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Cover Story Creative

Where’s That Cast Now? Cabaret Edition


The iconic Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret makes its triumphant return to Broadway this month at the August Wilson Theatre, with Eddie Redmayne reprising his Olivier Award-winning performance as the Emcee. So now is the perfect time to catch up with the stars who have dazzled us over the years in this groundbreaking show. This being the show’s fourth Broadway outing, several of Broadway’s (and even Hollywood’s) brightest stars have stepped into the Berlinian dance shoes of these characters.

Joel Grey

The Master of Ceremonies who set the bar, Joel Grey’s performance in Cabaret is etched in Broadway history. But that was just the beginning. Grey twirled from the Kit Kat Club to directing the Tony-winning revival of The Normal Heart, and even donned the wizard’s hat back onstage in Wicked. His magic extends beyond the stage with roles in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and films such as Dancer in the Dark, not to mention the film version of Cabaret itself!

Liza Minnelli

The quintessential Sally Bowles, Liza Minnelli’s performance is Broadway royalty. An EGOT holder, she’s dazzled audiences in The Act and shared her legendary talents in Liza’s at The Palace…, among so many others. Her film career is just as sparkling, with the iconic Cabaret movie and the charming Arthur.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming’s portrayal of the Emcee was nothing short of a sensation, snagging him a Tony for the 1998 revival, before he reprised the role in the 2014 revival. Cumming’s charisma has lit up the stage in productions like Design for Living and Macbeth, while his screen presence has captivated audiences in The Good Wife and charmed families in Spy Kids.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Michelle Williams

Stepping into the shoes of Sally Bowles in 2014, Michelle Williams brought a fresh vulnerability to the role. Her Broadway journey continued with a Tony-nominated performance in Blackbird. On screen, she’s garnered critical acclaim and Oscar nods for roles in films like Manchester by the Sea and My Week with Marilyn.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Emma Stone

Emma Stone’s Broadway debut as Sally Bowles was a standing ovation-worthy affair. The recently minted two-time Oscar winner has danced her way between the stage and the silver screen, clinching an Oscar for La La Land and exploring complex characters in Birdman and The Favourite. She has not yet returned to the stage and has since hinted that the intense performance schedule might keep her from doing so anytime soon.

With the spotlight ready to shine on Eddie Redmayne and Gayle Rankin in the latest Cabaret revival, we tip our bowler hats to these past performers who’ve given us unforgettable moments both on Broadway and beyond.

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Creative

Broadway’s Best Book Adaptations

Broadway has a long-standing tradition of transforming beloved books into mesmerizing theater. Alongside plays and films, novels offer great inspiration for stage adaptation as the characters, settings, and stories are expanded to their most expressive form. From Porgy & Bess (adapted from the 1925 novel “Porgy”) to Les Misérables (adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel), this has been a constant for decades of Broadway history.

This season, Broadway is brimming with literary magic, as several new musicals and revivals, all from the page to the stage, join the lineup of shows that promise to captivate audiences. Here’s a roundup of the current must-see Broadway shows adapted from books:

Water for Elephants

The touching tale of “Water for Elephants,” based on Sara Gruen’s novel, comes to life on stage with a spectacle-filled production. Set during the Great Depression, it follows a young man who finds love and purpose within a second-rate traveling circus.

The Notebook

Nicholas Sparks’s “The Notebook” is known for its heart-wrenching love story, now sung on stage. The musical adaptation explores the enduring love between Noah and Allie, spanning decades and defying the challenges of memory and time.

The Outsiders

S.E. Hinton’s novel “The Outsiders” captures the strife and solidarity among a group of teenagers in 1960s Oklahoma. The musical adaptation brings the battle between the Greasers and the Socs to the stage with a dynamic original score by Jamestown Revival.

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the enigmatic Jay Gatsby and the excesses of the Jazz Age has been adapted into a stage production, starring Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada. Following a successful premiere at Papermill Playhouse, the musical is just the first adaptation of Fitzgerald’s iconic tale.

Cabaret

The latest revival of “Cabaret,” the Kander & Ebb musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” is set to open its doors soon starring Eddie Redmayne and Gayle Rankin. The musical is set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party and focuses on the patrons and performers of the Kit Kat Club.

The Wiz

A retelling of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “The Wiz” infuses Dorothy’s journey to Oz with a dazzling mix of rock, gospel, and soul. The musical returns to Broadway 40 years after it was first revived in 1984, following a national tour.

Wicked

Adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel, which reimagines the land of Oz, “Wicked” tells the untold story of the witches of Oz. The musical, which has been running at Broadway’s Gershwin theatre for over 20 years, delves into the complex relationship between Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the Good Witch. A film adaptation of the show is set to hit theaters in 2024 and 2025, starring Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande.

Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” is a revolutionary musical based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. It blends hip-hop, jazz, and R&B to recount the tale of America’s Founding Father with a diverse cast that mirrors America today.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

While not a musical, this play continues the story of J.K. Rowling’s beloved wizarding world, focusing on the next generation of Hogwarts students. It is en evolution of the iconic book series, landing it a spot on this list.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This thrilling musical tells the dark tale of a vengeful barber and is adapted from the Victorian penny dreadful serial. Stephen Sondheim and George Furth used the stories as inspiration in creating the murderous musical.

From the green lands of Oz to the tumultuous streets of Tulsa, these adaptations offer a diverse array of narratives that are as enchanting as they are thought-provoking. Whether you’re a book lover or a theater enthusiast, these shows are sure to leave an indelible mark on your Broadway experience.

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Broadway's Best

Broadway’s Best Guide to Spring 2024

It is an absolutely packed spring ahead on Broadway, with 18 new plays and musicals set to open in March and April ahead of the cutoff date for this year’s Tony Awards! 

Here is Broadway’s best guide to all the first previews, opening nights, and closing nights in the near term:

Water for Elephants

Where: Imperial Theatre

Opening: March 21

This circus-centric musical, based on the best-selling novel, combines emotional highs and lows of musical theater with the literal highs and lows of trapeze and aerial stunts. Starring Grant Gustin and Isabella McCalla, with direction by Jessica Stone and music by PigPen Theatre Co. For more information, click here.

The Who’s Tommy

Where: Nederlander Theatre

Opening: March 28

The rock opera that changed music history. The Who’s Tommy arrives on Broadway, pushing the boundaries of musical theater to the tunes of ‘Pinball Wizard,’ ‘Amazing Journey,’ and more iconic classic rock. For more information, click here.

The Outsiders

Where: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Opening: April 11

The all-American tale comes to the stage. Set in 1967 Tulsa, this thrilling musical portrays the battle between the Greasers and the affluent Socs. A story of friendship, family, and self-discovery, with a Roots Rock-infused score by Jamestown Revival. For more information, click here.

Lempicka

Where: Longacre Theatre

Opening: April 14

A sweeping musical portrait of Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka, who changed art and culture forever. Directed by Tony winner Rachel Chavkin and starring Eden Espinosa as the title artist. For more information, click here.

The Wiz

Where: Marquis Theatre

Opening: April 17

A reimagined version of the beloved musical, following Dorothy’s journey through Oz. Soulful music, vibrant characters, and a fresh twist on a classic tale starring Wayne Brady and Nichelle Lewis. For more information, click here.

Suffs

Where: Music Box Theatre

Opening: April 18

A captivating exploration of the women’s suffrage movement, set against a backdrop of courage and determination. Written by and starring Shaina Taub, this historical retelling is transferring to Broadway following its sold-out run at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater (sounds familiar…). For more information, click here.

Stereophonic

Where: John Golden Theatre

Opening: April 19

Closing: July 7

Blending song and story in a totally new way, Stereophonic by David Adjmi chronicles the making of our central band’s new album. Very Fleetwood Mac/Daisy Jones & The Six-coded, the play is every music lover’s dream. A limited engagement, so catch it while you can! For more information, click here.

Hell’s Kitchen

Where: Shubert Theatre

Opening: April 20

A gritty, intense semi-autobiographical musical set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, written by one of our biggest pop stars. Exploring loyalty, betrayal, and survival, Alicia Keys combines her hits with new music to tell her own story, in her own words. For more information, click here.

Cabaret

Where: August Wilson Theatre

Opening: April 21

The iconic Kander & Ebb musical set in pre-World War II Berlin, featuring memorable songs and captivating characters, is back on Broadway ten years after its latest revival. Starring Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee reviving the role following its run across the pond, Gayle Rakin joins as Sally Bowles for the Broadway transfer. For more information, click here.

The Heart of Rock and Roll

Where: James Earl Jones Theatre

Opening: April 22

A high-energy celebration of rock music, love, and chasing dreams, this brand new musical features the music of Huey Lewis and the News. For more information, click here.

Patriots

Where: Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Opening: April 22

Closing: June 23

Set in post-Soviet Russia, this history play portrays the power struggle between billionaire Boris Berezovsky and the rising politician Vladimir Putin. Tony and Emmy Award nominee Michael Stuhlbarg stars as Berezovsky, with direction by Rupert Goold. For more information, click here.

