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Looking Back on Groundhog Day

By Jordan Levinson

Is it a squirrel? Is it a beaver? (Kinda both, but not quite either!)

That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers, Thursday, February 2 is Groundhog Day! Though it is not considered a federal holiday, many Americans turn their attention to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where its famed groundhog, Phil, will either see his shadow or not at sunrise. If so, that means six more weeks of winter, and if not, spring may just be around the corner. 

The last pre-COVID Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

Punxsutawney gained immense popularity when the town’s annual Groundhog Day celebrations were captured in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. The story of an arrogant TV weatherman (also named Phil) forced to relive the same day over and over until he learns to better himself, it has become one of the most successful comedy films ever, with several quotes now entrenched in the American pop culture lexicon. 

Crowd perspective of Gobbler’s Knob — the site of the Groundhog Day ceremony

As early as 2003, there were initial talks of potentially adapting Groundhog Day for the stage — Stephen Sondheim was interested at first but ultimately decided to back out, stating that “it could not be improved.” The year 2014 linked a new trio to a potential musical version: composer-lyricist Tim Minchin, librettist Danny Rubin (who also wrote the film’s screenplay, and had been working on a musical version for years at that point), and director Matthew Warchus. Minchin and Warchus were reunited after their Matilda became a smash hit in London and New York.

Bill Murray as Phil Connors in the 1993 film “Groundhog Day”

Groundhog Day, The Musical was officially confirmed in 2015. It was announced it would play London’s Old Vic Theatre in the summer of 2016, during Warchus’s debut season as their artistic director. Andy Karl led the company as Phil. Opening night was on August 16, 2016; reviews were overwhelmingly positive. The musical received two 2017 Olivier Awards, including best new musical.

Andy Karl and Carlyss Peer as Connors and Rita Hanson in the 2016 Old Vic production of Groundhog Day

It was announced in September 2016 that Groundhog Day would transfer to Broadway, succeeding the long-running Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre. Karl would reprise his role and find himself surrounded by an all-new cast. 

Karl and Barrett Doss as Connors and Hanson in the 2017 Broadway production of Groundhog Day

First preview was set for March 16, 2017, but 15 minutes in that evening, there was a problem with the revolving stage (a crucial part of the show’s set design) and the show had to be continued as a “concert version” for the rest of the performance. 

The musical made unfortunate headlines when Karl tore his ACL mid-performance just three days before Groundhog Day’s scheduled opening night, but despite his injury, he would return for the official opening on April 17, 2017, receiving raves once again, along with the show itself. “A star is born (and born and born),” Ben Brantley of The New York Times praised, “Karl is so outrageously inventive in ringing changes on the same old, same old, that you can’t wait for another (almost identical) day to dawn.”  

Groundhog Day was nominated for seven 2017 Tonys, including best musical. However, in what proved to be an extremely stacked 2016-17 Broadway season for new musicals — a climate that also included Dear Evan Hansen, Come from Away, and Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 — it walked away empty-handed. As it also competed against family fare like Anastasia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as star-studded revivals of Hello, Dolly! and Sunset Boulevard, ticket sales began gradually slipping after the Tony ceremony, and a September 17, 2017 closing date was announced in mid-August. Groundhog Day shuttered after 31 previews and just 176 regular performances.

A Broadway cast recording was released during the show’s opening week. It shows Minchin taking the form of a fine musical chameleon, utilizing countless styles to make up his score. Highlights include the yearning group ballad “There Will Be Sun” (in which the Punxsutawnians pine for spring to arrive), the rollicking hillbilly anthem “Nobody Cares” (in which Phil goes drunk-driving with two other drunkards stuck in a rut, upon realizing they all have no future), the tap-happy delight “Philanthropy” (where Phil performs random acts of good for various townspeople), and the gorgeous finale “Seeing You” (where Phil shares a tender moment at a bachelor auction with the associate producer he has gotten to know very well across many Groundhog Days, yet it feels like he has just met her for the first time).

The musical served as a launchpad for many of its Broadway cast members. Karl led Pretty Woman a year later and was most recently seen in the revival of Into the Woods. Barrett Doss, who played Rita Hanson (the associate producer) is one of the leads on the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Station 19.” Andrew Call — Karl’s understudy — is the current Orin Scrivello in Off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors.

