Theater

Fall Broadway Preview: ‘This Is Our Youth,’ Bradley Cooper as ‘The Elephant Man,’ and More

'American Hustle' star Bradley Cooper makes his debut, as does a theater newbie who’s been a famous fashionista since she was 11. Here's what's getting the early buzz.

The Hangover and American Hustle movie star Bradley Cooper comes to Broadway this season, as does a theater newbie who’s been famous as a fashionista since age 11. Will one of them deliver the knock-’em-dead, blow-’em-away performance that we’ll all get to talk about forever? In theater, hope springs eternal. Here’s what (and who) is getting the early buzz, and the big box office advance.

STARS TO WATCH

This Is Our Youth

(in previews, opens September 11)

This coming-of-age story about alienated and affluent kids has launched many stars, including Mark Ruffalo, who was in the 1996 premiere. The new batch of aimless drug users (the characters, not the cast) includes Michael Cera of Juno and Arrested Development, Kieran Culkin, and 18-year old Tavi Gevinson, making her stage debut. Tavi already has a flock of online fans as a popular fashion blogger and editor of the online magazine Rookie. Reviews when the play was at Steppenwolf in Chicago described her as luminous.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night

(in previews September 10, opens October 5)

Tavi may want to swap backstage stories with Alex Sharp, 25, who just graduated from Juilliard and snagged the starring role of a 15-year-old with Asperger’s accused of murdering his neighbor’s dog. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, the play premiered in London last year (with a different lead) and swept the Olivier Awards. The last play with this pedigree was Matilda, still going strong a year and a half later.

It’s Only a Play

(in previews August 28, opens October 9)

Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane try to recapture The Producers lightning-in-a-bottle with this backstage comedy that has Broderick as a playwright on opening night and Lane as his TV star-best friend. The question (in script and real life): Will it be a hit? Playwright Terence McNally updated his 1982 play with freshly satiric references. Co-stars include Megan Mullaly, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint, and F. Murray Abraham, suggesting actors had to show an Oscar, Emmy, or Tony during auditions. The $10 million advance sale should help pay the cast and encourage the long list of producers that they’ve made a good investment.

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(previews October 2, opens October 30)

Star Wars’ Ewan McGregor makes his Broadway debut alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon, and Josh Hamilton in Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play about actors and honesty. The much-revived play polishes some of Stoppard’s favorite themes—romance, anarchist politics, and the nature of reality. And in a mini-Stoppard festival, his 1995 Indian Ink, about an English poet traveling through India, gets its New York debut off-Broadway (previews September 4).

A Delicate Balance

(previews October 20, opens November 20)

Glenn Close returns to Broadway for the first time since her star turn as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard 20 years ago. She joins John Lithgow, who regularly lights up New York stages, in the Edward Albee play which won a Pulitzer when in premiered in 1967. Martha Plimpton plays their daughter, coming home after problems in her fourth marriage. As always in Albee, the play features family turmoil and a good dose of alcohol.

The River

(previews October 31, opens November 5)

Hugh Jackman has been Wolverine in the movies and the flashy Boy From Oz on stage. But this season he turns down the wattage, playing a darkly serious role in a play said to be about fly-fishing. Expect a powerhouse show since playwright Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem) can make any subject mysterious and meaningful.

The Elephant Man

(previews November 7, opens December 7)

Sexiest man in the world Bradley Cooper goes against type to play the grossly disfigured title character in The Elephant Man, based on the true story of a 19th-century freak-show star. Cooper first took on the role two years ago at the Williamstown Theater Festival and has been obsessed with it ever since. The play, which won several Tony Awards when it first premiered in 1979, deals with human dignity and inner and outer beauty. Patricia Clarkson gets to show off both as the woman who becomes fascinated with the erudite monster.

THE PLAY’S THE THING

You Can’t Take It With You

(in previews August 26, opens September 28)

If playwrights Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman were still alive, they would probably be writing for TV’s Modern Family—since this 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic has the same outward irreverence and cozy warm center. The wacky patriarch is being played by James Earl Jones, and given that he has been the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars, starred in King Lear, and performed Facebook messages for Sprint commercials, he should be up for sharing the stage with snakes (in cages) and kittens.

The Country House

(in previews September 9, opens October 2)

Set at a summer house in the Berkshires, Blythe Danner, mother of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, plays the mother of…actors, working out their own backstage dramas. Playwright Donald Margulies can be touchingly funny, and in turning to theater people, he’s certainly writing about what he knows.

On the Town

(previews September 20, opens October 16)

Have you heard the one about the three sailors on shore leave in New York in 1944? With music by Leonard Bernstein, this iconic show has tunes like “New York, New York,” that are part of American lore. The revival stars Megan Fairchild, a principal dancer from the New York City ballet, making her Broadway debut, with the choreographer who won an Emmy for Smash. In another (pop) culture crossover, the latest winner of the TV show So You Think You Can Dance is expected to join the cast.

Disgraced

(previews September 27, opens October 23)

Gretchen Mol of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire starred on Broadway for a year in Chicago. But there won’t be any singing or dancing in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, where two comfortable couples clash over Islam and racial identity. The explosive subject seems remarkably on target right now—though sadly, its themes will take a long time to resolve. Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother is one of the foursome. Another new Akhtar play opens later in the season at the always-excellent New York Theater Workshop.

The Last Ship

(previews September 29, opens October 26)

Rock stars have been coming to Broadway in many guises lately—Cyndi Lauper won a Tony for the songs in Kinky Boots, and U2’s Bono got a lot of guff (as well as big bucks) for composing the score to Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. Now Sting gets his turn, with this musical that he based on his own experiences growing up near a shipyard. The show got accolades in Chicago last season—and has nothing to do with the TV series with the same name.

Side Show

(previews October 28, opening November 17)

I’m not sure what it means that both Elephant Man and Side Show, stories of real people relegated to freak shows, are being revived in the same season. The odd (though beautiful) pair here is Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who were a hit on the vaudeville circuit.

IF THEY’RE WRITING, I’M WATCHING

Playwright Neil LaBute has a habit of inflaming audiences with his blunt takes on relationships and twisted motivations—and he’ll do it again with a new play called The Money Shot, a behind-the-scenes Hollywood story getting its world premiere off-Broadway (previews September 4).

David Rabe’s powerful Vietnam-era play Sticks and Bones also returns off-Broadway (previews October 21) with Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter starring as the Ozzie-and-Harriet parents of a wounded vet returning home. And a new drama about a returning Marine, Almost Home, comes from debut playwright and former journalist Walter Anderson (previews September 12).

And once Terence McNally’s new Broadway extravaganza (It’s Only a Play, see above) is underway, he can rush off-Broadway for the revival of his Lips Together, Teeth Apart, a moving 1991 play about two straight couples trying to understand their responsibilities to the gay community.

Finally, A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters gets a Broadway revival (previews September 13). This two-person play is a showcase for seasoned actors, starting with Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow. Others who will join the rotation include Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, and Carol Burnett. Not much rehearsal—they just have to read the letters.