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Lighting up Broadway marquees this fall

Hannah Yelland in Emma Rice's production of "Brief

Hannah Yelland in Emma Rice's production of "Brief Encounter," at Studio 54 in Manhattan, Sept. 1- through Dec. 5, 2010. Credit: Kevin Berne

Brief Encounter (Sept. 28, Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.). I felt bad for anyone who didn't get into last season's sold-out run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. So it's wonderful news that this enchanting multimedia adaptation of Noël Coward's beloved weeper has been reimported with England's ingenuous Kneehigh Theatre for a Broadway run.

The Pitmen Painters (Sept. 30, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.). Lee Hall did not use up everything he felt about artistic spirit in the English provinces with his screenplay and musical book for "Billy Elliot." The new play, imported intact from its London premiere, explores the lives of miners from Northumberland who became famous painters.

Mrs. Warren's Profession (Oct. 3, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.). The marvelous Cherry Jones, in her first Broadway challenge since serving as U.S. president in "24," tackles George Bernard Shaw's serious comedy about the ramifications of a mother's notorious efforts to raise an independent daughter. Doug Hughes ("Doubt") directs.

Time Stands Still (Oct. 7, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.). Donald Margulies' drama about war journalists at home was such a success in a limited run last season that Manhattan Theatre Club brings Daniel Sullivan's production back with Laura Linney, Eric Bogosian and Brian d'Arcy James. Christina Ricci, as the editor's young girlfriend, is new to the cast.

A Life in the Theatre (Oct. 12, Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.). In 1977, a young Chicago playwright named David Mamet wrote a clear-eyed but heartfelt love letter to the theater. It is being revived with Patrick Stewart as the older thespian and T.R. Knight as the green actor. Neil Pepe, Mamet specialist (and head of the Atlantic Theater Company) directs.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Oct. 13, Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.). America's seventh president gets a thoroughly modern spin in this irreverent musical about the importance of charisma in the shameless history of this country's leadership. The musical, written and directed by Alex Timbers with an emo-rock satiric score by Michael Friedman, was a spring hit at the Public Theater, making a downtown star out of a dashing young talent named Benjamin Walker as the brutal and charming Jackson.

La Bête (Oct. 14, Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.). In 1991, David Hirson's period farce - in rhymed couplets, yet - won Newsday's Oppy Award for a first play in New York, then flopped noisily on Broadway, then promptly won the Olivier in London for best comedy. The stylish costume comedy gets another chance at Broadway in a new London production starring David Hyde Pierce and the unstoppable Mark Rylance. Matthew Warchus directs.

The Merchant of Venice (Nov. 7, Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.). The smash of the summer's Shakespeare in the Park transfers to Broadway with Al Pacino repeating his multidimensional Shylock and Lily Rabe in her revelatory portrayal of Portia. Daniel Sullivan again directs a production that balances the cruelty and humor of this daunting drama with rare lucidity and compassion.

Lombardi (Oct. 21, Circle in the Square Theatre, 50th Street west of Broadway). Football legends are not often the focus on Broadway, but Eric Simonson's drama hopes to change that. Dan Lauria stars as the inspirational and unpredictable NFL coach, a characterization based on "When Pride Still Mattered," a biography by David Maraniss.

Driving Miss Daisy (Oct. 25, Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.). When you think "widowed 72-year-old Southern Jewish woman," your first thought may not be Vanessa Redgrave. But the English acting legend joins American acting legend James Earl Jones in this much-anticipated revival of Alfred Uhry's 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner about a difficult woman and her chauffeur.

Rain - A Tribute to The Beatles on Broadway (Oct. 26, Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.). Imitators of the Fab Four recreate the hits in a multimedia concert with historical footnotes.

The Scottsboro Boys (Oct. 31, Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.). Musical masters John Kander and Fred Ebb had not seen their stylized political history onstage when Ebb died in 2004. But Kander, author David Thompson and choreographer-director Susan Stroman jumped into the challenge last season at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre. The show, about nine black men unjustly accused of attacking two white women in the South in the '30s, is audaciously told in the form of a minstrel show. John Cullum again serves as the white ringleader-narrator.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Nov. 4, Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.). Lincoln Center Festival's musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 movie comes with the magical "South Pacific" pedigrees of director Bartlett Sher and choreographer Christopher Gattelli. The book is by Jeffrey Lane and score by David Yazbek (both of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"), with an irresistible cast including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sherie Rene Scott, Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti.

The Pee-wee Herman Show (Nov. 11, Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124W. 43rd St.). Paul Reubens and many of the cast from the immortal, or at least memorable, CBS spoof, "Pee-wee's Playhouse," are reunited on Broadway to recapture the profundity of the ridiculous. Alex Timbers, currently staging "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," directs.

Elf (Nov. 14-Jan. 2, Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St.). Taking a welcome break from "White Christmas," Broadway offers a fresh-faced new musical for the holidays. Casey Nicholaw, director and choreographer of "The Drowsy Chaperone," is in charge of this adaptation of the 2003 movie. George Wendt will play Santa.

A Free Man of Color (Nov. 18, Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65th St.). Brilliantly off-center playwright John Guare ("Six Degrees of Separation") collaborates with director George C. Wolfe ("Angels in America") for what's described as a freewheeling epic set in the sexually charged, racially progressive New Orleans of 1802. Jeffrey Wright stars as the title character, a wealthy Don Juan, in a world unprepared for seismic social change.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (Dec. 21, Foxwoods Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St.). And finally, we think, perhaps. This much-delayed mega-budget spectacular promises to have Spidey flying by Christmas week. Julie Taymor, the genius behind "The Lion King," joins with Bono and The Edge for a musical based on the endearing Marvel comic superhero.

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