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Spring 2015 Theatre Preview: Women on Broadway

Spring 2015 Theatre Preview: Women on Broadway

Broadway can be a disheartening place for
women. Too few are represented as writers and directors, and women’s stories don’t
often make it to the stage. The previous 2013-2014 season did not have a single
new play by a woman or a new musical with a female composer, and it only
featured new musicals with one female lyricist and one female bookwriter. 

As the 2014-2015 season continues this
spring, however, there is reason for hope. For what may be the first time in
Broadway history, three female composers will open new musicals. Joining these
composers are five female lyricists of musicals both old and new, two female
bookwriters, four female directors, and two female playwrights — one a Pulitzer winner
and the other making her Broadway debut. Even with only one new play by a female
playwright, it’s hard to overlook the explosion of women on the Broadway stage
this spring.

In the past 10 years, only one female
composer has solely written the music for a Broadway score without already
being a pop or country superstar: Jeanine Tesori. Tesori (last season’s Violet) and bookwriter/lyricist Lisa
Kron, both Tony-nominated writers, have adapted cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s
graphic memoir Fun Home for the stage.
Nominated for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize after playing at off-Broadway’s Public
Theater, the musical makes its way to Broadway on March 27th. The show examines
Alison’s relationship with her complicated father and features great roles for
women, including the three Alisons at different ages (11-year-old Sydney Lucas
has already won an Obie Award for the role of Small Alison) and Alison’s mother
(Broadway veteran Judy Kuhn). A woman’s story written by female writers, Fun Home promises to be one of the
highlights of the spring.

Also starting performances on March 27th is the new musical Doctor Zhivago, based
on the Russian novel of the same name about five intertwined lovers after the Russian
Revolution. It features a 
female composer, Lucy Simon, who wrote the score
with co-lyricist Amy Powers (the other co-lyricist is Michael Korie). Simon, also a pop artist and sister to Carly Simon, is known to Broadway audiences for
The Secret Garden, the 1991 musical
with an all-female writing and directing team. Doctor Zhivago marks Simon’s return to Broadway, and while Powers
contributed lyrics to an early version of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Sunset Boulevard, Doctor Zhivago will be her official Broadway debut as a lyricist.
 

Two new
musicals with four female writers already makes a good Broadway season for
women, but there’s more. Not only is the new musical It Shoulda Been You completely original, as in not based on any
source material, but it features the Broadway debuts of three female writers: composer
Barbara Anselmi and additional lyricists Jill Abramowitz (who has performed on
Broadway) and Carla Rose Fisher. (Four men also serve as the lyricist and additional
lyricists). The plot centers around two families from different backgrounds who
come together for a wedding, but the arrival of the bride’s ex-boyfriend throws
everything into chaos. And the actors featured on the show’s six-tiered wedding
cake marketing graphic? All women: Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Sierra Boggess,
and Lisa Howard.

The musical Gigi is a woman’s story, and when Heidi
Thomas (TV’s Call the Midwife) was tasked with adapting the book for the
upcoming Broadway revival, she made sure that the focus was on Gigi’s journey.
Disney Channel star Vanessa Hudgens makes her Broadway debut as the carefree French
courtesan, with Tony winner Victoria Clark as Mamita. The musical brings the
fashion and glamour of La Belle Epoque Paris to Broadway on March 19th after its current run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

The late Betty
Comden’s witty lyrics can already be heard this season in the revival of On the Town, and they’ll soon fill the
American Airlines Theater when Tony-winning powerhouse Kristin Chenoweth stars
in the revival of On the Twentieth
Century
. The show takes place during a luxury train trip from Chicago to New
York, where a financially strapped producer must convince a movie star — and his
former lover and leading lady — to sign on for a play. This will be Chenoweth’s
seventh Broadway show and the first one since her starring role in the 2010
revival of Promises, Promises. Comden
won four Tony awards over the course of her career (she died in 2006), and
fortunately for both actors and audiences, her work lives on.

In the play realm, women dominate the
revival of The Heidi Chronicles both
on the stage and off. The 1988 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play by the late Wendy
Wasserstein returns to Broadway on February 23rd with Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as Heidi, an art historian caught in the shifts of
feminism from the 1960s through the 1980s. Pam MacKinnon, who won a Tony for
directing the recent revival of Who’s
Afraid of Virginia Woolf
, directs, and Tracee Chimo (the recent
off-Broadway revival of Lips Together, Teeth Apart) also stars in the first Broadway revival. 

Acclaimed playwright Lisa D’Amour will make
her Broadway debut on April 1st with Airline Highway, a production at Manhattan Theatre Club. D’Amour’s
work was last seen in New York at off-Broadway’s Playwright’s Horizons, where
her Pulitzer-nominated play Detroit
opened to great reviews.
Airline
Highway
takes place at a motel on New Orleans’s Airline Highway, where a
group of hustlers, strippers, and philosophers come together to celebrate the
life of Miss Ruby, an iconic burlesque performer who wants a funeral before she
dies. While Broadway needs to produce more women playwrights, at least D’Amour
is one of the few.
 

