With Oscar season over, the nation’s multiplexes are a dumping ground for garbage you practically have to pay people to see. Thankfully, on Broadway, it’s That Championship Season. That’s the title of a hit revival starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric, but it might as well be the slogan for Broadway’s entire spring lineup—at least in terms of box-office potential, if not originality. “There’s more demand for upcoming shows than I’ve seen in the last couple of years,” says Richard Ebers, a big-gun ticket broker in New York.
Walk along the Great White Way and you’ll find singing Mormons in Africa, horses galloping in Lincoln Center, Spider-Man dangling for his life, and a healthy dose of social issues (AIDS! Alcoholism! The Iraq War!). There are stars galore: Chris Rock in The Motherf--ker With the Hat, Ben Stiller in The House of Blue Leaves, Frances McDormand in Good People, Robin Williams in Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo, and Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
As in recent seasons, this year’s slate is low on original works (Tony Kushner’s new play is a rare exception), and heavy on retreads of Broadway classics and Tinseltown imports. Joel Grey—who’s directing a revival of Larry Kramer’s AIDS drama, The Normal Heart, and costarring in a revival of the 1934 musical Anything Goes—acknowledges that “there are less great works than there used to be,” but praises the variety of offerings. In his case, that means working on two shows that couldn’t be further apart in theme: “You go from the darkness to this total delight and fun.”
For pure originality, the play to beat at this year’s Tony Awards seems to be The Book of Mormon, the gleefully politically incorrect sendup from Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. “The writing is pretty blue, but it’s a gargantuan hit,” says a theater-world insider who asked for anonymity because he’s working on a competing project.
If you’re offended at the thought of a missionary having the Book of Mormon extracted from his rectum, you might want to spend the night with the trannies over at Priscilla Queen of the Desert, a toned-down version of the 1994 movie. “We have been called the family-friendly gay musical,” says producer Gary McQuinn. The show is one of several this season adapted from hit films, among them Catch Me if You Can and Sister Act.
Not so interested in jukebox musicals and the smell of tourists? For drama enthusiasts, there are revivals of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and the first American staging of War Horse, the West End smash about a young man searching for his beloved horse during World War I. That play is being turned into a movie by Steven Spielberg—which means that by Christmas, it will be safe to go back to the multiplex.