As for the ensemble, Taylor Iman Jones is the current Catherine Parr in SIX. Gerard Canonico was in Be More Chill and recently played Dick Roswell in Almost Famous. Rheaume Crenshaw can soon be seen in Shucked, and Vishal Vaidya will appear in a forthcoming revival of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. Raymond J. Lee will soon feature in Once Upon a One More Time, as Heather Ayers (recently seen in Off-Broadway’s Between the Lines) tours the country as the adult women in Mean Girls.

It was announced in early December 2022 that Groundhog Day would return to the Old Vic in the summer of 2023, with Karl once again reprising his role and Warchus’s staging still intact. Opening night is set for June 8, and tickets are on sale now. 

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LESLIE ODOM, JR. To Star on Broadway In PURLIE VICTORIOUS: A NON-CONFEDERATE ROMP THROUGH THE COTTON PATCH

“We still need togetherness; we still need each otherness—with faith in the futureness of our cause. Let us, therefore, stifle the rifle of conflict, shatter the scatter of discord, smuggle the struggle, tickle the pickle, and grapple the apple of peace!” – Purlie Victorious Judson

Tony & Grammy Award winner and Academy & Emmy Award nominee Leslie Odom, Jr. will star in the new Broadway production of the classic American comedy Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch by the legendary Ossie Davis.  Purlie Victorious will be staged by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon who directed the critically acclaimed productions of Ohio State Murders by Adrienne Kennedy and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog earlier this season. This production, scheduled to begin in late summer 2023, will mark Odom’s return to Broadway after winning the Tony for his iconic performance as “Aaron Burr” in Hamilton.

The creative team will feature scenic design by Tony Award winner Derek McLane (Moulin Rouge, MJ), costume design by Tony Award nominee Emilio Sosa (Trouble in Mind, A Beautiful Noise) and lighting design by Adam Honoré (Ain’t No Mo’, Chicken & Biscuits).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attends “Purlie Victorious”

Purlie Victorious premiered on Broadway in 1961 at the Cort Theatre (now the James Earl Jones Theatre), directed by Howard Da Silva, and starred Ossie Davis as “Purlie Victorious Judson” and his wife and frequent collaborator, Ruby Dee as “Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins.” Original cast members also included: Alan Alda, Godfrey Cambridge, Sorrell Booke and Beah Richards. For its 100th performance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the company and celebrated the milestone with them. The play was later adapted into the musical, Purlie, which premiered on Broadway in 1970 at the Broadway Theatre.  

Davis and Dee were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame; were awarded the National Medal of Arts and were recipients of the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors. Davis was also inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1994.

“Ossie Davis gave the American theater an American hero in Purlie Judson,” said Leslie Odom, Jr. “I have loved this piece and its author, Mr. Davis, for well over half my life. His writing and acting, his integrity, the commitment he and his brilliant wife made to nurturing young talent, and the example of citizenship have meant so much to me! I am thrilled beyond measure to be part of this revival company. Mr. Davis’s pages are full of joy and rhythm, laughter and hope. We will endeavor to live up to the demands of a challenging text and the legacy of a great American.”

The Davis family stated the following: “The Dee-Davis family is so excited that Purlie Victorious will return to Broadway. Dad’s genius with words was never more evident than in the voice of Purlie Victorious Judson, who takes a humorous look at a serious subject.  His call to justice is timeless and needed now more than ever. Thanks to producers Jeffrey Richards, Hunter Arnold, and Leslie Odom, Jr., and to director Kenny Leon for bringing Reverend Purlie to his feet once again. With Leslie Odom, Jr. in the role, Purlie will rise with magnificence.”

The producing team is led by Jeffrey Richards, Hunter Arnold, Irene Gandy, Jacob Soroken Porter, Kayla Greenspan and Leslie Odom, Jr., making his Broadway producing debut. 

Theatre, dates, additional casting and creative team members will be announced at a later date.

Sign up to learn more here.

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Win Opening Night Tickets to Pictures From Home on Broadway

Broadway’s Best Shows invites you to the starry Opening Night of Pictures From Home. To enter to win, all you have to do is email us a “picture from home” (This can be any vintage photo of you or your family) to this address with your name and you’ll be automatically entered. Five lucky winners will get a pair to the Opening Night on Thursday, February 9th at 7pm at Studio 54 Theatre.

