This is usually the space where we enumerate the Broadway openings between now and the end of the year — which, according to the theater calendar, really means the first half of the season.
Ordinarily, the preholiday list of big-time promise belongs to the commercial theater, which tends to have 16 or 18 plays and musicals that deserve the headlines. Enticements from Off-Broadway and the nonprofit institutions are listed with shorter descriptions under the title “And keep in mind . . . ”
This fall, however, the pendulum of exciting news has swung beyond the traditional theater district. When Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo are starring in “Othello” in a 199-seat theater in the East Village, Sutton Foster is doing “Sweet Charity” in a house not much bigger and at least 10 of America’s leading playwrights have new work opening Off-Broadway, it seems time to fling open the list of newsworthy autumn theater beyond Midtown.
In fact, Broadway has just 11 openings, which is fewer than I remember in a long time. Quantity is not the same as quality, of course, and those 11 include a number of major enticements. There are just three play revivals, but all are deliciously cast. It is impossible to complain about a season that has Nathan Lane and John Goodman in “The Front Page,” Liev Schreiber and Janet McTeer in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” Diane Lane and Joel Grey in “The Cherry Orchard.”
There is just one musical revival, but it’s an irresistible one — “Falsettos,” the breakthrough chamber musical that, somehow, made AIDS and broken hearts into a song-and-dance tragicomedy.
We have five new musicals, including two very different ones — the story-driven “Dear Evan Hansen” and the immersive “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” — both transfers from Off-Broadway successes. Robert De Niro is directing, actually codirecting, his first Broadway musical, an adaptation of “A Bronx Tale,” obviously a special favorite of his.
On the other (emptier) hand, there is no way to put a smile button on the paltry three new plays. All three are offbeat, which can be interesting, and one — the two-character “Heisenberg” — was already riveting with Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt Off-Broadway last season. “The Encounter,” is a solo about a National Geographic photographer by visionary Simon McBurney and arrives after a heady success in London. The third is a wild card, a two-man comedy called “Oh, Hello on Broadway,” which comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney created on alternative comedy stages and on a Comedy Central special.
Meanwhile, just look at the adventures happening off-Broadway. We have work by Pulitzer-winners Lynn Nottage and Suzan-Lori Parks, plus world premieres or New York premieres by Neil LaBute, Anna Deavere Smith, Richard Greenberg, Nicky Silver, Richard Nelson, Sarah Jones and Mike Bartlett, the British author of “King Charles III,” on Broadway last season.
There is the world premiere of an adaptation of “Dead Poets Society,” starring Jason Sudeikis in his New York stage debut. There is a revival of David Hare’s unforgettable “Plenty,” starring Rachel Weisz, a collection of one-act plays by Horton Foote and Athol Fugard directing his 1982 drama, “Master Harold . . . and the Boys.”
In all, we have what looks to be a remarkable fall season. It just requires a city map and a bit of exploring to make it happen.