Although Broadway technically uncorks its new season in May (about a month before the Tony Awards) and the Broadway autumn season starts fizzing in mid-October, this year, for some reason, some of the biggest shows have waited until November to gush from the bottle. It should be an exciting month, with characters to include an Orthodox Jew played by the Godfather, an Irishman giving a history lesson and not one, not two, but three developmentally-arrested man-children.
Perhaps the most anticipated (aside from the Spider-Man musical, which starts previews in November but opens December 21) is Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a new musical based on Pedro Almódovar’s Oscar-nominated comedy. Written by the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels team of Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek, and featuring Broadway darlings Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Sherie Rene Scott, Women is taking a bit of a risk—it opens “cold” on Broadway (i.e., sans an out-of-town tryout) at the Belasco Theatre on November 4.
Another character on the edge—for the past 400 years—is Shylock, the Jewish financier who lends money to an anti-Semitic merchant and then seeks revenge when the loan defaults. Ever-popular despite its unsavory mix of farce and tragedy, The Merchant of Venice comes to Broadway’s Broadhurst November 7 with two big draws—movie legend Al Pacino as Shylock and Lily Rabe, wildly acclaimed in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park staging of the show last summer, as Portia.
Also on the movie star front, Brendan Fraser, looking to resuscitate his career beyond the kiddie-matinée and Lifetime Network circuit, co-stars with quirky Broadway veteran Denis O’Hare in a show that sounds even quirkier: Elling. Based on a Norwegian comedy (who knew?), Elling tells of a grief-stricken mental patient (Fraser) looking after a neurotic fellow inmate (O’Hare, of course) even more fragile than he is.
The holiday season brings another movie-based man-child to the stage in Elf, penned by Thomas Meehan (The Producers), Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), and the musical team of Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer). Sebastian Arcelus stars in the Will Ferrell role, with Cheers alum George Wendt playing the Santa who raised him.
Speaking of nutty elves, perhaps the most joyous gift of the season will be the return of Pee-Wee Herman and his Playhouse playmates, including Miss Yvonne, Captain Carl, Mailman Mike and Jambi. An updated version of Paul Reubens’ legendary stage show for grownups (shown on HBO nearly 30 years ago but remembered like it was yesterday), The Pee-Wee Herman Show opens at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre November 11.
If a little more substance is required for your theater meal, John “Six Degrees of Separation” Guare, has a new Broadway drama for the first time in almost two decades. A Free Man of Color, opening at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre November 18, tells of a non-white Don Juan struggling with political change in 1802 Louisiana. For even more history, comedian and MTV alum Colin Quinn will squeeze the entire chronicle of the modern world into 75 solo minutes. Directed by Jerry Seinfeld, Long Story Short opens November 9 at the Helen Hayes Theatre.