Based on the landmark photo memoir by Larry Sultan, adapted to the stage by Sharr White, starring Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, and Zoë Wanamaker and staged by award-winning director Bartlett Sher, PICTURES FROM HOME will evoke memories of childhood, parenthood, and the hard-won wisdom that comes with both.

*No purchase necessary and winners will be randomly selected Monday, Feb 6th. Photo submissions will be featured across social platforms. Travel not included.

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Stage-to-Screen Best Picture Nominees

By Jordan Levinson

On Tuesday, the nominees will be announced for the 95th annual Academy Awards. There have been many Best Picture nominees and winners throughout Oscar history that have been based on plays and musicals; this article will shine a light on some of them:

During the Academy’s early history, around 8-12 films were nominated for Best Picture every year, and plays proved to be popular source material. In fact, there was at least one nominee most every year in the 1930s and early 1940s that used recent plays as its basis. When there were only three Best Picture nominees for the very first Oscars in 1927/28, two of them — 7th Heaven and The Racket — were play adaptations from earlier in the decade. The first Best Picture winner that started as a work of theatre was 1931/32’s Grand Hotel. Based on a 1930 drama by screenplay writer William A. Drake, it remains to this day the only Best Picture winner to not be nominated in any other category. 

Grand Hotel

Other notable nominees during this era were based on dramas, like 1932/33 winner Cavalcade (based on Noël Coward’s historical play), 1936 nominee Dodsworth, 1939 nominee Dark Victory, and 1940 nominee Our Town (which currently has a Broadway revival in development, on track for the 2023-24 season). Early comedies were also popular fare, like 1938 winner You Can’t Take It with You, 1940 nominee and rom com The Philadelphia Story, and 1932/33 nominee She Done Him Wrong, starring Mae West and Cary Grant. The first musical adaptation to garner a Best Picture nomination was 1934’s Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers charmer The Gay Divorcee

The Gay Divorcee

As the 1940s rolled on, Lillian Hellman got some Oscar love, with 1941 and 1943 nominees The Little Foxes and Watch on the Rhine having been based on her plays. 1943 was also the last time until 2010 that there would be more than 5 nominees for Best Picture; the winner that year happened to be the classic Casablanca, based on the unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Because of this new nomination limit, that created a lesser chance that play-based material could be up for Best Picture. 1948 and 1949 drama nominees Johnny Belinda and The Heiress were among the only non-Shakespearean works to be up for top honors. 

A Streetcar Named Desire

The 1950s were Tennessee Williams’s time to shine in filmland, with his A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof all receiving top-honor nods. That decade was also a good time be a drama, as works like Witness for the Prosecution, Picnic, and The Diary of Anne Frank were well-represented in their respective awards years. 

West Side Story (1961)

The next decade proved to be a golden age for the movie musical. West Side Story, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oliver!, Funny Girl, and Hello, Dolly! were all based on smash-hit Broadway tuners; three of them won Best Picture. The ‘60s also saw a renewed interest in historical works, like 1964’s nominated Becket and ’66 victor A Man for All Seasons. The year 1968 was the first time since 1955 that at least 3 out of 5 of the Best Picture nominees were originally seen on stage. 

Cabaret

Though the early 1970s saw a couple more successful nominated musicals — Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof — aside from them, theatre was starting to be represented less and less (and likewise, novels, disaster movies, and thrillers much more) in the running for Best Picture, a trend that continues today. 

Amadeus

The dramedy Driving Miss Daisy and the Mozart bio-drama Amadeus won Best Picture in the 1980s, with another bio-drama and family drama — The Elephant Man and On Golden Pond — getting nominations. By the time the ‘90s came, theatre representation was vastly nonexistent amongst Best Picture nominees, with 1992’s A Few Good Men serving as the sole nod of the decade. 

Chicago

However, with what the 21st century has showed us so far, there is much optimism for the future of theatre-based films at the Oscars. 2003 saw Rob Marshall’s Chicago become the first musical to win Best Picture in 35 years, with War Horse, Les Misérables, Fences, The Father, and the acclaimed West Side Story remake all getting nominated in the 2010s and 2020s thus far. 

This year’s nominations will be announced at 8:30 AM ET and will be available via global livestream on Oscar.com and on their social media platforms, as well as a Good Morning America / ABC News Live telecast from the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills at the same time. Tune in — you don’t want to miss it.

