A 2018 Broadway Diva Season Preview

Diva Talk   A 2018 Broadway Diva Season Preview
 
From Bernadette Peters to Jessie Mueller to Tamyra Gray, a look at some of the dazzling women who will take centerstage during the second half of the 2017–2018 Broadway season.
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Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters Andrew Eccles

Well, Hello, Bernadette!
The biggest diva-related event of the year may be the first of the year, when three-time Tony recipient Bernadette Peters returns to Broadway to succeed 2017 Tony winner Bette Midler as the world's most famous matchmaker, Dolly Gallagher Levi. Peters, last on the Great White Way in the Tony-nominated, 2011 revival of Follies, will step into the Tony-winning revival of the Jerry Herman classic January 20 at the Shubert Theatre, where she will be joined by Tony nominee Victor Garber as the infamous half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder.

Peters, who has become a foremost interpreter of the songs of Stephen Sondheim, playing more leading roles in New York productions of his musicals than any other actor of her generation, also has a long history with Dolly! composer Herman, having created the role of silent-screen star Mabel Normand in Herman’s Mack & Mabel. One can hardly wait to hear the Broadway favorite wrap her inimitable, rich alto around such Herman tunes as “So Long Dearie,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and, of course, the title tune.

For an upcoming interview for Playbill, we asked Peters whether she has ever played matchmaker in real life. “I did tell my sister to take a look at a guy,” Peters recalled, “and she married him! I said, ’Hey, look at him, he's cute.’ And, boom [they got married]! So maybe I was.”

Tamyra Gray
Tamyra Gray

Island Treasures
American Idol finalist Tamyra Gray, who made her Broadway debut as Mimi in the original run of Jonathan Larson's Rent and was most recently seen in the national tour of If/Then, will bring her powerful belt to the critically acclaimed revival of Once On This Island beginning January 8, the same day velvet-voiced Tony nominee Norm Lewis also joins the production at Circle in the Square. Gray and Lewis will take over the roles of Agwe and Papa Ge, respectively, succeeding original revival cast members Merle Dandridge and Quentin Earl Darrington, who are both taking contractual leave. Spring Awakening’s Michael Arden directs the haunting production, which also features a breakout performance by newcomer Hailey Kilgore as Ti Moune and Miss Saigon Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, who delivers the most beautiful version of “The Human Heart” one may ever hear, as Erzulie.

Judy Kuhn, Bebe Neuwirth, Vanessa Williams, and Carolee Carmello
Judy Kuhn, Bebe Neuwirth, Vanessa Williams, and Carolee Carmello

A Diva Bonanza
OK, so it's not technically Broadway, but some of the most exciting voices of the musical theatre will be on display when the Hey, Look Me Over! kicks off the 25th season of the Tony-honored City Center Encores! series February 7–11. Not only will the original production, created by Artistic Director Jack Viertel and music director Rob Berman, feature two-time Tony-winning triple threat Bebe Neuwirth, but it will also boast the gorgeous tones of Judy Kuhn, the rounded, golden notes of Vanessa Williams, and Carolee Carmello’s fierce Broadway belt; it should be noted that the four musical theatre stars share 10 Tony nominations between them. The Drowsy Chaperone’s Bob Martin will return to his role as Man in Chair, who narrates a collection of opening numbers, grand finales, and other excerpts from shows that have not yet found a berth on the City Center stage: All American, George M!, Greenwillow, Jamaica, Mack & Mabel, Milk and Honey, Sail Away, and Wildcat.

The entire cast features Encores! alums Clyde Alves (George M. Cohan/George M!; Adi/Milk and Honey), Clifton Duncan (Gideon/Greenwillow), Marc Kudisch (Amos/Greenwillow; Phil/Milk and Honey), Kuhn (Elizabeth/All American; Ruth/Milk and Honey), Tam Mutu (Johnny/Sail Away; David/Milk and Honey), Neuwirth (Mimi/Sail Away), Nancy Opel (Gramma/Greenwillow), Alexandra Socha (Mabel/Mack & Mabel), and Williams; and new additions to the Encores! family Reed Birney (Fodorski/All American), Carmello (Wildy/Wildcat), and Broadway newcomer Britney Coleman (Janie/Wildcat; Barbara/Milk and Honey). Casting for the role of Mack will be announced at a later date.

Arielle Jacobs
Arielle Jacobs Deen van Meer

All in the Family
Arielle Jacobs, sister of Adam Jacobs, who created the title role in the Broadway production of Aladdin, will join the cast of that Disney musical at the New Amsterdam Theatre February 20 in the role of Princess Jasmine. Arielle, whose previous Broadway credits include Wicked and In the Heights, was acclaimed for her performance as Jasmine when she originated the role in the 2016 Australian production; she will join a Broadway company led by Telly Leung in the title role.

Meanwhile, Courtney Reed, Broadway’s original Jasmine, will play her final performance on Broadway January 10 prior to joining Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Michael James Scott (original Australian Genie and the original Genie Standby on Broadway) in the Aladdin North American tour during its Los Angeles engagement. The three original Broadway cast members will share the Hollywood Pantages Theatre stage January 13–February 18.

And Isabelle McCalla, current and original Jasmine in the North American tour company, will join the Broadway company as Jasmine for a limited engagement January 17–February 18. McCalla will subsequently return to the touring company.

