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Bulletin from broadway: planning a trip to New York? Contributing editor and ultimate theater insider Michael Riedel of the New York post picks the must-see shows of the season.

Hugh Jackman.

Those two words should be worth between $10 million and $12 million at the Circle-in-the-Square box office this fall on Broadway.

Jackman, the most sought-after leading man in New York theater history since, well, Al Jolson, is returning to the stage in a new play called The River. It's a limited-run--just three months starting Oct. 31--and tickets are already hard to come by. Given Jackman's past box office prow-ess--in the drama A Steady Rain and his sensational one-man show Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway--his producers expect the advance sale to hit $10-million-plus before the show plays its first performance. Which is probably why every time I run into them at Sardis they're drinking martinis and smiling and smiling and smiling.

I can't reveal much about the play. It's full of twists and turns and, should you be fortunate enough to score a ticket, I wouldn't want to spoil your fun. What I can tell you is that Jackman plays a loner who loves fly fishing and has a cabin in the woods by a river. He invites a new lady friend to this secluded place for a romantic weekend. But things are not quite what they seem. I know this because I ran into Jackman in the neighborhood the other day. We live on the same block, he in a fancy glass tower, me across the street in the maids' quarters. He's shaved his head for the part, and it's been my experience that when a handsome leading man goes bald, he's playing a creep.

Lex Luthor? Ernst Stavro Blofeld? Ming the Merciless? Take it from me, this guy has other hobbies besides fly fishing.

Jackman isn't the only million-dollar celebrity draw this fall on Broadway. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the dynamic duo from The Producers and the 2005 revival of The Odd Couple, are on the boards right now in Terrence McNally's 1982 comedy, It's Only a Play. This is a slight evening, to be sure, but audiences are having a great time. Before the show played its first performance at the end of August, it had sold nearly $10 million worth of tickets.

It's Only a Play takes place on the opening night of a new Broadway show, with everyone involved nervously awaiting the reviews. Broderick is the playwright, and Lane his best friend, a bitchy stage actor who's become a sitcom star. The wonderful James Coco played the part originally, and it fits Lane, who knows his way around a zinger, to a T. Stockard Channing gets big laughs as the leading lady, who keeps her energy up by sniffing coke off her fur coat, and Megan Mullally is all sweat and nerves as a novice producer.

McNally has updated the play, so expect a few references to Ben Brantley of The New York Times and Ann Coulter of Fox News. There was a joke about yours truly of the New York Post, but it didn't get a laugh so they cut it.

I hate this play.

It's Only a Play runs through Jan. 5, 2015, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.

If you're looking for something a bit more substantial, I suggest you get tickets right now for the revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, starring Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan and Bob Balaban.

This play is a masterpiece, every bit as good, though less flashy, than Albee's celebrated Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Close and Lithgow play a well-heeled couple trying to maintain their stability and comfort while coping with an alcoholic sister, a daughter on her fourth failed marriage, and their best friends, who show up one night unannounced and terrified of something they cannot identify.

This play, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1967, is the very definition of Albee-esque: witty, enigmatic, elegant, sad, unsettling. It also contains one of the finest speeches in the American theater--Claire's "I ... am ... a ... alcoholic" monologue in the first act.

You'll want a drink before the play, and several after.

(A side note on drinking and the theater. Elaine Stritch played Claire in the 1996 Tony Award-winning revival. I interviewed her at the time. She'd been sober for several years, but back in her "high-steppin' days," as she put it, what she drank depended on the play she was in. For Noel Coward, it was champagne. Tennessee Williams, bourbon. Albee required vodka. "I was a method drinker she said.)

You'll find plenty of stars in the revival of A.R. Gurney's charming Love Letters at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. This two-character play charts the relationship between a man and a woman through 50 years of postcards, letters and diary entries. The two characters will be played by a variety of actors, so check the production's website to see who's on when you're in town--Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow; Carol Burnett and Alan Alda; Candice Bergen and Stacy Keach; Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen.

On the musical front, the most anticipated production is The Last Ship, which has a score by Sting. The setting is an industrial town in the north of England during the last days of the shipbuilding business. Generations of men have worked in the shipyards, which are about to be closed forever, destroying the community. Sounds dreary to me, frankly, but a critic I trust, Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, gave it an encouraging review when it opened in Chicago last June.

He called it "heartfelt" and "sincere" and praised Sting's score, which he said was as complex as Kurt Weill and as rousing, at times, as a good old-fashioned show tune from Lionel 13art (Oliver!). Sting was suffering from writer's block before embark-ing--if you will--on The Last Ship. But once he started, songs poured out of him, and he is very proud and pleased with his work. He's also, I'm told by friends working on the show, a trouper. He attended almost every performance in Chicago, tossing out songs that weren't working and replacing them with ones that did.

The Last Ship opens Oct. 26 at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Over at the St. James Theater, starting in November, you can catch The Kennedy Center's acclaimed revival of Side Show. I saw the original 1999 production, which left me cold. The show is about real-life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. There was a song set in a tunnel of love while the girls were on a double date (how could they date otherwise?) that ranks among the creepiest and most misguided numbers I've ever seen on Broadway.

And when the twins sang their 11 o'clock number, I Will Never Leave You, I thought, "Duh!"

But over the years I've come to appreciate the score, by Henry Krieger, who wrote Dreamgirls. And the show has been revised for this new production. Charles Isherwood, the drama critic for The New York Times and no pushover, thought highly of this new Side Show, so I'm willing to give it a second chance.