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Lunar New Year: Pieces of Theatre Set in Asia

By Jordan Levinson

Sunday, January 22 marks Lunar New Year 2023. Observed by millions across the continent of Asia, the holiday traditionally represents reunion and rebirth and a transition from winter to spring. It is also a time to honor ancestors and deities, and some traditional celebrations are marked by family reunions, parades, and pyrotechnic displays. Though Americans are most familiar with China’s Lunar New Year traditions, different Asian cultures observe in different ways. 2023 marks the Year of the Rabbit — the Asian calendar operates on a 12-year cycle where each year corresponds to one of a dozen different animals. The fourth animal represented in the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is a symbol of grace, beauty, mercy, and good luck. 

In honor of Lunar New Year, we would like to spotlight some of the finest pieces of theatre — both musicals and plays — set in Asia:

In 1951, Broadway audiences got to know The King and I, the fifth musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the Margaret Landon novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” the show follows British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, hired by the King of Siam as part of an attempt to modernize his nation. As she takes a liking to the King’s children, Anna’s relationship with the King is marred by conflict, as well as a love for each other neither one of them can admit. Critics whistled a happy tune when The King and I officially opened at the St. James Theatre on March 29, and the musical received five 1952 Tonys, including best musical. It ran for 1,246 performances, making it the fourth-longest running musical in Broadway history at the time. As of this writing, the show has been revived four times on Broadway; the most recent mountings in 1996 and 2015 have each won the Tony for best musical revival. Musical highlights include “Hello, Young Lovers”, “Getting to Know You”, “Something Wonderful”, and “Shall We Dance?”.

Pacific Overtures” Original 1976 cast

19th-century Japan served as the locale of Stephen Sondheim’s 1976 musical Pacific Overtures. The story tells of the country’s 1853 Westernization, as American ships opened it to the rest of the world. Pacific Overtures takes a Japanese point of view and follows two friends who are affected by this change. 

The original production was nominated for ten Tonys, with a 2004 revival receiving four more. Sondheim wrote his score in a quasi-Japanese style, utilizing many parallel 4ths and omitting all leading tones; highlights include “Someone in a Tree”, “Chrysanthemum Tea”, and “Please Hello.”

“Miss Saigon” • Photo by Matthew Murphy

The heat was on at the Broadway Theatre in 1991, as the popera Miss Saigon opened to much fanfare. Written by Les Misérables songwriters Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the tuner relocates Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” to the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Miss Saigon chronicles the doomed romance between a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese bargirl and a United States Marine. Like Les Mis and some of the other British “mega-musicals” of the 1980s, Miss Saigon had no shortage of visual spectacle; most notably, the famous onstage helicopter was an actual life-sized piece of machinery that served as a metaphor for both freedom and fear. The musical was nominated for eleven 1991 Tony Awards, and it ran for a decade; today, that production remains the 14th-longest running musical in Broadway history. A 2017 revival marked Miss Saigon’s return to its original home for a limited engagement. 

B. D. Wong and John Lithgow in a scene from the Broadway production of the play, “M. Butterfly.”

A tragic affair based on Puccini’s opera also provides the groundwork for the David Henry Hwang play M. Butterfly. Here, a French diplomat is posted in China and has a twenty-year romantic relationship with who appears to be a Beijing Opera diva. M. Butterfly won the 1988 Tony for Best Play, and it was adapted into a 1993 film starring Jeremy Irons. Like Miss Saigon, the play also received a 2017 Broadway revival, with Hwang making textual changes that mostly addressed the issue of intersectional identities. 

William Shatner plays budding artist Robert Lomax opposite France Nuyen as Suzie in the Broadway version of Richard Mason’s “The World of Suzie Wong”, which ran from 1958-60.

Lesser known is The World of Suzie Wong, a 1958 play by Paul Osborn. Based on Richard Mason’s novel of the same name, it follows a British businessman who moves to Hong Kong to try and start a career as an artist; he falls in love with a Chinese prostitute who he has hired as a model. The World of Suzie Wong opened on October 14 and starred William Shatner as the businessman. In turn, the play was adapted into a successful 1960 motion picture starring another William, William Holden.

Mary Martin as Tchao-Ou-Niang in “Lute Song” (1946).

