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Fall's Theatre Season: Packed With Broadway Icons and Icons-to-Be!

September 7, 2010 - by Griffin Miller

Anticipation is in the semi-crisp New York autumn air -- at least as far as theatregoers are concerned -- with an imposing convoy of stage superstars moving into Broadway and Off-Broadway houses, promising a powerhouse of a fall season. In short, expect some serious wheeling and dealing when attempting to score tickets for shows with serious VIP cache.

The September-October roll call is particularly potent, featuring star-packages along the Great White Way overflowing with Tony winners James Earl Jones, Vanessa Redgrave and Boyd Gaines (Driving Miss Daisy); Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Laura Benanti (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown); David Hyde Pierce and Mark Rylance (La Bete); Cherry Jones (Mrs. Warren’s Profession); Jeffrey Wright (A Free Man of Color); John Cullum (The Scottboro Boys); and a bit further down the road (from Oct. 19th, to be exact), Al Pacino in his critically acclaimed turn as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Off-Broadway is also bursting with star power, including Tony winner Elizabeth Ashley and three-time Tony nominee Brian Murray in Me, Myself & I, the latest must-see work from multiple Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning playwright Edward Albee.

Additionally, Charles Busch (author of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and such revered parodies as Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommie, Die!) is back in the Off-Broadway catbird seat with his new comedy, The Divine Sister -- a spirited homage to the sacred tradition of Tinseltown nun flicks -- in which he plays a Pittsburgh-based Mother Superior set on building a new school for her convent. Adding to the multiple pleasures of this particular show is the reuniting of Busch with Broadway favorite Julie Halston (Hairspray, Gypsy, The Twentieth Century). The two starred together in Busch’s classic Off-Broadway breakthrough, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, an equally tempting buzz-a-thon is underway for Through the Night, the celebrated solo show written and performed by Daniel Beaty, which begins previews on Sept. 10th for a Sept. 26th opening. The tour-de-force work -- in which Beaty embodies a community of individuals who “experience an unexpected epiphany on the same evening” -- has some extremely heavy-hitters in its corner, including Bill Cosby, Ruby Dee, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Phylicia Rashad, who serve as the production’s official “Artistic Ambassadors,” showing their support with everything from audience development to personal appearances. [FYI: The New York Times called Through the Night “a thing of beauty, wit, grit and piercing lyricism.” In critic-speak, it can’t get much better than that!]

SOME FINAL CASTING NOTES  Platinum recording artist/youngest American Idol winner Jordin Sparks is currently appearing in the ingénue role of Nina in the Tony-winning musical In the Heights (thru 11/14)...Grammy-winning super diva Patti LaBelle replaces Lillias White in the role of Fela Kuti’s mother, Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, in Broadway’s award-winning production of Fela! starting Sept. 14th. (LaBelle will remain with the show through its posted closing date of Jan. 2nd)...Katie Finneran, who picked up her second Tony for her role in Promises, Promises, will be leaving the show on Oct. 10th to prepare for the birth of her first child. However, the show’s leads, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, recently extended their contracts and will remain in the cast through Sunday, Dec. 26th.

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