Mary Jane

Where: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Opening: April 23

Closing: June 2

Academy Award nominee Rachel McAdams leads this compassionate story of a single mother facing impossible family circumstances. Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Amy Herzog, it explores inner strength, friendship, and unflagging optimism. For more information, click here.

Uncle Vanya

Where: Vivian Beaumont Theater

Opening: April 24

Closing: June 16

Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece comes back to life in this new adaptation from Heidi Schreck, starring Steve Carrell alongside a who’s who of top-notch Broadway talent. It delves into unrequited love, aging, and disappointment. For more information, click here.

The Great Gatsby

Where: Broadway Theatre

Opening: April 25

Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel, this new musical features music and lyrics by Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, and stars Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada. Follow the impassioned tale of eccentric millionaire Jay Gatsby and his tragic pursuit of Daisy Buchanan. For more information, click here.

Mother Play

Where: Hayes Theater

Opening: April 25

Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel brings her latest to Broadway in a new production for the non-profit Second Stage. The memory play stars Jessica Lange, Jim Parsons, and Celia Keenan-Bolger for this limited run. For more information, click here.

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Creative

Which Broadway shows have won the most Tony Awards?

Broadway’s clearest indicator of notoriety is the Tony Awards. The annual ceremony has been celebrating excellence in New York theater since 1947 and has made actors, creators, and shows themselves become household names.

In our list, we’ll be listing which Broadway shows have won the most Tony Awards for a single production, though we’re giving shout-outs to Cabaret, Death of a Salesman, and La Cage Aux Folles as each has collected an impressive number of awards over their multiple productions throughout the years. So if awards mean the best Broadway shows to you, then see below.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

The Producers by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan

It may come as a surprise but the record for most Tony wins by a single production was set over 20 years ago.

Back in 2001, Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan brought their hilarious 1967 film, The Producers, to the stage. The meta-musical about a pair of money-hungry Broadway producers who want to purposefully put on the worst show possible to fraudulently make money wowed audiences and critics. Nathan Lane starred alongside Matthew Broderick (both of whom would go on to star in the 2005 film adaptation) with Nathan Lane winning the coveted Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award.

Nathan Lane’s award is just one win of a whopping 12 as The Producers won in every single category it was nominated in, losing out only when multiple actors were nominated for the same award.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

You’d be forgiven if you believed Hamilton was top of the list when it comes to wins as it holds the record for most Tony Award nominations for a single production. Back in 2016, Hamilton was nominated for a staggering 16 awards in 13 categories. It was believed that it would equal or surpass The Producers as the Broadway show with the most Tony wins, but alas, it came home with 11. Wins include Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Costume Design in a Musical, and Best Choreography.

Though Lin-Manuel Miranda lost the Best Actor in a Musical award to cast-mate Leslie Odom Jr., he still won two awards – one for Best Original Score and one for Best Book of a Musical.

Photo by David Schneimann

Billy Elliot by Elton John and Lee Hall

After the surprise run-away success of the independent film and considering its subject matter, it was no surprise when a stage adaptation of Billy Elliot hit the West End in 2006. Two years later, Billy Elliot the Musical came to Broadway sealing its status as “a global theatrical phenomenon” (Los Angeles Times).

In 2009, Billy Elliot the Musical was nominated for 15 awards (the same number of nominations as The Producers received) and won 11. The most notable award was that of Best Actor in a Musical as the three young actors – David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish – who shared the role of Billy shared a single nomination and win.

Photo by Joan Marcus

South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan

If you were going to use cumulative Tony Award wins as a metric, South Pacific would be at the absolute top of the list.

During its first Broadway production in 1950, the Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece firmly cemented its place in Broadway history as one of the greatest musicals of all time. Not only did it win over audiences and critics, it also won every single Tony Award it was nominated for and a Pulitzer. In fact, it’s still the only production in history to win all four of the acting awards in the same year.

Since its premiere, there have been productions of South Pacific all over the world including multiple Broadway revivals each garnering praise and accolades in their own right. Its 2008 Broadway revival won seven further Tony Awards bringing the show’s cumulative total to an unbelievable 17.

Photo by Friedman-Abeles

Fiddler On The Roof by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein

Almost 60 years ago, Fiddler on the Roof took Broadway by storm. When it first opened in 1964, the now-classic musical wowed audiences and became the first Broadway musical to run for more than 3,000 shows. In fact, the original production won nine Tony Awards in 1965 and then received a special Tony Award in 1972 for the longest-running Musical in Broadway History bringing the total to 10.

Since its initial run, Fiddler on the Roof has had five revivals but has only received one further Tony Award.

