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A fall full of promise on Broadway

Al Pacino in The Public Theater's production of

Al Pacino in The Public Theater's production of "The Merchant of Venice," directed by Daniel Sullivan, running in repertory with The "Winter's Tale," directed by Michael Greif, from June 9 to August 1 at Shakespeare in the Park. Credit: Joan Marcus

You know how people are always complaining about the familiar glut of musical revivals on Broadway? Not this fall.

And remember how American playwrights are always getting shafted in favor of the Brits and, even when the plays come from London, they have to plaster megastars on the marquee? That's not so true right now.

And then there are the new musicals - or, more precisely, the lack of new musicals - that have darkened the autumn forecasts in recent years on Broadway. Crepe will not be hung for the musical theater today.

A healthy 17 Broadway openings are set for the months before Christmas, which is one less than last year at this time (an especially hectic season). While last fall had five big musical revivals and no new musicals, the current schedule has exactly zero revivals and five new shows - six if you make me count "Rain," a jukebox of Beatles songs replicated by impersonators.

After an elephantine gestation period, a record cash investment and many cast changes, the Julie Taymor-Bono collaboration "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is finally due to open for the holidays.

Two Off-Broadway hits are transferring to Broadway. On the surface, they could not be less alike. And yet "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" (a mock-rock satire about American politics) and "The Scottsboro Boys" (a depiction of a '30s racial injustice) both take on this country's political history with a pertinent edge.

Now that goodbyes have been said to the magnificent "South Pacific," the Lincoln Center Theater has turned its attention to two major enticements - a new talent-encrusted musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," and playwright John Guare's collaboration with director George C. Wolfe in a 19th century New Orleans epic called "A Free Man of Color."

Vanessa Redgrave pairs with James Earl Jones in a revival of "Driving Miss Daisy." Patrick Stewart pairs with T.R. Knight in a revival of David Mamet's youthful "A Life in the Theatre." Laura Linney is back as the troubled war journalist in the transfer of a provocative drama from last season, Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still."

Al Pacino moves to Broadway from Central Park with "The Merchant of Venice." Two British productions - "Brief Encounter" and "The Pitmen Painters" - come on the strength of their material instead of their brand names.

Finally, one of the most exciting promises of the new season is happening Off-Broadway - that is, the Signature Theatre Company's season-long celebration of the work of Tony Kushner. His masterly "Angels in America" (with both parts in rep) opens the tribute, and a big new work, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures," opens in the spring in conjunction with the Public Theater. That's a title with potential to keep me warm through the dark days of winter.

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