Another old, rare gem is the 1946 Raymond Scott / Bernard Hanighen musical Lute Song. Based on the 14th-century Chinese play Tale of the Pipa, it is about a young scholar who leaves his bride behind to seek advancement in Peking. However, once he succeeds in doing so, he is unable to return home or contact his family. Mary Martin and Yul Brynner worked on this project together, and appearing as a lady-in-waiting was then-known Nancy Davis in her only Broadway show; of course, she became First Lady of the United States in 1981. Scott and Hanighen’s score for the show is thin — the cast album only includes 6 tracks — but it includes the gorgeous “Mountain High, Valley Low.”

“Maybe Happy Ending” at the Alliance Theatre

Finally, we can look optimistically to future pieces of theatre that take place in Asia, as Maybe Happy Ending received its English-language premiere in Atlanta in early 2020, right before the COVID-19 shutdown. The winner of six Korean musical awards, Will Aronson and Hue Park’s original musical, directed by 2-time Tony nominee Michael Arden, is set in mid-21st century Seoul, where two helper-bots undertake an adventurous journey. It opened at the Alliance Theatre — a prime breeding ground for forthcoming Broadway shows — where the Atlanta-Journal Constitution gave it a warm welcome: critic Wendell Brock called it “a dazzling, wonderfully strange new musical… brimming with ideas and technological inventiveness,” concluding, “As far as happy endings… I see nothing but a bright future for this deeply affecting show.” Producers are currently targeting the 2023-24 season for a New York transfer. 

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Creative

MLK: Black Stories on Broadway Through the Decades (Part 2)

By Jordan Levinson

Another one of Wilson’s most notable works is the fourth play in his Pittsburgh Cycle, The Piano Lesson. The play takes the ideas of legacies and family history and asks how we preserve them. Set in post-Depression Pittsburgh, The Piano Lesson follows a brother and a sister debating whether they should sell their family’s prized heirloom piano (carved with their ancestors’ faces). Only by revisiting their history can the family find a way to decide. The play arrived on Broadway in 1990, winning that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A revival starring Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington, and Danielle Brooks opened in September 2022 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and is about to conclude its limited engagement later this month. 

August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” | photo by Sara Krulwich

Wilson’s final work, Radio Golf, is also the last installment in the Cycle. It tells the story of Harmond Wilks, who is on a quest to reinvigorate Pittsburgh’s Hill District (through a major redevelopment project) and become its first Black mayor. Following a 2005 premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre, Radio Golf received a Broadway mounting in 2007, with Kenny Leon directing. Notably, it played the Cort Theatre, the same house where Wilson’s first Broadway play— 1984’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — opened.

Danai Gurira’s “Eclipsed” | photo by Joan Marcus

The African nation of Liberia saw itself represented on the Broadway stage when Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed opened in 2016 at the John Golden Theatre, following a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway run at the Public Theatre the year before. A story of hope and resilience, the play is set in 2003 in a small, bullet-ridden, one-room shack, and it follows five Liberian women as they survive the final stages of the Second Liberian Civil War. The Broadway production made history, as it became the first all-Black and female play to make it to the Great White Way. Eclipsed marked the Broadway debut of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who received one of the show’s 5 Tony nominations, which included Best Play. 

Jordan E Cooper’s “Ain’t No Mo” | photo by Joan Marcus

In 2022, Broadway audiences braced themselves for the flight of their lives, as Ain’t No Mo’ took off at the Belasco Theatre, also following a successful Public Theater run. Through a biting mosaic of vignettes, this sketch comedy imagines a world in which descendants of enslaved peoples are offered the chance to escape to Africa following Barack Obama’s election. The vignettes throughout the show touch upon themes of racism, classism, and culture. As Ain’t No Mo’ arrived at the Belasco for a limited engagement, Jordan E. Cooper became the youngest Black American to debut on Broadway as a playwright. Sales were lacking, though, and the run was cut short. What followed was one of the most triumphant final weeks in recent history: Cooper launched a #saveAINTNOMO campaign on Twitter, which gained a big celebrity push. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Shonda Rhimes, Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, Queen Latifah, Sara Ramirez, and Tyler Perry all bought out performances, resulting in a one-week extension. 