Other shows that have been awarded 10 Tony Awards for a single production include David Yazbek’s The Band’s Visit and John Logan’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

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Creative

Most Anticipated Shows Coming This Season

With the 2023-2024 theatrical season underway, Broadway’s Best Shows is sharing some of the most exciting productions heading to the main stem in the coming months! With more shows still to be announced, this is just a first look at some of what Broadway and beyond has to offer theatergoers in the year ahead.

Most Anticipated Musical Revival: Cabaret

From across the pond, where this production of Cabaret has been playing in the West End since 2021, the Kander & Ebb classic will make its fifth Broadway appearance spring 2024. The Rebecca Frecknall-helmed revival will play the August Wilson Theatre with a cast yet to be announced (though some reporting suggests Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne will resume the Emcee role in which he opened the London production).

Most Anticipated Play Revival: Doubt: A Parable

Liev Schreiber and Tyne Daly are set to lead the first Broadway revival of the 2005 Tony-winning Best Play Doubt: A Parable. The John Patrick Shanley play, which was later adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis, will run at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre in the new year. The theater is also set to be renamed after late Roundabout Artistic Director Todd Haimes, who passed away in May 2023. 

Most Anticipated New Musical: Harmony & Water for Elephants (TIE)

After successful world premiere productions, two exciting new musicals are headed to Broadway this season, and we couldn’t pick our favorite! 

With music by Barry Manilow and book and lyrics by Bruce Sussman, Harmony will play the Ethel Barrymore Theatre beginning October 18. The cast, under the direction and choreography of Warren Carlyle, is led by Chip Zien and Sierra Boggess reprising their roles from the Off-Broadway run at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, and Funny Girl standout standby Julie Benko will join the cast.

Though official word has not been given, we have reason to believe that Water For Elephants is destined for a Broadway bow after wowing audiences in its Atlanta premiere at the Alliance Theatre this summer. Directed by Kimberly Akimbo’s Jessica Stone, this musical adaptation of the novelbrings high-flying circus to the stage.

Most Anticipated New Play: Prayer For the French Republic

Manhattan Theatre Club is transferring its Off-Broadway hit from last season, Joshua Harmon’s three-act epic about Jewish identity and resilience during and after the Holocaust, to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in early 2024. Directed by David Cromer with a cast yet to be announced, Harmon’s second Broadway at-bat after 2017’s Significant Other may have some exciting surprises in store…

Most Anticipated Comedy: Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch

Leslie Odom, Jr. and Kara Young will lead the first-ever Broadway revival of Ossie Davis’ landmark 1961 play Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch. Kenny Leon directs the biting comedy, which will run at the Music Box Theatre beginning September 7, with an opening night set for September 27. The cast also features Billy Eugene Jones, Jay O. Sanders, and Heather Alicia Simms. 

Most Anticipated Off-Broadway Production: Hell’s Kitchen at the Public Theater

Alicia Keys. Shoshana Bean. Michael Greif. Camille A. Brown. This musical and theatrical A-Team is coming together to bring the world premiere of Hell’s Kitchen to New York City this fall. A semi-autobiographical musical about a young “Ali” growing up in midtown Manhattan, it will feature both classics and new songs by pop icon Alicia Keys.

Most Anticipated Special Theatrical Event: Pal Joey at City Center Encores! Annual Gala

Ephraim Sykes, Aisha Jackson, and Elizabeth Stanley lead the cast of a reimagined take on Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey. Set to play for just one week in November as part of New York City Center’s annual gala, the production is co-directed by Tony Goldwyn and Savion Glover, with Glover also choreographing. Also set to appear in the production are Brooks Ashmanskas, Loretta Devine, and Jeb Brown.

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Broadway's Best

Broadway’s Best Directors Who Started As Actors

By Katie Devin Orenstein

Which Broadway directors gave onstage performances before leaping to the other side of the table? Find out below!

George Abbott

The larger-than-life Abbott, who lived until he was 107, directed over 50 Broadway shows, including the original productions of Pal Joey, On the Town, The Pajama Game, Once Upon a Mattress, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He made his Broadway debut as an actor in The Misleading Lady all the way back in 1913. 

Michael Arden

This year’s Tony winner for Best Direction of a Musical for Parade, Arden made his Broadway debut as an actor in the 2003 revival of Big River, and also performed in Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. 

Vinnette Justine Carroll

Vinnette Carroll became the first Black woman to be nominated for a directing Tony in 1973, for Micki Grant’s Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. She was nominated for both directing and writing the book of Your Arms Too Short to Box With God in 1976. Her numerous acting credits include the 1961 revival of The Octoroon. 

