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'Hamlet,' 'A Steady Rain' and 16 more Broadway openings

Jude Law, left, is the great Dane in

Jude Law, left, is the great Dane in a 2009 modern-dress version of "Hamlet," with Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ophelia. Credit: Johan Persson

This wasn't supposed to happen. With the economy in a shambles, Broadway was really not expected to thrive all spring and summer, much less to come back with another star-driven, provocative autumn.

At least 18 openings (four more than last fall) are scheduled before the end of the year - most conspicuously, of course, Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman playing Chicago cops in "A Steady Rain," a new two-character drama by little-known author Keith Huff.

In fact, the news of the season may well be the preposterously rare arrival of six new plays on Broadway, five by Americans, and it only seems as if they're all from Chicago. "Race," starring James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas, is written and directed by Chicago's first famous playwright, David Mamet. "Superior Donuts," set in a Chicago doughnut shop, is Tracy Letts' first work since winning the Pulitzer Prize for "August: Osage County."

The potential blockbuster musicals - "The Addams Family" and the off-again-on-again, financially challenged "Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark" - don't happen until the spring.

But there are five big musical revivals, including the 1960 pop-and-roll lark "Bye, Bye Birdie" to open the Roundabout's 1,000-seat Henry Miller's Theatre, with Gina Gershon, John Stamos and Bill Irwin. And Stephen Sondheim's luscious "A Little Night Music" is rumored to promise Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

We'll also see four play revivals, including a modern-dress "Hamlet" from London starring Jude Law, who was memorable as Kathleen Turner's son in "Indiscretions" on Broadway in 1995 - before everyone knew too much about his personal life. There's also a mini-Neil Simon festival of his rich '80s semiautobiographical seriocomedies, "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Broadway Bound." Laurie Metcalf is the mom in both, which are directed by Chicagoan David Cromer, responsible for the exquisite "Our Town" still running Off-Broadway.

Mamet has a revival, too - "Oleanna," his sexual-harassment conundrum starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles. For serious theater-star casting, it may be hard to top the revival of "The Royal Family," the backstage comedy by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, with a luxurious company that includes Rosemary Harris and John Glover and is directed by Doug Hughes ("Doubt").

The edgy-musical entry is "Fela!," an Off-Broadway phenomenon last season. This is an exploration of the life, politics and music of Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti - a name we're all going to have to learn to spell - by Bill T. Jones, the modern-dance master who won a Tony for his choreography of "Spring Awakening." The other new musical is "Memphis," about a white DJ who plays "race" records in '50s Tennessee, with a new rhythm-and-blues score by David Bryan, co-founder of Bon Jovi.

American playwrights are rare birds on Broadway, but American women playwrights are virtually nonexistent. Now Sarah Ruhl makes her commercial-theater debut with "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play," with musical stars Laura Benanti ("Gypsy") and Michael Cerveris ("Sweeney Todd") in a play without music, coyly described as being about "marriage, intimacy, electricity," and the 19th century diagnoses of female hysteria. (And, yes, this was produced first in Chicago.)

The lone British script, thus far, is "After Miss Julie," by the amusingly tough-minded Patrick Marber ("Closer"), spiked up with local debuts of English actors (and gossip staples) Sienna Miller and Jonny Lee Miller. And, since Broadway no longer has a Tony for special events, Carrie Fisher's celebrated satirical solo memoir, "Wishful Drinking" - can we call it "After Princess Leia"? - will be counted as a new play.

Potentially one of the most substantial musical revivals is "Ragtime," the 1997 adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's turn-of-the-century novel, transferring from a successful run in Washington. "Finian's Rainbow," E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's sweetly ridiculous, wonderfully melodic, politically progressive show from 1947, is transferring from a successful weekend at Encores! Finally, "White Christmas" will be back, though, as always, the color of Broadway's dreams is green.

Opening nights

A Steady Rain, opens Sept. 29, Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 49th St., 212-239-6200

Superior Donuts, opens Oct. 1, Music Box, 239 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200

Wishful Drinking, opens Oct. 4, Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., 212-719-1300

Hamlet, opens Oct. 6, Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200

The Royal Family, opens Oct. 8, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 46th St., 212-239-6200

Oleanna, opens Oct. 11, Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200

Bye Bye Birdie, opens Oct. 15, Henry Miller’s Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St., 212-239-6200

Memphis, opens Oct. 19, Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200

After Miss Julie, opens Oct. 22, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., 212-719-1300

Brighton Beach Memoirs, opens Oct. 25, Nederlander Theatre, 877-250-2929

Finian’s Rainbow, opens Oct. 29, St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200

White Christmas, begins previews Nov. 13, Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway, 877-250-2929

Ragtime, opens Nov. 15, Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., 877-250-2929

In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, opens Nov. 19, Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200

Fela!, opens Nov. 23, Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 47th St., 877-250-2929

Race, opens Dec. 6, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200

Broadway Bound, opens Dec. 10, Nederlander Theatre, 877-250-2929

A Little Night Music, opens in December, date and theater to be announced.

Also worth seeing: 'Othello' to 'Streetcar'

Othello (Sept. 27). Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Iago to John Ortiz as the jealous Moor in a staging by avant-garde director Peter Sellars. NYU Skirball Center, 566 LaGuardia Place, 212-352-3101.

Two Unrelated Plays: Keep Your Pantheon and School (Sept. 30). Yes, two more by David Mamet, this time starring Brian Murray and John Pankow at Mamet's Off-Broadway home, the Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., 212-279-4200.

Love, Loss and What I Wore (Oct. 1). Nora and Delia Ephron base these vignettes on Ilene Beckerman's book and memories of the sisters' friends, then present them with three different five-member casts, each in four-week cycles. Confirmed include Rosie O'Donnell, Tyne Daley, Samantha Bee, Kristin Chenoweth, Rita Wilson, Rhea Perlman and her daughter, Lucy DeVito. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St., 212-239-6200.

Lipsynch (Oct. 3). Robert LePage, the Canadian visionary slated to direct an entire "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera, returns first to the Brooklyn Academy of Music with this 81/2-hour, two-night epic about many wars, seven decades and the power of the human voice. (Can be seen in two nights or as a marathon.) Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100.

Let Me Down Easy (Oct. 7). Anna Deavere Smith returns with one of her multivoiced, one-woman journeys, this one about the power of the body, based mostly on interviews with doctors and patients, famous and not. Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St. 212-246-4422.

The Lady With All the Answers (Oct. 14). Judith Ivey plays the late syndicate advice columnist Ann Landers in this play based on her life and letters. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., 212-239-6200.

Idiot Savant (Nov. 4). Willem Dafoe, a theater creature long before the movies discovered his creepy self, stars in this philosophical comedy, written and directed by avant-garde legend Richard Foreman. Expect something about interspecies golf with a giant duck. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., 212-260-2400.

The Brother/Sister Plays, Part 1 and Part 2 (Nov. 17). Tarell Alvin McCraney, the singular young black playwright, returns to the Public Theater with a trilogy about an extended family in the Bayou. (Can be seen in two nights or as a marathon.) 425 Lafayette St., 212-260-2400.

The Orphan's Home Cycle (Nov. 19, Dec. 13, Jan. 24). Before he died in March, Horton Foote adapted his nine-play cycle into three parts, which the Signature Theatre Company, 555 W. 42nd St., will roll out through the season, eventually offering opportunities for all-day marathons. 212-244-PLAY.

A Streetcar Named Desire (Nov. 27). Cate Blanchett stars as Blanche DuBois in this production, directed by Liv Ullmann, from Blanchett's Sydney Theatre Company. BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100.

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