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Those Dancin' Feet

By Sylviane Gold


This time last year in “On Broadway,” we were eagerly looking ahead to Billy Elliot and West Side Story and absolutely clueless about the economic crisis beginning to engulf New York, the country, the world. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that bad times and good musicals often go together. Yes, shows were scrapped, some were postponed, and some just flopped. But as I write this, five musicals—Billy Elliot and West Side Story among them—are reporting sold-out houses. So hopes are high for 2009–10. But aren’t they always? Another season, and all the reasons for makin’ whoopee are detailed below.

 

Dancers are already burning the floor at the Longacre Theatre in the first musical of the season—you guessed it, Burn the Floor. It’s Jason Gilkison’s ballroom extravaganza, with numbers from waltz to jive to Latin. For now, it’s set to run through October 18, but as readers of this column are aware, you never know on Broadway. (Dates below refer to the start of preview performances.)

 

SEPTEMBER

 

Bye Bye Birdie What’s the story, morning glory? What’s the tale, nightingale? The Roundabout Theatre revives the playful 1960 Tony winner about the early days of rock ’n’ roll, with Robert Longbottom directing and choreographing.

 

Memphis The city’s impact on American music began well before Elvis, in the black neighborhood around Beale Street. Loosely based on the career of pioneering R&B DJ Dewey Phillips, this show has direction by Christopher Ashley, choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and a rock score by Bon Jovi’s keyboardist, David Bryan.

 

The Sixth Annual New York Musical Theatre Festival This has become a crucial incubator for musical-theater talent, and this year’s crop includes 27 musicals, on subjects ranging from vampires to Jesus. There are also three new dance-focused musicals in the works. At theaters around town.

 

OCTOBER

 

Fela! Bill T. Jones created this torrent of Afrobeat music and dance to tell the story of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The magnetic original off-Broadway star Sahr Ngaujah heads the Broadway cast as well.

 

Finian’s Rainbow Things were swell in Glocca Morra when Warren Carlyle revived this beloved 1947 musical for Encores! last season. Now he’s expanding his staging and dance numbers for a classic Broadway showplace, and bringing most of the Encores cast along.

 

Ragtime This musical adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s iconic 1975 novel got a raw deal when it opened on Broadway in 1998, as Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s Kennedy Center revival this spring made clear. So New York gets another chance to give props to this quintessentially New York story that tracks three families intersecting with American history before World War I.

 

Photo Courtesy Fela!

 

NOVEMBER

 

Dreamgirls Although Robert Longbottom’s revival of this classic Michael Bennett show began in South Korea and will tour the States before coming to Broadway, New Yorkers will be able to catch a month-long advance peek at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

 

Girl Crazy The source of “I Got Rhythm,” originally sung by Ethel Merman, and “Embraceable You,” originally sung by Ginger Rogers, this George and Ira Gershwin musical has been reworked repeatedly on stage and screen. The Encores! series at City Center returns it to its 1930 state, followed by Harold Rome’s Fanny and Stephen Sondheim’s fabled Anyone Can Whistle.

 

FEBRUARY

 

Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark Julie Taymor, whose Lion King is one of the sold-out shows mentioned above, tries her hand to another kind of human/animal hero. Daniel Ezralow, who collaborated on her brilliant and underappreciated Beatles movie, Across the Universe, will be choreographing Spidey’s maneuvers to the music of Bono and The Edge.

 

MARCH

 

The Addams Family They started out as drolly macabre New Yorker cartoons and graduated to television, the movies, and now a Broadway musical. Andrew Lippa is the composer; Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, of London’s Improbable Theatre, are co-designers and directors for Gomez (Nathan Lane), Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth), and the gang. The ever-busy Sergio Trujillo choreographs. The show opens in Chicago in November before moving to New York.

 

EVENTUALLY...

 

Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ Graciela Daniele is in charge of this regularly postponed Roundabout revival of the 1978 showcase of Fosse style and imagination.

 

Brigadoon Lerner and Loewe and Agnes de Mille first visited the magical Scottish village in 1947. Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse frolicked in the movie version in 1954. And Rob Ashford was all set to direct and choreograph last season. It’s on the schedule once again.

 

Busker Alley This retooled version of the unlucky 1995 musical based on a ’30s film about a London street performer is still on the agenda, with Tony Walton directing.

 

Catch Me If You Can The Spielberg movie about a charming con man (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was awash in music and movement, so it feels like a good fit for the musical stage—especially since Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are teaming once again with director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell. A tryout was planned for this past summer in Seattle prior to a Broadway opening.

 

Sylviane Gold writes on theater for The New York Times.

«April Daly
Remembering Michael Jackson»
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