Gower Champion

Champion was the original director and choreographer of hits like Bye Bye Birdie, Hello, Dolly!, and 42nd Street. He got his start as a dancer in 1940s revues like The Streets of Paris. 

David Cromer

In between directing The House of Blue Leaves and The Band’s Visit on Broadway, Cromer found time to play racist Homeowner’s Association member Karl Lindner in Kenny Leon’s revival of A Raisin in the Sun, as well as appear opposite Jeff Daniels in the pilot of HBO’s The Newsroom. He is also currently starring in an off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya.

Graciela Daniele

Graciela Daniele started her career as a dancer for legends like Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett – she was in the original company of Follies, and was the original Hunyak, a.k.a. Uh-Uh in “Cell Block Tango,” in Chicago. She’s since choreographed 9 Broadway shows, and directed and choreographed another 6, including Once on this Island. She is the only Latina nominee in history for Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical at the Tonys, and she won a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2020. 

Graciela Daniele’s Tony-nominated choreography:

Bob Fosse

Before he was the legendary director-choreographer of Pippin, Chicago, The Pajama Game, Sweet Charity, and the director of movies like Cabaret and All That Jazz, he made his Broadway debut as a dancer in the forgotten 1950 revue Dance Me a Song. He understudied the role of Joey in the 1953 Pal Joey revival that turned it into a hit, and played the role at City Center in between choreography jobs in 1963. 

Maria Friedman

Friedman will direct this fall’s upcoming revival of Merrily We Roll Along. She is a celebrated Sondheim interpreter, and earned Olivier awards for her performances as Fosca in Sondheim’s Passion, as well as Mother in Ahrens and Flaherty’s Ragtime. 

Tony Goldwyn

Tony Goldwyn is co-directing the upcoming Pal Joey rework at City Center, but he’s best known to television audiences as Scandal’s President Fitz, and he’s also going to appear this summer in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

Kenny Leon

While Kenny Leon was the artistic director of Atlanta’s Alliance theater in the 1990s, he also found time to act in a number of TV shows– including The Rosa Parks Story, starring Angela Bassett. He won his Tony for directing A Raisin in the Sun in 2014, and is next represented on Broadway with Purlie Victorious, opening this fall. 

Patrick Marber

Marber actually began his career in British sketch comedy. He then began writing for the English stage, and wrote and directed Closer, which transferred to Broadway in 1999 and was turned into a film directed by Mike Nichols in 2004. He is now known best for his work directing Tom Stoppard plays, including 2017’s Travesties and this season’s Leopoldstadt, for which he won his first Tony award. 

Jerry Mitchell

Jerry Mitchell started dancing on Broadway as a replacement in A Chorus Line. He worked his way up to being Jerome Robbins’ assistant on Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, and choreographed You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1999. His first time directing on Broadway was the beloved Legally Blonde.  

Jerry Mitchell backstage at The Will Rogers Follies,

Casey Nicholaw

Nicholaw, who won a Tony this year for choreographing Some Like It Hot, was an ensemble member in 8 Broadway shows, including dancing Susan Stroman’s choreography in Crazy For You, and understudying Horton the Elephant in the original Seussical. Those performance chops came in handy this March, when Nicholaw went on as an emergency understudy in Some Like It Hot. 

Nicholaw in the ensemble of Seussical (far right).

Jerome Robbins

Robbins, the legend at the helm of West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Gypsy, was born Jerome Rabinowitz, and began his career as a dancer in the 1920s in Yiddish modern dance companies. He was also a soloist with American Ballet Theatre in the early 1940s, and danced in George Balanchine’s Broadway revues. He choreographed Fancy Free for ABT, which he and Leonard Bernstein then transformed into his first Broadway choreography credit, On The Town. 

Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Santiago-Hudson was Tony nominated for his direction of August Wilson’s Jitney, and has acted in three other Wilson plays on Broadway. He also wrote, directed, and starred in his one man show Lackawanna Blues. 

Jessica Stone

Stone made her Broadway directing debut this year with Kimberly Akimbo, but her many credits as a performer include Frenchy in the 1994 Grease revival and replacing Sarah Jessica Parker as Rosemary in the 1996 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Her next project is directing the Broadway-bound Water for Elephants, which just premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. 

Jessica Stone in Grease, with Billy Porter as the Teen Angel.

Susan Stroman

Five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman, represented on Broadway this year with New York, New York, made her debut as a dancer in the country Western musical Whoopee! in 1979. 

Schele Williams

Schele Williams, who will direct the upcoming revivals of The Wiz and Aida, was an ensemble member in the original production of Aida in 2001. 

