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Broadway in Bloom - First Arrivals of a Brave New Season

The running of the shows has begun: not the way hoards of bulls are sent lunging through the streets of Pamplona but -- as befits of all things arts- and culture-related -- in small, hopefully satisfying increments. Theatrically, this translates into a gradual star-spangled intro of new comedies, dramas and musicals to the Great White Way.

This trickle-down effect marked by previews, opening nights, and media buzz not only adds excitement to the new season, but it also gives Broadway theatergoers a big, fat pre-Tony Awards (June 12: mark your calendar) edge -- not to mention major bragging rights. And, with March as the traditional jumping-off point, I can’t help but give you two thumbs up on your most excellent timing! And so, to whet your appetite for what promises to be a brilliant collection of 2011 Broadway shows, here are five sure-fire winners you won’t want to miss.

1. In the primo-celebrity department (musical sector), key players include Tony winners Sutton Foster and Joel Grey in the first revival of the frothy musical comedy Anything Goes since Patti LuPone played Reno Sweeney in 1987. Bolstering the new production’s star impact is Jessica Walter, who gained a devoted TV following playing Jeffrey Tambor’s (La Cage aux Folles) spouse, Lucille, on the sitcom Arrested Development.

2. Then there’s Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit in the roles made famous onscreen by Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio in the new musical version of Catch Me If You Can, aided and abetted by Tony nominees Kerry Butler and Tom Wopat. Very enticing.

3. As for fans locked in suspended animation awaiting the release of the final Harry Potter film in mid-July, you can cool your impatience by checking out its star, Daniel Radcliffe, in his musical debut as J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In addition to Radcliffe, this red-hot revival includes multi-Emmy winner John Larroquette as Finch’s boss and the pre-recorded narrator voice of Anderson Cooper.

4. A long time coming -- I mean, come on, the film came out in the mid-’90s -- Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is positioned to rank among Broadway’s most glam musicals. Having already seduced audiences in Sydney, London and Toronto with its divinely disco score and transvestite-buddy gestalt, the show stars charismatic Tony nominee Will Swenson (Hair), Nick Adams (with his bodybuilder frame and drag credentials courtesy of La Cage), and Aussie Tony Sheldon, who’s already put his stamp on the role of Bernadette (well over a thousand times!) since the show premiered in 2006.

5. And, finally, a drama that is guaranteed to be among the most coveted tickets on Broadway: That Championship Season. The show’s predestined success -- aside from its powerful script, which brought home the Best Play Tony in 1973 -- has to be credited to its mouthwatering ensemble cast of film and TV superstars possessing, I am most happy to report, some heavy-duty stage credentials. And really, it’s pointless to go into much detail when you’re talking about a company comprised of Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity/Supremacy), comic actor Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jason Patric, who just so happens to be the son of Jason Miller, the play’s author, who passed away in 2001.

Other shows and celebs bursting forth during Broadway’s version of March madness: The Addams Family welcomes Roger Rees as Gomez on 3/22; Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia officially opens on 3/17 with Billy Crudup and Raúl Esparza; Baby It's You!, starring Tony winner Beth Leavel, starts previews 3/26; Robin Williams stars in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, previewing 3/11; John Leguizamo’s latest solo show, Ghetto Klown, opens 3/22; Good People opens 3/3 with Tate Donovan and Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Estelle Parsons; High, with Kathleen Turner and Stephen Kunken, begins previews 3/23; Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony (3/11 thru 3/19); The Motherf**cker With the Hat starring Bobby Cannavale, Chris Rock and Annabella Sciorra kicks off on 3/22; while Wonderland, War Horse and Sister Act begin previews 3/11, 3/17 and 3/24, respectively.

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