If you're in the mood for a comedy from the old school--so old it has three acts--you can't go wrong with George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's beloved 1936 classic You Can't Take It With You at the Longacre. This time the zany, bohemian Upper West Side Vanderhof family is headed up by James Earl Jones, still a delightful stage presence at a sprightly 83. Jones played the President of the United States a couple of years ago in Gore Vidal's The Best Man. He danced a spirited jig on stage that nearly brought the audience to its feet with delight. I interviewed him at the time and asked him if he was going to take a vacation after the play closed. Vacation? He didn't know from that. In fact, he was about to get on a plane to Australia to do Driving Miss Daisy with his great friend, Angela Lansbury.

"I'm an actor, my boy, and an actor works," he said in that deep, rich voice I'm sure you can hear as you read this.

Joining Jones onstage are fellow veterans Elizabeth Ashley, Byron Jennings, Reg Rogers and Mark Linn-Baker.

I have a soft spot in my heart for You Can't Take It With You. I was Ed Carmichael, the xylophone-playing member of the eccentric family, in a celebrated 1982 revival at Geneseo Central School in upstate New York. Whenever I return to Geneseo, people stop me in the street and say, "It's so good to see you again. Not a day goes by when I don't think of your performance as Ed Carmichael." I don't sign autographs anymore, but sometimes I pose for cell phone snaps. It depends on my mood. My friend, Hugh Jackman, disagrees. He signs autographs.

But he's an up-and-corner and I have arrived.

At least in Geneseo.

And in Sarasota, when I vsist my parents, I'm quite popular at the 19th hole of the Meadows Country Club.

Especially when I'm buying.

When you hear the name Tony Danza, you probably think, now here's some old sitcom stalwart who should be cropping up on Dancing With the Stars any moment. Well, I've got news for you. Danza is a first-rate Broadway song-and-dance man who'll be headlining the new musical Honeymoon in Vegas at The Nederlander Theatre beginning Nov. 18. The play is based on the 1992 movie, and Danza plays a professional gambler who becomes entangled with a young couple who are in Vegas to get a quickie marriage. James Caan played the part in the movie, but Danza makes it his own on the stage. He has charm in abundance, a dazzling smile and a voice to rival that of any crooner from the 1960s. Oh, and he happens to be a nice guy. So if you see him at any of the theater district watering holes after the show, make sure to say hello. He'll make you feel right at home in New York.

What would a new Broadway season be without an import from London? This one is not to be missed. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a mystery, based on a novel by the same name, whose main character, a teenage boy, suffers from Asperger Syndrome. Ok, this is not The Mousetrap, but it is a fascinating, moving and surprising play given a dazzling production by director Marianne Elliott. I saw it two years ago at the National Theater in London and am still haunted by it.

So try for Hugh Jackman this fall in New York, but if you can't get in, don't despair.

There are plenty more stars to see.

Tony Danza. Glenn Close. James Earl Jones. Anjelica Huston. Nathan Lane.

You really can't go wrong.

Drinks & Dinner

Theater columnist Riedel's new favorite spots for before and after the show.

What's an evening at the theater without a drink and light bite before the curtain goes up--and several drinks after it comes down? I've been a regular at several old Broadway haunts for years--Joe Allen, Orso, Angus Mclndoe, Sar-di's. They're all still good, but lately I've been trying new places. And I've made some real discoveries.

My top choice right now is a snappy French bistro called Saju at 120 W. 44th St. The wines by the glass, especially some dry roses from Provence, are superb. I'm also devoted to the brandade (salt cod, potato puree and garlic served on toast), the pistou (a savory soup of Mediterranean vegetables) and the bistro burger. I've introduced several theater people to Saju, including writers Susan Birkenhead (Jelly's Last Jam) and Richard Maltby Jr. (Miss Saigon) and the actor Jim Dale. All have come back for seconds.

Across the street from Saju is an old standby that I've rediscovered. The high-ceiled dining room of Un Deux Trois brings to mind the great Parisian bistros of the 1920s--L'Arbre a Cannelle, Bofinger, Gallapin, La Coupole. Order the snails, with plenty of French bread to soak up the butter and garlic. And the boeuf bourguignon will make you want to reach for your well-worn copy of A Moveable Feast. Regulars here include Harvey Fierstein, Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Fry and anybody who's in the cast of the show next door at the Belasco Theater.

The best fish restaurant in the theater district is Esca on West 43rd Street. Most of the fish is caught fresh that morning off Long Island, so the menu is seasonal. The fluke and local porgy crudo melt in your mouth. The surprising ingredient in the spaghetti with chiles and a pound of lobster is--fresh mint. The herb also makes a welcome appearance in the razor clam ceviche. I've dined here with Anjelica Huston, Richard Kind, Tony Danza and writer Pete Hamill.

My other favorite fish restaurant is Oceana at Sixth Avenue and 49th Street. Great for pre- or post-matinee dining during the week. The fish tacos are the best in the city. It's a power-brokers' luncheon spot, favored by on-air personalities from Fox, Les Moonves of CBS, top executives from the Rupert Murdoch empire, agents from William Morris and editors and columnists (like me!) from the New York Post.

The Hourglass Tavern on West 46th Street is hugely popular with chorus kids from Broadway shows. There are three bars in this three-story upscale pub, and after showtime each one is packed with boisterous (and extremely attractive) singers and dancers. The fun goes into the wee hours--if you can keep up!



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Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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