Williams understudied the title role in Aida – here she is singing “Easy as Life” from that show:

Jerry Zaks

Jerry Zaks is a four-time Tony winning director, including for his Broadway directing debut, The House of Blue Leaves. He’s also known for lavish revivals like Hello, Dolly! and The Music Man. His Broadway resumé goes back quite far – he originated the role of Kenickie in Grease. 

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Long Form

Gut Renovations: Broadway Shows That Physically Transformed Their Theaters

By Katie Devin Orenstein

Some Broadway shows can’t be contained in just a proscenium stage. The Main Stem has one permanent theater-in-the-round, the Circle in the Square, but there’s also a long history of visionary set designers and directors completely renovating one of the other 40 Broadway theaters to serve the needs of a show. The Broadway Theatre, on 53rd Street, has had its orchestra seats ripped out to make room for an immersive staging not once but thrice. A transformed theater, while costly, can fully immerse an audience into the world of the piece, creating unforgettable experiences. Below are some of the most fascinating immersive set designs in Broadway history. 

Here Lies Love (2023)

The first theatrical transformation on our list is Broadway’s latest, with this season’s Here Lies Love, which begins performances June 17. It’s the first of the three shows on our list to call the Broadway Theatre home. Something about its massive scale and vaulted ceilings, originally designed in the 1920s for showing movies, makes it a prime choice for mega-musicals like Miss Saigon and experimental immersive productions alike.

Here Lies Loves is directed by Alex Timbers, and the set design by David Korins surrounds audiences in a 1980s American disco like the ones frequented by the show’s subject, former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos. Premiering at the Public Theater back in 2013, the idea of the show is to envelop viewers in a seductively cheerful world, to demonstrate how Marcos denied her and her husband’s regime’s cruelty, and how fascism packages itself to be attractive, as well as the lingering effects of American colonialism. The disco-electro-pop score by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, originally written as a concept album, is so danceable that audiences can buy tickets for the standing section closest to the runway stage, where they will be part of the show and guided to join in choreographer Annie-B Parsons’ dance moves. (This is the first time in Broadway history that standing room tickets are the most expensive instead of the least!) 

The gut renovation for Here Lies Love, taking all the orchestra seats out of the Broadway:

Dude (1972)

The ill-fated Dude: The Highway Life may have only played 16 performances on Broadway in 1972, but this counterculture ‘happening’ from Gerome Ragni and Galt McDermot of Hair fame upended the rules for how a Broadway theater could be used. Bringing downtown uptown, the Broadway Theatre was rearranged by designer Eugene Lee into a theater-in-the-round, with the actors where the orchestra section had been, and some audience members sitting on the stage. 

It even featured trapezes and trap doors, with actors, in character as “Mother Earth,” “Suzy Moon,” or the titular “Dude,” frequently interacting with the audience. Its “morality play” plot baffled critics, and Dude closed at a loss of $1 million, very high for 1972. 

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (2017)

Photo by Thomas Loof

Great Comet, perhaps the most exhaustive and striking theater transformation on this list besides Here Lies Love,  originated at Ars Nova, a flexible off-off-Broadway venue. As the show transferred to a tent in Hell’s Kitchen (dubbed “Kazino”), and then to the American Repertory Theater in Boston for its pre-Broadway tryout, director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien worked to retain the intimacy, playfulness, and Napoleonic and Russian flair of the show. Composer-lyricist Dave Malloy based the show on a sliver of War & Peace, and created a score pulling equally from klezmer, EDM, and Sondheim. The entire Imperial Theatre auditorium was wrapped in red velvet, and a series of cascading staircases connected the original stage, the orchestra, and even the balcony section into one cohesive playing space. The titular comet was represented by a gargantuan chandelier, inspired by the one at the Metropolitan Opera and made of thousands of Swarovski crystals. Lien and her team even redesigned the lobby, adding elements of a Cold War-era bunker. Comet was nominated for 12 Tonys, and won two, for Set and Lighting Design. 

Mimi Lien’s initial sketches for Comet:

Cabaret (1998/2014 Revival)

For director Sam Mendes’ vision of the Kander and Ebb classic Cabaret, a former Broadway theater that had since been used as an adult movie theater and disco was reshaped into a grungy and sensual Kit Kat Club. Designer Robert Brill transformed the space on 43rd St, then known as Henry Miller’s Theater, for the show’s opening night. (10 years after Cabaret, Henry Miller’s was rebuilt as the Stephen Sondheim theater.) When it became clear Cabaret was a runaway hit, Brill and the producers searched for a more permanent home for an extended run, and decided to overhaul another former Broadway playhouse-turned-disco, the legendary Studio 54 nightclub space, which was in desperate need of renovation after decades of Andy Warhol’s parties. In both spaces, the stage was tightened into a small thrust, like the setup at many nightclubs both in New York and Berlin, and the premium orchestra seats were replaced with small tables and chairs. Brill, the Cabaret team, and the Roundabout Theater Company led by the late Todd Haimes did so much work on Studio 54 that they had reverted it back to its original purpose as a state-of-the-art Broadway theater, and when Cabaret closed in 2004 after a six year run, Studio 54 became home to everything from Waiting for Godot starring Nathan Lane in 2009 to Lifespan of a Fact starring Daniel Radcliffe in 2018, and the return of the very same Sam Mendes production of Cabaret, in 2014. 

