Old Is New

William Shakespeare. Harold Pinter. Samuel Beckett. Billy Crystal. Names don’t get more luminous than that, especially when it’s the fall Broadway season and theaters are teeming with challenging (albeit mostly familiar) productions.

The biggest comeback kid is perhaps the greatest of them all: Shakespeare. The past few years, he could barely get arrested on Broadway. In fact, from 2010-12, only an Al Pacino Merchant of Venice kept the Bard’s name in footlights. But then Alan Cumming did his solo-psycho turn as Macbeth earlier this year and now Broadway will see four Shakespeare mountings at nearly the same time.

Things get weird on November 10 when two Shakespeares open on the same day: Twelfth Night and Richard III. They come from the Globe Theatre across the pond and will feature acting wunderkind Mark Rylance, who has already snagged two Tony Awards for his recent turns in Boeing-Boeing and Jerusalem. Directed by Tim Carroll, both Twelfth Night and Richard III will employ all-male casts (as in Shakespeare’s day). The actors will do their dressing and makeup onstage, music will be played live on Elizabethan-era instruments and all the lighting will be provided by 100 candles. Of course, the real firepower at the Belasco Theater will come from the performers, with Twelfth Night getting its comedy bolstered by the redoubtable Stephen Fry (tv’s Blackadder and Bones) as Malvolio.

Opening November 21 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater will be a more traditional Macbeth, this one starring Ethan Hawke as the soldier driven by his wife (Anne-Marie Duff) to kill the king and grab the crown. Already playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater, Orlando Bloom and last year’s A Trip to Bountiful Tony nominee Condola Rashad co-star in Romeo and Juliet.

For those not inclined towards thees and thous but still wanting a veddy British evening at the theater, Harold Pinter is occupying two mainstem houses at the moment. His intriguing romantic drama Betrayal, featuring Rachel Weisz and real-life hubby Daniel Craig, just opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater and his more cryptic No Man’s Land opens at the Cort Theater November 24. The latter stars two giants of the English acting world: Ian McKellen, who won his first and only Tony back in 1981 for playing Salieri in the original production of Amadeus and Patrick Stewart, whose tv presence is ubiquitous thanks to Star Trek: The Next Generation, but whose Broadway credits include heady, complicated and nuanced theatrical works by David Mamet, Arthur Miller and Charles Dickens (via Stewart’s popular solo Christmas Carol).

McKellen and Stewart will stay paired for another theater perennial, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which will run in repertory with No Man’s Land at the Barrymore. Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup will play Pozzo and Lucky in the absurdist classic.

On the lighter side of the footlights, Billy Crystal will return with his not-to-be-missed solo, 700 Sundays, which mines great comedy from his early years growing up in a New York Jewish family (‘nuff said) and trying to break into showbiz. The show opens at the Imperial Theater November 13 for a run just past the holidays.