicago and a Washington run. Directed by Pam MacKinnon ("Clybourne Park"), the production stars Tracy Letts -- best known as the playwright of "August: Osage County" -- and the remarkable Amy Morton. To add to the sense of occasion, the play will open on its 50th anniversary.

6. The Heiress (Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St., Nov. 1). It will be hard, at least for a few minutes, not to picture Cherry Jones, so luminous as the unmarried Catherine Sloper in the 1995 revival of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 adaptation of Henry James' "Washington Square." On the other hand, the new production has Jessica Chastain, Hollywood's newest thinking-person's It Girl, in her Broadway debut. Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey") and David Strathairn co-star in Mois├ęs Kaufman's production.

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7. Annie: The Musical (Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, Nov. 8). Hey, kids, watch out for the terrific Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan. Bet she'll be the scariest.

8. Glengarry Glen Ross (Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., Nov. 11). Two years ago, Daniel Sullivan directed Al Pacino in that riveting production of "The Merchant of Venice." Now the two pair up for a revival of David Mamet's merciless Pulitzer Prize-winning evisceration of competition and the American dream. Pacino, who played upstart Ricky Roma in the 1992 movie, ages here into Shelley Levene, the character played on film by Jack Lemmon. The unstoppably charming Bobby Cannavale is Ricky now, in a cast that also includes Richard Schiff and Jeremy Shamos.

9. The Performers (Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., Nov. 14). A couple of high school buddies and their women reconnect at the -- wait for it -- Adult Film Awards in Vegas. The new comedy by David West Read stars -- wait again -- Henry Winkler and multitalented Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson, and promises sex, love and Barry Manilow.

10. Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson (Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., Nov. 15). Kathie Lee Gifford may not be the first, or maybe the 101st, celebrity you'd expect to find as the composer and lyricist of a musical about the 1920s celebrity evangelist, but get used to it. The wonderful Carolee Carmello has been recruited to play the soul-saving media magnet.

11. Rebecca (Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., Nov. 18). Direct -- well, after six years -- from runs in Finland, Japan and Austria comes this period musical based on Daphne du Maurier's '30s-gothic mystery about the shadow of a dead wife on a new married couple. The production, reportedly a big one, was supposed to open last season, but the money is said to have run out. Francesca Zambello, the opera director who staged the European version, is joined now by Michael Blakemore ("Kiss Me Kate" and a specialist in the heady dramas of Michael Frayn).

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12. Dead Accounts (Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St., Nov. 29). The new life of famous divorcee Katie Holmes will be marked by her Broadway turn in the New York premiere of "Smash" creator Theresa Rebeck's five-character comedy. Holmes plays a sister obsessed with understanding the return of her brother (Norbert Leo Butz). Jack O'Brien ("The Coast of Utopia") directs.

13. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., Nov. 13). How odd that this is Broadway's first revival of the lark that began life under Joseph Papp's wing in 1985. Written and composed by Rupert Holmes, the musical is a murder mystery on the stage of a Victorian music hall -- and, each night, the audience chooses the killer. Scott Ellis directs the production, which stars, among other enticements, Chita Rivera as Princess Puffer and Stephanie J. Block as young Edwin Drood.

14. The Anarchist (Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., Dec. 2). For decades Patti LuPone has given lie to the reasonable belief that David Mamet can't write female characters. She has done some of her strongest dramatic work in Mamet plays and, in this two-fister, she is joined by Debra Winger in her Broadway debut. Winger plays warden to LuPone's inmate. Imagine the possibilities. Mamet directs.

15. Golden Boy (Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., Dec. 6). Seth Numrich (best friend of Joey the horse in "War Horse") stars as a gifted violinist lured into high-prize boxing in Clifford Odets' drama. Bartlett Sher, who staged "South Pacific" and Odets' "Awake & Sing!" for the Lincoln Center Theater, directs the same theater's 75th anniversary revival with a cast that includes Danny Burstein and Tony Shalhoub.

16. The Other Place (Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., previews begin Dec. 11). Laurie Metcalf was staggering as an unhinged neurologist in the Off-Broadway premiere of this psychological thriller by Sharr White and directed by Joe Mantello. Now Broadway gets to see this fascinating work.

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