Seems like old times on Broadway this fall.
But don't take your nap yet. Really. I don't mean old in the ho-hum decrepit sense, at least not with the commercial theater aglow in the autumnal promise of another new season. I mean old in the paucity of new plays (four) and musicals (three) in the 16 openings scheduled before the end of the year. (Seventeen if you count the return of a magician act, "The Illusionists," for the holidays.)
There are five revivals of seriously interesting plays, with genuinely enticing casts -- including Clive Owens making his Broadway debut in "Old Times," written in 1971 but, like most of Harold Pinter's elusive adventures, it hasn't aged a minute. I can't imagine anyone complaining about the seasoned glory of Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones getting together for another hand of "The Gin Game," circa 1977. Nor can we be anything but excited about the 50th anniversary production of "Fiddler on the Roof," directed by Bartlett Sher with his creative team from "South Pacific" and "The King and I."
Granted, there are Broadway newcomers -- but in new spins on familiar work. This includes Bruce Willis in a stage version of the Stephen King novel and 1990 movie, "Misery," Keira Knightley in a new adaptation of Emile Zola's 1867 novel "Thérèse Raquin" and Jennifer Hudson is in a rethought British revival of "The Color Purple." The life and music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan are celebrated in what appears to be a jukebox bio, "On Your Feet!"
At the center of the new/old headlines is Andrew Lloyd Webber, back at the Winter Garden Theatre where "Cats" opened in 1982 and ran 18 years. That record was broken by his "Phantom of the Opera," which opened in 1986 and lives perhaps forever.
It is no secret, however, that Lloyd Webber, once the most successful composer-tycoon on Broadway, followed those hits with a string of disappointments -- including "Aspects of Love," "Whistle Down the Wind," "The Beautiful Game," "The Woman in White" and "Love Never Dies." Not all of them even made it from London to New York.
So there is special interest in the fate of "School of Rock," which begins previews Nov. 9 at the Winter Garden. For starters, this is his first new show to open cold on Broadway -- unless you count a high profile workshop held downtown in June.
Although Lloyd Webber is hardly a stranger to movie adaptations -- see "Sunset Boulevard" -- this one comes from a relatively recent film, the beloved 2003 comedy that starred Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a failed rocker who takes a job as a substitute teacher. Alex Brightman plays the guy who inspires his fifth graders by herding them into a rock group. Genuine kids play the kids, who also play their own instruments.
Other highlights of the season include Al Pacino, back with his buddy David Mamet in a new play, "China Doll." And in contrast to what sound like musical retreads is George Takei, making his Broadway debut in "Allegiance," a new show about a Japanese-American family during World War II.
Unlike last fall, which was dominated by American actors in American plays, two of the most intriguing offerings are imported from London. "King Charles III," Mike Bartlett's verse fantasy about the long-delayed ascension of Prince Charles, arrives with an Olivier Award and major buzz.
The other is an unexpected hybrid, a revival of Arthur Miller's 1955 "A View from the Bridge" in a celebrated British production directed by Belgian auteur Ivo van Hove. Although New York will have other Miller revivals in honor of his Oct. 17 centennial, the only other two this fall are Off-Broadway ("Incident at Vichy" at Signature Theatre and, yes, a Yiddish "Death of a Salesman" by the New Yiddish Rep.).
"It is hard to complain about a season in which Sam Shepard gets to break the gates of Broadway, even if the smartly cast play, "Fool for Love," was Off-Broadway news in 1983. But when the newest play among the revivals is "Sylvia," A.R. Gurney's lovable shaggy-dog comedy from 1995, it seems clear that old times -- even ones that turn out to be good old days -- are now.