With many women’s stories this spring, great
roles for women abound.
Film actress Carey Mulligan returns to Broadway for the first time since
2008, when she played Nina in the revival of Chekhov’s The Seagull. In those seven years, she’s starred in numerous films,
including An Education, for which she
received an Oscar nomination, and graced West End and off-Broadway stages. In
this spring’s revival of the 1995 British play Skylight, she plays a woman whose ex-lover comes looking for
reconciliation a year after his wife’s death. This production arrives at the
John Golden Theatre on March 16th for a limited run after opening
last year in London.

Another London theater transplant stars Dame
Helen Mirren. Mirren won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen, and now Broadway audiences will
have another opportunity to see British royalty in action. The new play The Audience, which premiered in
London’s West End in 2013, brings Mirren back to the Broadway stage after more
than 10 years. She’ll return to the same role of Queen Elizabeth II, this time conducting
a series of private meetings called audiences with her 12 prime ministers,
meetings that historically occurred but are imagined for the stage, as they were
agreed never to be spoken about.  
 

The classic
1951 musical The King and I features
one of the greatest musical theater roles for women — not royalty, but the
teacher of royalty. Anna Leonowens travels with her son to 1860s Siam to tutor
the king’s children, developing a close relationship with the king in the
process. In Lincoln Center Theater’s new revival, five-time Tony nominee Kelli
O’Hara will don the hoop skirt and whistle a glorious, happy tune as Anna. Will
this be her year to turn “Tony nominee” into “Tony winner”? Previous Annas Donna
Murphy (in the 1996 revival) and Gertrude Lawrence (in the original) took home
the statue, so the odds are good that O’Hara will finally add “Tony winner” to
her illustrious resume. 

O’Hara
currently stars in The Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Merry Widow with opera superstar Renee Fleming, and afterward, Fleming will follow O’Hara to the Broadway stage. Starting April 1st at the Longacre Theatre, Fleming makes her Broadway debut playing celebrated
diva Raquel De Angelis in Living on Love,
a new comedy based on Garson Kanin’s Peccadillo.
Tony-winning director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall (Nice Work if You Can Get It, Anything
Goes
) directs this new comedy about a married couple who both fall for
their assistants.

A recent
addition to the Broadway season, The
Visit
plays the Lyceum theater beginning March 26th, becoming
the latest and final John Kander and Fred Ebb (who died in 2004) musical to hit
Broadway. The Visit stars 82-year-old
Tony-winner and Broadway legend Chita Rivera (the original West Side Story and, more recently, The Mystery of Edwin Drood revival) as a rich, vengeful widow back
in her hometown. Rivera has been with the show since 2001 and will work with
choreographer Graciela Daniele, a 10-time Tony nominee.

Joining the many women behind the scenes
this spring, Tony-winning Diane Paulus helms Finding Neverland, the new musical based on the 2004 Johnny Depp
film. Finding Neverland, the story of
playwright J.M. Barrie’s writing of the classic Peter Pan, originated at the Curve Theatre in the UK and was then reworked
for a new production at Boston’s American Repertory Theater, where Paulus is the
Artistic Director. Paulus previously breathed new life into the 1960s tribal
musical Hair (2009), reworked the
classic The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
(2011), and infused circus elements to the new production of Pippin (2013). It will be exciting to
see what she finds in Neverland.

Larry David may be starring in his new
play, Fish in the Dark, but Anna D.
Shapiro is the one in the director’s seat. Shapiro, who won a Tony for
directing August: Osage County in
2008, was recently named the new Artistic Director of Chicago’s Steppenwolf
Theatre Company and also directed this season’s production of This is Our Youth. Shapiro has had a
busy season, and she won’t get much of a break. Fish in the Dark, which deals with the aftermath of a death in the
family, is set to begin performances on February 2nd.

While she
didn’t write for the stage itself, author Hilary Mantell’s best-selling novel Wolf Hall is part of the Broadway season
in two parts: Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. Set in the court of
Henry VIII, part one portrays how the king, with the help of ambitious
politician Thomas Cromwell, beds Anne Boleyn, and part two concerns the king’s
lack of a male heir. This story of powerful men has powerful women, both the
characters and the author herself, behind the scenes.

The spring
also includes plays and musicals that feature women in supporting and ensemble
roles, as well as female designers and others behind the scenes: An American in Paris, Hand to God, The Heart of Robin Hood, Honeymoon
in Vegas
(opened January 15th), and Something Rotten. Broadway looks forward to some busy months ahead,
and women are going to be a big part of it.

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