A mighty presence will tower over Broadway this fall, a 20-foot-high, 2,000-pound masterpiece of reinforced steel. You can call him "King Kong."
"He's the most sophisticated marionette puppet ever made," says Sonny Tilders, the man largely responsible for the beast. Tilders, creative director of the Creature Technology Company in Melbourne, Australia, was in New York earlier this summer to supervise the first rehearsals with Kong, which opens Nov. 8. On an early August afternoon, he sat in the balcony watching as the lithe but strong crew known as "the King's company" learned how to manipulate Kong's arm so it appears he's scooping water from a pond.
The play follows pretty closely the original 1933 film, though less-than-stellar reviews for a 2013 production in Australia delayed the 2014 Broadway opening and sent the production team back to the drawing board. "Everyone loved Kong," said Tilders, but the story, he acknowledged, needed some work. Some big names — Marsha Norman, Craig Lucas and Jason Robert Brown — left the project, which is now in the hands of book writer Jack Thorne, already making Broadway magic with "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," with music from Marius de Vries ("La La Land") and Eddie Perfect.
Kong will be keeping fine company this season. "The Cher Show," featuring three actresses portraying the legendary singer at different life stages, will open Dec. 3. "Sings but doesn't soar," said Variety when the show previewed in Chicago earlier this summer, with a number of critics calling for streamlining the show-within-a-show storyline. Still, we'll get costumes from Bob Mackie, the singer's longtime collaborator, and initial sketches promise the kind of outlandish, over-the-top get-ups we've come to expect from the flamboyant entertainer.
After a sometimes contentious legal battle with the estate of Harper Lee, producer Scott Rudin reached a settlement that allows him to proceed with a new stage adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Aaron Sorkin. Much of the wrangling involved the depiction of Atticus Finch, to be played by Jeff Daniels. "As far as Atticus and his virtue goes," Sorkin told New York Magazine last fall, "this is a different take on 'Mockingbird.' "
A couple of London transplants also hold great promise. "The Ferryman" by Jez Butterworth crosses the pond after a heralded yearlong run in London, where it was named best new play at the Oliviers (the British Tonys). The epic family drama is set on a rural Northern Island farm in 1981. And a late start to the season, "Network" comes from another successful London run. Bryan Cranston, last seen on Broadway playing LBJ, takes on the role of beleaguered anchorman Howard Beale. And, yes, he's still mad as hell.
There are also some enticing Off-Broadway prospects. "Girl From the North Country," yet another London transfer, opens later this month at the Public Theater. Using the Bob Dylan songbook, Conor McPherson's play tells the story of some hard-on-their-luck residents in a rundown Duluth, Minnesota, boardinghouse. In October, Christine Lahti will take on the role of feminist icon Gloria Steinem in "Gloria: "A Life" (with all-female producing and creative teams).
As for serious star power, it's somewhat lacking in the fall season. Along with Cranston, Kerry Washington is set for a limited run in "American Son," marking the Broadway debut of playwright Christopher Demos-Brown. But the biggest name is Glenn Close (currently generating serious Oscar buzz for "The Wife"), who will play Joan of Arc's mom in "Mother of the Maid" at the Public. Perhaps no one wants to go up against that giant gorilla in the room.
KING KONG (Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, begins previews Oct., 5 for a Nov. 8 opening) You can run but you can’t hide from the massive, animatronic Kong, who will surely upstage everyone in his path, as Jack Thorne reworks the classic novella of the beauty and the beast the original film was based on. The path to Broadway has been rocky, a scheduled Broadway opening was pushed back as the book was revamped. There are songs, but producers describe it as a nontraditional musical because, really, all eyes are going to be on the gorilla.
THE CHER SHOW (Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., previews start Nov. 1 with a Dec. 3 opening) The life of Cherilyn Sarkisian La Pierre Bono Allman — that would be the music legend better known as Cher — gets the Broadway treatment in a musical featuring some of her best-known hits, including “I’ve Got You Babe” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Three actresses will portray the singer at different stages of her life (quite the trend these days) and we’ll get a double dose of designer Bob Mackie — both as a character in the show (played by Michael Berresse) and as a designer of the costumes.
NETWORK (Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., previews start Nov. 10 for a Dec. 6 opening.) Who could forget that famous rallying cry: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Bryan Cranston will talk the talk as raging anchorman Howard Beale in the stage adaptation of the 1976 film “Network,” which had an Oscar-winning script by Paddy Chayefsky. Visionary director Ivo van Hove will stage the show, a transfer from the National Theatre in London, where the immersive play turned the whole theater into one huge television studio with premium ticketholders seated on stage and eating dinner (no word yet as to whether New York audiences will be able to dine).
