This theater season, what’s new is what’s old. Revivals and shows spawned from familiar stories mark Broadway’s autumn schedule: Oprah Winfrey makes her foray into producing with The Color Purple, a new production based on Alice Walker’s novel and starring Jennifer Hudson. Fiddler on the Roof, with Danny Burstein as Tevye, will see many a sunrise and sunset when it opens in November. Spring Awakening, the 2006 musical composed by Duncan Sheik, gets a revival. So do a gaggle of classic plays: Roundabout Theatre takes a dramatic pause to remember Harold Pinter’s Old Times, director Daniel Aukin offers Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, and Matthew Broderick contemplates the dog life in A.R. Gurney’s comedy Sylvia.
If you read a lot of supermarket tabloids, or just have a fascination with British royalty, you might curtsy for King Charles III, which transfers from the West End, projecting a hypothetical future when Prince Charles finally takes over from his mother.
The inventive director Ivo van Hove scores the New York equivalent of a hat trick this year, starting with his version of Antigone, starring Juliette Binoche, at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Van Hove’s staging of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge arrives in New York Harbor fresh off the boat from London, where the drama set audiences abuzz. The Flemish theatermaker tops it all off with Lazarus, a new piece for New York Theatre Workshop with original songs by David Bowie, adapted from the novel The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Further afield, New York theater sharpens its edges and redraws borders. The Brooklyn waterfront becomes the city’s performance hotspot when St. Ann’s Warehouse inaugurates its spectacular new DUMBO home with an all-female version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV from London’s Donmar Warehouse. Theatre for a New Audience will reprise the director-playwright Richard Maxwell’s exquisitely spare Isolde, inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde. Elevator Repair Service schemes with playwright Sibyl Kempson, doyenne of downtown dramatic letters, for Fondly, Collette Richland, a phantasmagoria sure to defy description.
Robert O’Hara, author of last year’s triumphant Bootycandy, throws a new comedy called Barbecue on the grill at the Public Theater, where things sizzle all autumn long. Also at the Public: Eclipsed, Danai Gurira’s new postcolonial drama, starring Lupita Nyong’o with direction by Liesl Tommy — a powerful trio sure to command our imaginations — and Before Your Very Eyes, Gob Squad’s ingenious performance piece imagining future lives with a group of New York City youngsters.
Finally, look out for a couple of mind-racers barreling down New York’s cultural autobahn. Abrons Arts Center keeps the mood gay with the Queer New York International Arts Festival, and horizons will expand at the French Institute Alliance Française’s interdisciplinary festival Crossing the Line.
Performances begin September 8
When Duncan Sheik’s rock musical hit Broadway in 2006, it brought with it a feeling of real rebellion — and not just for the play’s über-oppressed German teen characters. If you’ve willfully blocked all memory of the Bush years, suffice it to say this was a time when most musicals running were either made by Disney or PG-rated movie mock-ups that might as well have been made by Disney (R.I.P., Legally Blonde). But Spring Awakening — with its bare-bottomed high-school kids copulating on stage, its masturbation humor, its handling of teenage suicide, and its lively “Totally Fucked” number — felt new, and that’s something, for a play originally written in 1891. This year’s revival of the Tony winner is produced by the Deaf West Theatre, and performed simultaneously in English and American Sign Language. Look out for Camryn Manheim (CBS’s Extant) and Marlee Matlin (ABC Family’s Switched at Birth) among the cast. Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, deafwest.org
Fool for Love
Performances begin September 15
Sam Shepard’s central couple is holed up in a Mojave Desert hotel room, but New Yorkers have always related to the sparse set — it’s generally just a little bigger and a little less dingy than our own apartments. Shepard’s1983 play focuses on what theater does best, essentially dropping two great actors into a room and letting them hash out the horrors of life behind the fourth wall. In the case of this year’s revival, those actors are Sam Rockwell and Tony winner Nina Arianda, both bringing new energy to doomed lovers Eddie and May. This Manhattan Theatre Club production, presented in association with the Williamstown Theatre Festival, succeeds in a faithful adaptation of the American classic. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, foolforlovebroadway.com
Performances begin September 24
It’s often difficult for modern audiences to grasp the classical Antigone, or at least to situate themselves in a world where belief in gods and an afterlife — even for a wealthy, educated woman like the protagonist — is as real as earthly law. Luckily, a triad of intellectual heavyweights is here to help in a new modern production by Barbican and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg: Poet Anne Carson presents a new bare-bones, colloquial translation; Ivo van Hove directs; and the incomparable Juliette Binoche stars, with no degree of intensity withheld. Monochrome videoscapes of nature’s stark divides (the sun, the moon, etc.) reflect Antigone’s black-and-white worldview. BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, bam.org
Performances begin September 29
Danai Gurira continues to prove that the pen is mightier than the samurai sword — or at least as mighty. As Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead, she wields the latter with capable badassery, but as a playwright (In the Continuum), she slays with wit and heart. Her latest play concerns a tight-knit community of captive wives during the Liberian Civil War, and the newcomer who threatens to shake up their fragile existence. South African–born Lisel Tommy (Appropriate, The Good Negro) directs the Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) in the lead role. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, publictheater.org
Before Your Very Eyes
Performances begin October 17
Gob Squad, the rowdy band of British and German performance artists, is back once again to show us the many twisted and lovely forms theater can take. The group’s latest project might be its most ambitious: In a kind of sped-up Boyhood, the crew has spent the past two years working with a group of 8-to-14-year-old New Yorkers, gradually creating a meditation on childhood and aging. The kids perform behind one-way mirrors, unaware of the adults who look on helpless to stop them from growing up at warped speed. Don’t miss this American premiere from the troupe that thrilled theatergoers with their interactive Western Society earlier this year. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, publictheater.org
Performances begin November 6
If Orange Is the New Black has taught us anything, it’s that established prison hierarchies are delicate, hard-earned, and ultimately not to be messed with. The power plays are downright Shakespearean, in fact, making a women’s jail the ideal setting for this saga of warring royals. St. Ann’s Warehouse and London’s Donmar Warehouse team up once again for another all-female production from director Phyllida Lloyd (after 2013’s Julius Caesar). The cast of diverse and charismatic women in roles traditionally designed for men re-ignites the material, and makes for a lively opening to St. Ann’s stunning new DUMBO digs. St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street, Brooklyn, stannswarehouse.org
The Color Purple
Performances begin November 10
You get a Broadway musical! You get a Broadway musical! Everyone gets a Broadway musical! Just kidding, only Oprah gets one, but her involvement and Alice Walker’s classic source material are enough to draw attention. Add Jennifer Hudson as powerhouse lounge singer Shug Avery — the Oscar-winner’s first role on Broadway — and you’ve got a winner. Opposite Hudson, Cynthia Erivo has already proven that she has the pipes to play the resilient heroine Celie. John Doyle directs this energetic production by the Menier Chocolate Factory, straight off its London run. And if you need something else to look forward to, this also marks the Broadway debut of Danielle Brooks (Orange Is the New Black). Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street, colorpurple.com
Performances begin November 18
In the 1976 movie adaptation of Walter Tevis’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Bowie was perfect for the lead role of Thomas Newton, an alien from a drought-stricken planet who comes to Earth for help. The pop icon uses the same 1963 novel as source material for his new play, written with Enda Walsh (following up his hit Once). Although Bowie won’t appear on stage, Michael C. Hall (of TV’s Dexter and Six Feet Under, and recently appearing as Hedwig) fills out the spacesuit nicely. This musical production by the New York Theatre Workshop features new songs by Bowie as well as fresh arrangements of his old standards. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, nytw.org