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MLK: Black Stories on Broadway Through the Decades (Part 1)

By Jordan Levinson

Monday, January 16 marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day across the United States. One of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, King challenged segregation through nonviolent protests and civil disobedience. Notably, he organized the March on Washington in August 1963, which culminated in his “I Have a Dream” speech. In it, King spoke of his “dream”: that one day, people would be judged by personal qualities — the “content of their character” — rather than the color of their skin. The speech had tremendous effects: it put pressure on then-President John F. Kennedy and his administration to advance civil rights legislation through Congress; it also played a major role in King being named TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1963. The following year, he became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. 

We would like to pay tribute to King with a singular work from each decade beginning in the 1950s up until today, highlighting major Black plays on Broadway:

Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry became the first Black female author to have a work represented on Broadway, as her A Raisin in the Sun premiered in March at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The story follows the Younger family and their experiences in a Caucasian-heavy neighborhood in south Chicago; following the death of the father figure, the family tries to improve their financial standing with an insurance payout. Throughout the play, the family deals with experiences of racism, assimilation, and housing discrimination. A Raisin in the Sun was nominated for 4 Tonys, including Best Play. It has been revived on Broadway twice as of this writing, and it has spawned a film adaptation (starring its original leading man, Sidney Poitier), a musical version (the Tony-winning Best Musical Raisin), and a stage prequel told from the perspective of the family that sold their house to the Youngers (Clybourne Park, which won the 2012 Tony for Best Play).

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis in “Purlie Victorious”

Ossie Davis — who replaced Poitier during A Raisin in the Sun’s original run— had a play of his own, Purlie Victorious, reach the Broadway stage in 1961, playing the Cort Theatre (now the James Earl Jones). The New York Times greeted Purlie Victorious with great praise, calling it “marvelously exhilarating.” “The play tells the story of Purlie Victorious Judson, a joyous, robust preacher,” the Times explained, adding, “it won’t let you wipe that grin off your face.” The New York Herald Tribune also raved, calling the play “a bucketful of bristling laughs” with “wild, outrageous fantasy.” Like A Raisin in the Sun, Purlie Victorious was adapted into a movie (under the title “Gone Are the Days!”), and later it “got life” as the musical Purlie, which won lead actor and featured actress Tonys for Cleavon Little and Melba Moore. The play is set to receive new life soon, as a revival is currently in development and preparing for a Broadway bow in the 2023-24 season. 

Joseph A Walker’s “The River Niger”

On March 27, 1973, The River Niger arrived at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (now the Lena Horne) after a celebrated Off-Broadway run that saved its home — the Negro Ensemble Company — from devastating financial difficulty. The tale of a family and the unrest they face when their son returns to their Harlem home after a stint in the Air Force, Joseph A. Walker’s work won the 1974 Tony for Best Play — the first Black play to accomplish that feat. The River Niger was filmed in 1976; it starred James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson. 

August Wilson’s “Fences”

Known as “the theater’s poet of Black America,” August Wilson is best known for the ten plays that make up his Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicles the Black experience and African American heritage in the 20th century. The sixth play in the cycle, Fences, premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1985, before a Broadway production took up space at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers) in 1987. Fences is the story of Troy Maxson, who is a garbage collector but once had tremendous upside as a baseball player in the late 1950s. His childhood circumstances led him to prison, and when he got released, he met his wife and started a family; he struggles to provide for them throughout. The show won 4 Tonys, including Best Play, and its 2010 Broadway revival (with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Stephen McKinley Henderson) picked up 3 more. Washington and Davis reunited on a film adaptation that gave both Oscar nominations; it was also nominated for Best Picture.


Above, MLK with the cast of “Purlie Victorious” after their 100th Broadway performance
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Creative

2022 YEAR END AWARDS

Broadway’s Best Shows has voted and designated that the following creators are 2022’s Broadway’s Best.

BROADWAY ARTISTS OF THE YEAR

KENNY LEON for his brilliant direction of “Topdog Underdog” and “Ohio State Murders” and his producing of the musical “Some Like It Hot”

PATTI LUPONE for her outstanding and Tony Award winning performance as Joanne in “Company”and her thrilling cabaret act at 54 Below (currently playing)

AUDRA McDONALD for her magnificent performance as Suzanne Alexander in “Ohio State Murders” and her extraordinary Carnegie Hall concert which highlighted memorable Broadway musical songs

OUTSTANDING BROADWAY PLAYWRIGHT DEBUT

MARTYNA MAJOK (THE COST OF LIVING)

ADRIENNE KENNEDY (OHIO STATE MURDERS)

BROADWAY PRODUCERS OF THE YEAR

DAVID STONE for his daring and brilliant productions of

KIMBERLY AKIMBO 

TOP DOG UNDERDOG

HUNTER ARNOLD for his dedication to Broadway as one of the major producers of such outstanding productions as

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

DEATH OF A SALESMAN

THE PIANO LESSON

OHIO STATE MURDERS

LEOPOLDSTADT

THE KITE RUNNER

A STRANGE LOOP

COMPANY

FOR COLORED GIRLS….

