Curtain Rises on Chock-Full Broadway Season

From glittery musicals to renowned dramas, shows with many famous faces will open through early 1998

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In a true embarrassment of riches, Broadway has so many shows on tap for the fall season that producers aren't sure where they'll put all the goodies.

Big-budget musicals and smaller-scale comedies and dramas will be elbowing one another for space on a limited number of desirable stages. Most of the competitors will find their way to opening night one way or another, but audiences and reviewers will have a challenge keeping up.

So will theatergoers outside New York, when the most-praised offerings start spinning off touring editions and regional productions.

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Musicals may garner most of the attention, partly because they remain widely popular, and also because they represent the most crowded category. As counted by Variety, the entertainment trade paper, no fewer than nine will have arrived by the first weeks of 1998, which is more than the past two fall seasons put together.

Some will aim for impact through costly production values and fancy effects - nobody expects "The Lion King," said to be bankrolled at more than $12 million, to earn points for modesty - while others may tone down their trappings in order to distinguish themselves from the glitz-and-glitter shows.

Offerings will also seek attention via major names on the marquee. These range from performers like Betty Buckley and F. Murray Abraham, teaming up for "Triumph of Love," to composer Paul Simon and Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott, who hope "The Capeman" will be a socially conscious hit.

Almost as many nonmusicals are expected during the autumn months, with additional famous faces in the spotlight - Kevin Kline in "Ivanov" should lend class to the season - and even more in the titles, as plays like "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Jackie: An American Life" raise their curtains. Many major playwrights will also be represented, as when Neil Simon unveils his new "Proposals" and Arthur Miller revives his 1955 stunner, "A View From the Bridge."

Attractions receiving the most advance attention include these, listed with their expected opening dates:

Side Show, Oct. 16, is a musical about real-life Siamese twins who sang their way to fame in the carnival and vaudeville worlds. Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner star. Robert Longbottom directs.

Triumph of Love, Oct. 23, based on an 18th-century comedy by Pierre Marivaux, is about a princess who tries to seduce her prince but has to assume several interesting roles before she can. Producers are counting on its small but appealing seven-member cast to compete with musicals costing far more than its reported $3.5 million. Susan Egan and Elayne Boosler join F. Murray Abraham and Betty Buckley onstage, and Michael Mayer is the director.

Proposals, Nov. 6, is set by playwright Neil Simon in eastern Pennsylvania's fabled Poconos resort area. Joe Mantello is directing the comedy, which celebrates a summertime family reunion where old flames are rekindled, new matches are made, and unexpected guests arrive at the family vacation house. "Proposals" could be a comeback for Simon after disappointing ticket sales for some of his recent ventures.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Nov. 9, is a swashbuckling musical adventure set during the French Revolution. The hero, the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel, rescues victims from the clutches of the Reign of Terror. He combats the evil Chauvelin, a ruthless ruling overlord. Pimpernel must keep his identity secret, even from his love.

The play is based on the novel by the Baroness Orczy. Terrence Mann, who played the original Beast in Broadway's hit "Beauty and the Beast," joins Douglas Sills and Christine Andreas in the cast. Peter Hunt directs.

Jackie: An American Life, Nov. 10, is another comedy with a seven-person cast, but this time the busy troupers play some 150 characters, all connected in some way with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It's written by Gil Hoppe, who also directs.

The Lion King, Nov. 13, is the one to beat for sheer magnitude. Elton John wrote the music for Tim Rice's lyrics, and offbeat puppeteer Julie Taymor is directing the production, based on the Walt Disney animation that racked up impressive movie-house grosses three years ago.

Street Corner Symphony, Nov. 17, features pop music of the '60s and '70s in a nostalgic revue, directed by Marion J. Caffey and performed by eight soulful singers.

Ivanov, Nov. 20, is a rarely seen Anton Chekhov drama about a Russian landowner whose life plummets into chaos when he falls out of love with his wife and falls in love with a rich young neighbor.

It was adapted by British playwright David Hare and stars the versatile Kline in a role originated by Ralph Fiennes in London, where the show fared very well last season. The director is Gerald Gutierrez.

The Diary of Anne Frank, Dec. 4, revives the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the real-life autobiography of a girl hiding from the Nazis with her family. Natalie Portman plays the title character for high-powered director James Lapine.

A View From the Bridge, Dec. 14, is Arthur Miller's classic drama about tensions and rivalries on the Brooklyn waterfront. Hard-working director Michael Mayer will leap from "Triumph of Love" to this production at the Roundabout, which has already kicked off the current season with excellent revivals of the musical "1776" and George Bernard Shaw's comedy "Misalliance."

The Capeman, Jan. 8, makes music with the unlikely subject of a Puerto Rican teenager charged with a New York City murder in 1959. Music by Paul Simon and words by him and Derek Walcott will be interpreted by Ruben Blades and Ednita Nazario, among many others, and staged by modern-dance master Mark Morris in his first outing as a Broadway director.

Ragtime, Jan. 18, turns E.L. Doctorow's darkly rollicking novel into a lavish musical. Terrence McNally adapted this story of three American families at the beginning of the 20th century - one upper-middle class, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, one socialist immigrant Jewish, and one African-American from Harlem - whose lives become intertwined as they get caught up in the events of their turbulent country.

Marin Mazzie and Audra McDonald head the large cast playing a mix of real and fictional figures, under director Harold Prince's guiding hand. Milos Forman's movie version of the novel was liked more by critics than everyday audiences, but Broadway is banking on a full-scale smash.

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