Candide (1974)

A production image from Candide; notice the barstools in the background, which were audience seating

Harold Prince revived Candide, the 1950s Bernstein operetta based on the work of Voltaire, off-Broadway in 1973. It featured a revised and clarified book by Hugh Wheeler, and a stripped-down design ethos that emphasized Candide’s hapless, everyman journey. Audiences surrounded a series of platforms and gangways, with some audience members even inside the rectangle of playing space. Hal Prince, never a risk-averse producer and director, was willing to reduce the number of tickets available in order to fit this conceptual set into the space. To transfer the production from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, set designers Eugene and Franne Lee ripped out most of the Broadway Theatre’s orchestra seating, just as they had done for Dude. Candide fared far better than Dude, running for 740 performances and winning 5 Tonys, including for the Lees’ design, and for Hal Prince’s direction. Eugene Lee passed away earlier in 2023 after designing 27 Broadway shows, and his work can still be seen in Wicked. 

The gut renovation for Candide:

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Broadway's Best

Broadway’s Best Musical-to-Movie Musical Adaptations

By Katie Devin Orenstein

Broadway-to-movie-musical adaptations first emerged after the arrival of ‘talkie’ motion pictures at the end of the 1920s. Studios competed with each other to produce the highest-budget, glitziest spectaculars, and MGM was particularly known for huge musical productions. The genre thinned out when the studio system lost its prominence in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but has been in something of a resurgence in the 2000s, and with the two-part Wicked adaptation coming next year, the big-screen musical adaptation is here to stay. There are far too many to count, but here are some of the best Broadway to movie musical adaptations of all time.

1. Cabaret (1972)

Set in Berlin during the rise of Nazi Germany, Cabaret is a classic Broadway musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb that opened at the Shubert Theatre in 1966 and was adapted into a movie in 1972. The film starred Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director for Bob Fosse and Best Actress for Minnelli. The film is known for its dark and gritty portrayal of pre-war Berlin and for its iconic musical numbers, and its Academy Award-winning rhythmic editing. In that same year, 1972, Bob Fosse also directed Pippin on Broadway and the Liza With a Z television special, and won the Tony and the Emmy–making him the only person in history to win three such awards in the span of one year. 

Cabaret is on all rental VOD platforms.

2. Oliver! (1968)

Based on the classic Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, Oliver! is a beloved West End and Broadway musical. It ran in the West End from 1960 to 1966, and in New York at the Imperial Theatre in 1963-64. It was adapted into a movie in 1968 by Carol Reed, an English director who had himself helmed a Broadway play in 1930, On the Spot. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and a special award for choreographer Onna White. It starred Mark Lester and Ron Moody as Oliver and Fagin, respectively. With memorable songs like “Consider Yourself” and “Food, Glorious Food,” Oliver! is a timeless classic that is still enjoyed by audiences today. You can stream Oliver! On MAX

3. The King & I (1956)

Based on the true story of Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher who became the governess to the children of the King of Siam, The King & I was adapted into a movie in 1956. The film starred Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner and won five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Brynner. It happens to be the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that was turned into a movie the fastest – only five years between its Broadway premiere and film release (Oklahoma!, one of the duo’s prior Broadway hits, took 12 years to reach the screen.) It is also one of three films on this list in which the female lead’s singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon. The King & I is available for rent on VUDU

4. Grease (1978)

Set in the 1950s, Grease is a Broadway musical that was adapted into a movie in 1978. It was a massive hit when it opened in New York in 1972, and ran at the Broadhurst Theatre and later the Jacobs, for 8 years. The film starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring countless imitations and becoming one of the highest-grossing movie musicals of all time. A parody of the naive and optimistic 1950s, it continues to be a huge crowd-pleaser decades later. The movie can be rented on all VOD platforms and the cult-classic sequel Grease 2 starring Michelle Pfeiffer and zero material from the original musical is on Paramount+.