FUNNY GIRL

A BEAUTIFUL NOISE

SOME LIKE IT HOT

UPCOMING:

PICTURES FROM HOME

LIFE OF PI

BACK TO THE FUTURE

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Creative

The Shapeshifting Range of a Musical Theatre Actor

By Robyn Roberts

They can sing, they can dance and yes, they can act. As if being a triple threat weren’t already enough, many celebrated Broadway musical theatre actors are showing their range by trading melodies for monologues. 

It’s not unheard of for stage talent of various artistic genres to wade into new creative territories outside of their honed craft. The Wolverine meets The Music Man. Pop singer Selena Gomez pretends to uncover mysterious murders on TV and hawks a beauty line in between albums. The theatre however, is a far less forgiving place than TV and film. Broadway actors cannot hide their flaws behind post production and vast edits when on stage, in front of a live audience. On stage, they are completely exposed. It takes sincere raw talent to bring a group of people to their feet each night and to command such a demand for more encores. 

Musical actors on Broadway have already proven so much. They can hit the high notes every night on cue and work in tandem with the theatre’s acoustics to maximize the audience’s experience without missing a beat or barely breaking a sweat. So what is with this niche group of talent that has long mastered a voice that so many of their fellow actors are unable to that makes them want to venture into dramedies and away from melodies? Perhaps it’s simply that overachieving cliche of the musical theatre actor that makes them crave even more perfection. Whatever their reason, with songstresses like Audra McDonald giving us her stunning performance in the Broadway mystery Ohio State Murders, we couldn’t be more grateful for their incessant reach. 

Follow along as we mention a number of Broadway musical theatre actors who’ve recently traded songs for soliloquies and where you must see them. 

Danny Burstein is a seven-time Tony award winner, most notably for Moulin Rouge!, and will star in the dramedy, Pictures From Home, directed by Bartlett Sher (To Kill a Mockingbird) on Broadway in January 2023 alongside fellow musical actor Nathan Lane. 

Three-time Tony award winner Nathan Lane has 40 years of acclaim behind him in theatre, TV and film. From Guys and Dolls and The Producers, Lane is no stranger to non-musical roles and we can’t wait to see him star in Broadway’s dramedy Pictures From Home with Burstein in the new year. 

Jessie Mueller starred in Carousel and won a Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Mueller recently took on a very different role in The Minutes on Broadway this past spring, a comedic play from the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production group. 

Audra McDonald truly stands out in this list of musical theatre actors gone gloriously rogue. She has won six Tony Awards and is the only actor to win for all acting categories. McDonald stars as the lead character in Ohio State Murders—a whodunit style mystery written by 91 year old Adrienne Kennedy—the playwright’s Broadway debut. McDonald previously starred in Carousel and Ragtime among many other famed musicals. You will not want to miss Ohio State Murders so be sure and get your tickets asap.  

Matthew Broderick (and really, his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, too). Broderick starred alongside Nathan Lane in the very popular musical The Producers (SJP famously starred in Annie as a kid), and yet the comedy, Plaza Suite, along with SJP, was a huge success this year. Broderick previously won two Tony’s, one for the famed Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Sharon D. Clarke is a UK born musical theatre actor and three-time Laurence Olivier award winner. Clarke starred in many West End London musicals. Her leading role in Caroline, or Change most recently led to a Best Actress award, followed by a win for the dramatic Death of a Salesman rendition in London, which you can see 8 times a week at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway. 

Jeremy Pope is a Tony nominated actor of Broadway’s Choir Boy and Ain’t Too Proud which also garnered him a Grammy nom. Pope currently stars as Jean-Michel Basquiat alongside Paul Bettany as Andy Warhol in Broadway’s The Collaboration directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah. The Collaboration kicked off in London’s West End and debuted at the Samuel J. Friedman theatre on Broadway in late November. Pope’s turn from musical songman to the dramatic NYC street artist is incredible to watch. 

