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Broadway's Biggest Year Yet?

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F. Scott Schafer

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What does $1.3 billion in annual revenue get you? If you’re Broadway, those coffers earn you a fall lineup flush with A-list headliners (welcome back, Hugh Jackman!), robust reboots (where ya been, On the Town?), and bold new plays (nice to meet you, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). In an era when music-industry sales are in decline, when television networks struggle to maintain a following among audiences with hundreds of channels to choose from, and when the film business has its own set of release-platform challenges, business on Broadway continues to ride high. ”All these [other] audiences seem to be shrinking in all kinds of ways, and it’s all because of new technology,” says Jeffrey Seller, producer of Rent, Avenue Q, and the new fall musical The Last Ship. ”And yet the theater is still the theater, in which the only way to experience it is to show up. And that’s why we’re as healthy as we’ve ever been…. When Rent opened [in 1996], Broadway was doing about 9 million people a year, and now Broadway’s doing 12 million people, reliably, every year. That’s a good number.”

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What does $1.3 billion in annual revenue get you? If you’re Broadway, those coffers earn you a fall lineup flush with A-list headliners (welcome back, Hugh Jackman!), robust reboots (where ya been, On the Town?), and bold new plays (nice to meet you, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). In an era when music-industry sales are in decline, when television networks struggle to maintain a following among audiences with hundreds of channels to choose from, and when the film business has its own set of release-platform challenges, business on Broadway continues to ride high. ”All these [other] audiences seem to be shrinking in all kinds of ways, and it’s all because of new technology,” says Jeffrey Seller, producer of Rent, Avenue Q, and the new fall musical The Last Ship. ”And yet the theater is still the theater, in which the only way to experience it is to show up. And that’s why we’re as healthy as we’ve ever been…. When Rent opened [in 1996], Broadway was doing about 9 million people a year, and now Broadway’s doing 12 million people, reliably, every year. That’s a good number.” With ticket sales topping $1 billion for five straight seasons, Broadway’s loyal viewers are being rewarded with a slate of compelling new shows. Here’s what we’re most excited about right now.

UNEXPECTED REVIVALS
Rose Byrne and Masters of Sex‘s Annaleigh Ashford (alongside James Earl Jones) make 1936’s You Can’t Take It With You feel fresher than ever; the epistolary drama Love Letters (with a rotating cast including Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy, Candice Bergen and Alan Alda, and Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen) is back for the first time since it opened in 1989; and on the musical front, the tap-dancing sailors of the Leonard Bernstein/Comden and Green tuner On the Town go up against the belting freaks of Side Show, which also marks the Broadway directorial debut of Dreamgirls helmer Bill Condon. His approach reflects a recent trend to return stage shows to their more modest roots. ”We’re moving into things that are truly theatrical again and moving out of that multimedia-spectacle world that we might have lived in for a few years,” explains Condon.

PRESTIGE STAR VEHICLES
Edward Albee’s beloved A Delicate Balance in the hands of Glenn Close and John Lithgow? Bradley Cooper and Patricia Clarkson in The Elephant Man? Only Hugh Jackman could compete with that, which he does in The River, Jez Butterworth’s follow-up to Jerusalem. Also building buzz fast: Terrence McNally’s high-minded high jinks in It’s Only a Play, starring F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, and Harry Potter‘s Rupert Grint. ”I’m reminded how much I love acting every time I go on stage. That’s where I feel the most alive,” says Josh Radnor, who returns to Broadway this fall in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced, his first major project since How I Met Your Mother. ”It’s the dirty secret of doing a long-running [TV] show that it showers you with so many blessings, but eventually you want to do something really different.”

BIG-TICKET MUSICALS
Lighter than usual is the number of new musicals—just two this fall: the Tony Danza-led Honeymoon in Vegas, based on the 1992 comedy, and The Last Ship, a sweeping epic with music and lyrics by Sting that is the culmination of the singer’s long-held desire to flex his theater muscles.

THE AMBITIOUS IMPORT
The real show to watch is the curious case of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A miraculous gem of stage storytelling adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel, the tale of an autistic boy trying to solve the murder of a neighborhood pet swept the U.K.’s 2013 Olivier Awards (the West End’s answer to the Tonys) without the help of star wattage, a raucous soundtrack, or any pyrotechnics. Singular in almost every way, it’s sure to shake up every ballot come awards season.

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