Jessie Mueller, Lindsay Mendez, and Renée Fleming_
Jessie Mueller, Lindsay Mendez, and Renée Fleming_

The Gals of Carousel
On February 28 the sixth Broadway revival of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein classic Carousel will begin previews at the Imperial Theatre prior to an official opening March 12. Directed by Jack O'Brien, the cast will boast several multi-talented women, from both the worlds of musical theatre and opera. Tony winner Jessie Mueller, seemingly incapable of a false note either vocally or in scene work, is an inspired choice to play factory worker Julie Jordan, who becomes involved in an ill-fated relationship with the Billy Bigelow of Tony nominee Joshua Henry. Mueller, who won a Tony for her performance as singer-songwriter Carole King in Beautiful, will be joined by opera star Renée Fleming, who will be making her Broadway musical theatre debut as Nettie Fowler and will surely soar on the Carousel anthem “You'll Never Walk Alone.” The company also features Lindsay Mendez—of Wicked, Dogfight, Godspell, and Significant Other fame—as Carrie Pepperidge, the role that earned Audra McDonald her first of six Tony Awards in the musical's 1994 revival.

Ashley Park, Taylor Louderman, Kate Rockwell, and Erika Henningsen
Ashley Park, Taylor Louderman, Kate Rockwell, and Erika Henningsen Joan Marcus

The Mean Girls
Perhaps it's because of Queen Bee Regina, but there is significant buzz for the screen-to-stage adaptation of Tina Fey’s hit 2003 comedy Mean Girls, which will begin performances at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre March 12 following its recent world premiere in Washington, D.C. Set in Illinois, the new musical with a book by Fey (screenwriter of the film), music by her husband Jeff Richmond, and lyrics by Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde the Musical), concerns new student Cady, who takes on The Plastics, a trio led by the ruthless Regina George.

Leading the cast is Erika Henningsen (Les Misérables) as high school fresh face Cady Heron (played on screen by Lindsay Lohan), and bringing to life the Plastics—the vicious clique Heron infiltrates—are Taylor Louderman (Kinky Boots) as Regina, Ashley Park (Sunday in the Park with George) as Gretchen Wieners, and Kate Rockwell (Rock of Ages) as Karen Smith.

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Caissie Levy and Patti Murin Jenny Anderson

Elsa and Anna Take Broadway by Storm
When Frozen, the new musical based on Disney’s Academy Award-winning film, arrives on Broadway February 22 before opening March 22 at the St. James Theatre, Arendelle’s royal sisters will be played by Caissie Levy and Patti Murin, blessed with two of the finest voices to hit Broadway in recent years. Levy, who played Fantine in the revival of Les Miserables and was also seen in the revival of Hair, both on Broadway and in the West End, will star as Elsa (voiced on screen by Idina Menzel), a young woman wrestling with powers beyond her comprehension or control. Her co-star is Murin, who made her Broadway debut in Xanadu and later played the title role in the musical version of Lysistrata Jones, as Elsa's younger sister Anna (voiced on screen by Kristen Bell), who tries to reconnect with the person once closest to her.

The eagerly awaited production is the latest musical from Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon co-creator Robert Lopez—who wrote the film's score (and the musical's additional tunes) with wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez—and Frozen is poised to be as big of a hit as either of his previous two Tony-winning offerings.

Lauren Ambrose
Lauren Ambrose Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

I Think She's Got It
Lauren Ambrose, an Emmy-nominated standout in the role of Claire Fisher on HBO's Six Feet Under, will finally make her Broadway musical debut when she plays Eliza Doolittle, the role created by Julie Andrews, in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady, which begins previews March 15 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. In 2012, Ambrose was scheduled to star in the first-ever Broadway-aimed revival of Funny Girl that was indefinitely postponed by a sudden loss of investors. Tony winner Bartlett Sher, who was to direct the Funny Girl revival, will now direct Ambrose in the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe classic.

Joining Ambrose as Professor Henry Higgins, who sets out to transform the cockney flower girl into a properly speaking British woman, will be U.K. stage actor Harry Hadden-Paton in his New York stage debut. The cast also boasts a pair of Tony winners in the featured roles of the professor's mother (Mrs. Higgins) and Eliza's father (Alfred P. Doolittle): Game of Thrones alum Diana Rigg and Broadway favorite and two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz. For the record, Ambrose last appeared on Broadway in the 2009 revival of Exit the King; she made her Main Stem debut in Awake and Sing!.

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LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever Kevin Berne

Three Donnas
Fans of the late Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, will want to head to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre this spring when Summer: The Donna Summer Musical begins previews March 28 prior to an official opening April 23. Summer, which features a book by Tony winner Des McAnuff, Colman Domingo, and Robert Cary, comes directly from a hit engagement at La Jolla Playhouse and features more than 20 of the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter's hits, including “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “MacArthur Park,” “On the Radio,” “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” and “Dim All the Lights,” which Summer wrote alone.

Although Broadway casting has yet to be announced, the West Coast company was led by Tony Award winner LaChanze (The Color Purple), Ariana DeBose (Hamilton), and Storm Lever (Freaky Friday), each of whom played Summer at various stages in her life, taking on the respective roles of Diva Donna, Disco Donna, and Duckling Donna. We can hardly wait to hear those gals belt out the Summer hits.

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