Honorable Mentions

For those musical theatre actors who’ve gone from the stage to screen or are simply finding their way to new genres, we couldn’t leave them out. Tonya Pinkins won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a musical for Jelly’s Last Jam. Pinkins also starred in the dramatic A Time to Kill and Radio Golf and praised for her recent turn in A Raisin In the Sun.

Darren Criss was a breakout star in TV’s “Glee” prior to taking the Broadway stage in the musicals How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch prior to the Broadway play, American Buffalo. Criss won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 2019 for TV’s dramatic thriller “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” 

Hugh Jackman is probably the most well-known actor on this list and still commands blockbuster film status, which is why we’ve listed him as an honorable mention. However, Jackman still serves as a great example of the shapeshifting musical theatre actor. His Broadway hit The Music Man was a roaring success, but the triple threat actor also started out in The River on Broadway, a dramatic play, as well as A Steady Rain

Even the greatest dramatic actors can’t all sing a tune, but is it fair to say that all Broadway musical actors can be as brilliantly dramatic without songs to save them? If this list proves anything it’s just that. Let’s all give applause to the illustrious musical theatre actor, because whether you’re willing to admit it or not, they’ve certainly earned it. 

Categories
Creative

Six Shows to Open in December

It’s December, the time for giving and the time for openings! That’s right, six Broadway shows will open this season, rounding up an incredible 2022 season with 22 new shows and 12 more that are planned; making a total of 32 new contenders for the Tony race in June.


December 1
Ain’t No Mo’ (Belasco Theatre)

Direct from a smash-hit run at The Public Theater, AIN’T NO MO’ dares to ask the incendiary question, “What if the U.S. government offered Black Americans one-way plane tickets to Africa?” The answer is the high-octane new comedy from the mischievous mind of playwright Jordan E. Cooper.


December 4A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical • Broadhurst Theatre

The story of the legendary Neil Diamond comes to life on stage in an uplifting new musical featuring all his hit songs including “Sweet Caroline,” “America,” and “Cracklin’ Rosie.”


December 8Ohio State Murders • James Earl Jones Theatre

Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald—“the undisputed queen of live theater” (Variety)—leads the cast of the riveting and surprising Ohio State Murders. Directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon (A Soldier’s Play), McDonald plays a famous writer who returns to her alma mater to finally reveal the truth of what happened when she was a student there.
 


December 11
Some Like It Hot (Shubert Theatre)

SOME LIKE IT HOT brings one of Hollywood’s greatest comedies to new life on the Broadway stage. Don’t miss your chance to join this fast-paced, sassy, brassy cross-country romp, as two best friends run for their lives – and find true love where they least expect it.


December 19
Between Riverside and Crazy (Hayes Theater)

City Hall is demanding more than his signature, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed — and the Church won’t leave him alone. For ex-cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and his recently paroled son Junior (Common), the struggle to hold on to one of the last great rent stabilized apartments on Riverside Drive collides with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, and a final ultimatum in this Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy from Stephen Adly Guirgis. For Pops and Junior, it seems the old days are dead and gone — after a lifetime living Between Riverside and Crazy.


December 20
The Collaboration (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre)

Warhol. Basquiat. Electric, eccentric, polar opposites… together, for the first time in the most unlikely partnership the art world has ever seen. Paul Bettany (The Avengers, “WandaVision,” “A Very British Scandal”) and Jeremy Pope (Choir BoyAin’t Too ProudThe Inspection) star in the thrilling American premiere of the London sensation.


List of announced productions scheduled to open in 2023

February 9
Pictures From Home (Studio 54)

March 9
A Doll’s House (Hudson Theatre)
Closing Date: June 4th, 2023

March 19
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ (Music Box Theatre)

March 23
Bad Cinderella (Imperial Theatre)

March 26
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre)

March 30
Life of Pi (Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre)

April 4
Shucked (Nederlander Theatre)

April 13
Camelot (Vivian Beaumont Theater)

April 23
Prima Facie (John Golden Theatre)
Closing Date: June 18th, 2023

April 24
Good Night, Oscar (Belasco Theatre)
Closing Date: August 27th, 2023

April 26
New York, New York (St. James Theatre)