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Fall 2015 Theater Preview: A Step Backward for Women

Fall 2015 Theater Preview: A Step Backward for Women

The
2015-2016 Broadway season is underway, and an uproar has already begun over
the question, Where are the women? Their absence comes after a particularly
strong spring when three female composers — Jeanine Tesori, Lucy Simon, and
Barbara Anselmi — were represented for the first time in a single season,
audiences could see both the revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi
Chronicles” and Lisa D’Amour’s new play “Airline Highway” and “Fun Home”
became the first entirely female-written show to win the Tony Award for Best
Musical. At long last, it seemed as though representation of women writers for Broadway had taken a leap forward.

But
now it’s as if Broadway has hit reset. No new plays or revivals of plays by
women are being produced this fall. The one female playwright represented is
Helen Edmundson, who is doing the adaptation for Roundabout Theater Company’s production
of “Thérèse Raquin.” Musicals don’t
fare much better. The only upcoming musicals with female writers are the
revival of “The Color Purple” and the new musical “On Your Feet!,” which uses mostly existing songs by Gloria Estefan to tell the story of the singer and her husband
Emilio.

The
summer openings set the tone. In July, the musicals “Amazing Grace” and “Hamilton”
launched the season. Both have all-male teams of writers, directors and choreographers
and tell stories from a male perspective. The fall continues with two more new
musicals, “Allegiance” and “School of Rock,” and three revivals, “Dames at Sea,”
“Fiddler on the Roof” and “Spring Awakening,” with all-male writing teams.
There are 10 plays this fall by men, four of them new plays or new adaptations.

While
there is a dearth of women writers, two women are directing Broadway plays this
fall. Pam MacKinnon, who in the spring directed the “Heidi Chronicles” revival,
will be the first woman to direct a David Mamet play on Broadway when “China
Doll” begins performances October 21st. It will also mark her fifth Broadway
play in just three years. Mamet, a playwright known for his explorations of
masculinity in plays such as “Glengarry Glen Ross” (there’s even a book called “David Mamet and the
American Macho”
), has written a new play about a wealthy man, played
by Al Pacino, about to retire and marry a younger woman. It will be interesting
to see how a woman will approach this subject.

Lynne
Meadow, artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Club, was criticized recently for programming an
all-white-and-male season of playwrights. In response to the uproar, the theater announced
a spring production by British playwright Penelope Skinner. Skinner is only one
woman out of four playwrights slated for MTC’s Broadway space, and the other
non-profit companies with Broadway theaters have even worse percentages this
season. The better news is that MTC’s representation of female directors over
the course of the season is at an acceptable fifty percent. This fall, Meadow directs
“Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” a new play by Richard Greenberg, starring Tony
winner Linda Lavin as a mother who confesses to her grown children about a past
affair. Performances start at the end of December in their Broadway theater.

Many
of the musicals opening this fall contain good roles for women, and a couple
are vehicles for female stars. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson will play Shug
Avery in the anticipated revival of “The Color Purple,” alongside Cynthia Erivo,
who starred in this production in London, as Celie. Based on the novel by Alice
Walker, “The Color Purple” premiered on Broadway in 2005, bringing two female
composers and lyricists (Brenda Russell and Allee Willis) into the Broadway
fold (Stephen Bray is also one of the writers). The musical also has a book by Tony
and Pulitzer winner Marsha Norman (“The Bridges of Madison County”). John Doyle
directs this scaled-down production, with choreography by Ann Ye.

The
other female choreographer this fall, JoAnn M. Hunter, will work on the new
Andrew Lloyd Weber musical “School of Rock.” Based on the 2003 Jack Black film
about a substitute teacher who forms a rock band with his fifth-grade students,
the show begins performances November 9th.

“Dames
at Sea,” an off-Broadway musical from 1968 heading to Broadway for the first
time on September 24th, features three notable Broadway actors. Eloise
Kropp, performing in the Broadway revival of “On The Town,” will assume her
first leading role as Ruby, a character starring in her first Broadway show.
The cast also includes Lesli Margherita, currently finishing up her run as Mrs.
Wormwood in “Matilda,” and Mara Davi.

With
the new musical “Allegiance,” Tony winner Lea Salonga returns to Broadway for
the first time since 2007 and for her first new musical since she made her
Broadway debut in 1991 as the lead in “Miss Saigon.” “Allegiance” follows a
Japanese-American family as they are relocated to an internment camp during
World War II and is inspired by co-star George Takei’s life story. Salonga
plays Kei, the sister of Takei’s character, who tries to save her family from
wrongful imprisonment. The show is scheduled to begin previews October 6th with
composer Lynne Shankel handling the music supervision, arrangements and
orchestrations. 

Several
plays also offer starring roles for women. “Fool for Love,” a Sam Shepard
revival with Tony winner Nina Arianda, begins performances on September 15th; Tony nominee Eve Best joins Kelly Reilly in Harold Pinter’s “Old Times”
September 17; and Cicely Tyson returns to Broadway September 23rd after
her 2013 Tony-winning performance in “A Trip to the Bountiful” with the
Pulitzer-winning play “The Gin Game,” starring opposite James Earl Jones. Tony
nominee and Emmy winner Keira Knightly will make her Broadway debut as
Thérèse in “Thérèse Raquin,” Edmundson’s adaptation of the novel by Emile Zola,
with two-time Tony winner Judith Light portraying Madame Raquin when
performances begin October 1st. Tony winners Annaleigh Ashford and
Julie White star in the revival of A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia starting October 2nd, whiel Laurie Metcalf will star opposite Bruce Willis in “Misery,” an adaptation of
the Stephen King novel, beginning October 22nd.

But
with new work by women absent from Broadway this fall, this season doesn’t
capitalize on the Best Musical Tony win by “Fun Home.” At the Tony Award
ceremony in June, “Fun Home” bookwriter and lyricist Lisa Kron accepted her award for Best Book with the plea,
“Please, let’s all not just go back into the living room.” She wanted future Broadway
seasons to continue with and expand upon the different stories Broadway was
starting to tell with “Fun Home.” She has also spoken about the need for different artists to
tell stories from their unique perspectives

It
may be too soon to see real change reflected on Broadway — the fall productions
have been in the pipeline for a while. As the full Broadway season takes shape,
however, there is hope for a more representative spring. The new musical “Waitress,”
with an all-female writing team, director and female lead, will arrive, along
with the musical “Tuck Everlasting,” a young girl’s story told by a female
bookwriter. But while there are productions to celebrate this fall, the numbers
do not yet add up to equal representation and the excitement and promise of
last season.

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