5. Chicago (2002)

Set in the Jazz Age of the 1920s, Chicago, another Kander & Ebb classic, was adapted into a movie in 2002, after the original 1975 Broadway production, and the 1996 revival that is still running as of this writing. The film starred Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere and won six Academy Awards, for editing, sound, costume design, art direction, Best Supporting Actress (for Zeta-Jones’ turn as Velma Kelly), and Best Picture after being nominated in nearly every category. The editing in particular follows Fosse’s strategy for Cabaret, with quick cuts in rhythm with the music. Its cynical portrayal of the justice system, originally written in response to the Watergate scandal, resonated with audiences in the wake of the tabloid trials of the 1990s.  It is available to stream on HBOMax and Hulu.

6. West Side Story (1961 and 2021)

Jerome Robbins originally had the idea to translate Romeo and Juliet to ethnic gang violence in Manhattan’s West Side, and collaborated with Leonard Bernstein (music) and a young newcomer, Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) to create West Side Story. Robbins ended up not just directing and choreographing the 1957 Broadway production, but co-directing and choreographing its 1961 film adaptation as well, raking in a Tony and two Oscars. The film starred Natalie Wood (with the singing voice of Marni Nixon) and Richard Beymer, and won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 2021, Steven Spielberg, who had been mentioning in interviews his desire to do a musical for decades, directed a new version with a rewritten script by Tony Kushner. A handful of dancers even did both the movie summer 2019 and the 2020 Ivo van Hove West Side Story Broadway revival, faring far better than their counterparts from 60 years ago, since no one from Broadway appeared onscreen in the 1961 movie. Spielberg’s take on the material was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. History rhymed when Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress for the role of Anita, the same role for which Rita Moreno became the first Latina Oscar winner ever in 1961. The original film leaves Paramount+ at the end of May, and the 2021 Spielberg version is on Disney+.

7. The Sound of Music (1965)

Based on the true story of the von Trapp family, The Sound of Music was less successful than previous Rodgers and Hammerstein hits when it premiered on Broadway in 1959. It was the 1965 movie version that propelled it into a household name. The film starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins’ co-director on West Side Story, insisted it be shot on location in Austria, and the stunning Alpine scenery is almost another character in the film. (Fascinatingly, though, the film is not well-known in the Germanophone world.) It is currently available to watch on all VOD rental services.

8. The Music Man (1962)

Set in early 1900s Indiana, The Music Man is a classic Broadway musical that was adapted into a movie in 1962. The film starred Robert Preston and Shirley Jones and was a critical and commercial success, earning six Academy Award nominations and winning one, for Best Score. Preston was cast to lead the film as Harold Hill after originating the role on Broadway, much to the chagrin of Jack Warner of Warner Bros., who wanted to cast a bigger star. Preston got the part thanks to Cary Grant not only refusing it, but going out of his way to tell Jack Warner that Preston had been so good in the part on Broadway that he wouldn’t bother seeing it on screen without him. 

The movie is on all rental VOD platforms.

9. My Fair Lady (1962)

 Producer Jack Warner of Warner Bros. passed on Broadway’s original Eliza, Julie Andrews, and instead cast Audrey Hepburn, with the dubbed singing voice of Marni Nixon (the same singing voice of Maria in West Side Story a year prior). Hepburn found herself competing with Andrews and Mary Poppins at the Golden Globes. And when Andrews won, the first person she thanked in her speech? Jack Warner. 

My Fair Lady was the longest-running and highest-grossing musical of its time, opening at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1956 and running until 1962. The My Fair Lady movie, with its Lerner and Loewe score and script based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, was nominated for 6 Oscars, and winning for Best Score. Rex Harrison, also an established film actor who survived making Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, got to keep the part of Henry Higgins between Broadway and the film. 

The movie is on all rental VOD platforms.

10. Funny Girl (1968)

The melodramatic fable of Fanny Brice’s rise to fame and tragic personal life, Funny Girl features songs by Bob Merrill and Jule Styne like “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People.” It opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in March 1964, and ran until 1967. Barbra Streisand starred, who had previously made a splash at age 19 as Miss Marmelstein in 1962’s I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Funny Girl was the highest grossing film of 1968, and was nominated for 8 Oscars. OnlyStreisand won for her performance as Fanny, crystallizing her film stardom – she has not appeared on Broadway since departing Funny Girl in December 1965. The film is a very rare instance of a Broadway star getting to reprise their stage performance on screen. The handful of other examples includes Robert Preston in The Music Man, Zero Mostel in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, but no film has announced the arrival of a major star quite like Funny Girl. The current revival, playing at the August Wilson starring Lea Michele, is running through Labor Day weekend 2023.  

Funny Girl is on Amazon Prime Video.