BERNHARDT/HAMLET (Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., in previews for a Sept. 25 opening) Tony winner Janet McTeer plays legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt in the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s play, a drama that explores her performance in 1899 as Hamlet.
THE NAP (Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., previews start Sept. 5 for a Sept. 27 opening) The world of a rising star in snooker (or, as Americans know it, pool) is explored in a play by Richard Bean (“One Man, Two Guvnors”).
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY (Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., previews start Sept. 11, for an Oct. 1 opening, runs through Nov. 18.) The London hit won five Olivier awards, including best new musical. Conor McPherson’s play uses the songbook of Bob Dylan to tells the story of a hard-luck community in a Duluth, Minnesota boardinghouse.
THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT (Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., previews start Sept. 20 for an Oct. 18 opening) As much as we’d like to see Daniel Radcliffe return to Broadway as the grown Harry Potter, he seems to have chosen another vehicle. He’ll star with Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale as a fact checker who finds major flaws in the work of a well-known author.
THE WAVERLY GALLERY (John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.; previews start Sept. 25 for an Oct. 25 opening) In this revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s play, a grandson must come to terms with the declining health of his grandmother, once a leftist activist, who has Alzheimer’s. Elaine May returns to Broadway after more than 50 years, co-starring with Michael Cera and Lucas Hedges.
THE FERRYMAN (Bernard Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., previews start Oct. 2 for an Oct. 21 opening) Jez Butterworth’s play, set on a Northern Irish farm during harvest, was named best play at the Olivier Awards. Sam Mendes directs and much of the original cast, including Olivier-winning Laura Donnelly, is making the trip across the pond.
MOTHER OF THE MAID (Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., previews start Sept. 25 for an Oct. 17 opening) Last season we got George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” Now we’ll take a deeper dive into the maid’s family lore, with this exploration of the story from the perspective of her mother, Isabelle (Glenn Close).
GLORIA: A LIFE (Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 E. 15th St., previews start Oct. 2 for an Oct 18 opening) Christine Lahti stars as Gloria Steinem in the world premiere of Emily Mann’s play about the feminist icon’s life from the time she was a young newspaper reporter. “Gloria Steinem helped me find feminism,” Lahti said when she was cast, and telling her story is “one of the greatest thrills and honors of my life.”
AMERICAN SON (Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., previews start Oct. 6 for a Nov. 4 opening) With Olivia Pope happily living out her life in Vermont (or so the optimists among us think), “Scandal” star Kerry Washington comes to Broadway in the New York premiere of Christopher Demos-Brown’s play about a biracial couple and their troubled son.
TORCH SONG (Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th St., previews start Oct. 9 for a Nov. 1 opening) Last season’s hit Off-Broadway run of Harvey Fierstein’s seminal play transfers to Second Stage’s Broadway home, the cast intact. Michael Urie stars as the needy Arnold Beckoff and Mercedes Ruehl is his overbearing mother.
THE PROM (Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., previews begin Oct. 21 for a Nov. 15 opening) Director Casey Nicholaw (“Mean Girls”) heads back to high school, with this show about a prom that is canceled to prevent a lesbian couple from attending and the group of Broadway relics who show up in the hopes of righting the wrongs.
THE HARD PROBLEM (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, previews start Oct. 25 for a Nov. 19 opening) The New York premiere of Tom Stoppard’s play delves into deep scientific issues in which scientists consider issues of matter and consciousness, putting a young researcher at odds with her colleagues while dealing with her own heartbreak.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St., previews start Nov. 1 for a Dec. 13 opening) Legal battles over differences from the original almost derailed Adam Sorkin’s retelling of the Harper Lee novel. But the case was settled before the scheduled trial, so the show goes on, with Jeff Daniels playing Georgia attorney Atticus Finch, who defends a black man unjustly charged with rape.
RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR (Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave., Nov. 9 to Jan. 1) The Rockettes are back for more holiday kicks.
GEORGE BALANCHINE’S THE NUTCRACKER (David Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, Nov. 23 to Dec. 30) The New York City Ballet unwraps its annual holiday gift.
DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Dec. 13 to 30) He's mean, he's green and he's wreaking holiday havoc in Whoville.