5:29 PM CDT, September 5, 2013
John Grisham has written novels, short stories, books for children and nonfiction works, and in all of the above, he has done very nicely for himself. The first printings of his signature thrillers have typically sold in the millions (7 million people bought "The Firm"), and more than 250 million of his books are in print all over the world. Those are the kind of numbers that make a Broadway producer salivate (well, the ones that are human). And that explains the intense interest in the fortunes of "A Time to Kill" on Broadway this fall.
Although his writing has made plenty of money for Hollywood studios, Grisham has never before authorized a play from one of his page-turners. "A Time to Kill" is hardly new (it was published in 1989), but it's one of Grisham's classics, freshly adapted for the stage by that savvy overachiever Rupert Holmes. If it's a hit, expect a whole procession of Grisham books to dance their way onto Broadway.
The docket of new plays is otherwise as thin as a falling leaf (Sharr White's premiering of "The Snow Geese" at Manhattan Theatre Club is an oasis, especially since Mary-Louise Parker is the star).
For if there's one thing Broadway loves more than a familiar title, it's a familiar title with a star. Especially a star with a name that sounds ideal for William Shakespeare. Hence Orlando Bloom in "Romeo and Juliet" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre this month. The "Pirates of the Caribbean" star will play alongside Condola Rashad, the young actress who made a big splash in Lynn Nottage's "Ruined" in both Chicago and New York.
Bloom, who is 36, is hardly in the first blush of youth. But that's no handicap when you're a bankable movie star. Heck, this spring Denzel Washington, 58, will star in "A Raisin in the Sun" as Walter Younger, a man in his mid-30s.
While you are waiting for Washington, you could catch Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," featuring the lovable vaudeville team of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, also starring this fall in Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land." Pinter gets a big Broadway fall. One of his sexiest plays, "Betrayal," snags a high-profile October revival from Mike Nichols that stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz (Rafe Spall is the third wheel, so to speak). Meanwhile, Tennessee Williams' beautiful "The Glass Menagerie" returns to Broadway in a production from the American Repertory Theatre, starring Cherry Jones and directed by John Tiffany, of "Once" fame.
Other Shakespearean offerings on the docket include "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III," staged in West End-style repertory and both starring the truly incomparable Mark Rylance, with the British comedian Stephen Fry making an appearance as Malvolio in "Night." In November, just as the days grow shorter, Ethan Hawke will open on Broadway in "Macbeth," directed by Jack O'Brien, very much at home in the theater.
For a lighter experience, although likely an even tougher ticket, Billy Crystal, now presumably freed forever from Oscar-hosting duties, is set to revive his delightful autobiographical show about growing up funny on Long Island, "700 Sundays."
New musicals in the fall include the highly ambitious "Big Fish," which had a promising tryout in Chicago last spring wherein the Andrew Lippa score impressed, even if the book of the show and its narrative trajectory needed work. Directed by Susan Stroman, the musical is based on the typically quirky Tim Burton movie about what it's like to be the son of a man who loves to tell the tallest of tales.
Competing in the same pond are Randy Johnson's "A Night With Janis Joplin," a show about the legendary singer (whose story has been dramatized before), and "After Midnight," a show conceived by Jack Viertel about the Duke Ellington years at the famous Harlem nighterie the Cotton Club. Fantasia Barrino and Dule Hill are the stars at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
And then there's "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," a small-scale musical with a book by Robert L. Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, directed by the skilled Darko Tresnjak and featuring, in an octet of different characters, Jefferson Mays. This crime-themed tuner might well go head to head with the Grisham thriller. We'll just have to see which one kills.
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