Buckle your seatbelts, theater enthusiasts: the upcoming Broadway productions this spring include a number of new stories, as well as several time-honored classics told with a twist. Whether you enjoy singing along to upbeat modern musical numbers from the orchestra or letting Shakespeare’s powerful soliloquies roll over you from the mezzanine, these spring Broadway productions are sure to spark a stroll down Broadway and into the lush, multifaceted world of the theater.
Playbill recently released a schedule for the upcoming 2019 – 2020 Broadway production season. They listed a series of up-and-coming shows, where they are being performed, when they are due to open and they provided a brief log line describing the production. I will be digging a little deeper into the thematic and artistic elements of each of the Broadway productions and explaining why they are not only worth your money but your precious time.
1. “Be More Chill“
If you are on the lookout for quirky, angsty characters that lament the struggles of systemic high school unpopularity while also addressing the impending takeover of technology, look no further than “Be More Chill.”
Based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzini, this energetic, coming-of-age musical is adorable, hilarious and more than a little bit weird … but in the best way. Its pop sci-fi vibes create a unique experience of the often-overused trope: a high school nobody who desperately wants to be a somebody. And also get the girl, while he’s at it.
Jeremy just wants to survive the many trials and tribulations of high school alongside his best friend and gaming buddy, Michael. In a desperate attempt to get his crush to notice him, Jeremey takes the advice of a shady classmate and buys a mysterious pill called a SQUIP. A SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor … naturally) may sound innocent at first, but as soon as the SQUIP finds its way to Jeremy’s brain, everything changes.
With a persuasive little voice in his head constantly telling him how to be cool, Jeremy gains the potential to rule the school. Unfortunately, he does not realize the price of his social and technological upgrade until it is too late.
The New Yorker said, “If you fed ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ … to the ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ plant, you would get ‘Be More Chill.'” I couldn’t describe this musical better. “Be More Chill” is often aware of its own ridiculousness — as “Little Shop” also tends to do — and sports a score that will get stuck in your head and stay there. This off-Broadway sensation is due to hit the stage Feb. 13.
2. “King Lear“
One of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, “King Lear” depicts the deeply complex inner world of the mind and its slow descent into madness. King Lear wants to divide his kingdom between his three daughters based on their declarations of love for him. To his dismay, the youngest and most beloved daughter does not shower her father in flattery as her older, tricky sisters do. In a fit of rage, King Lear disowns her.
The story continues to unravel throughout five acts as different characters plot and scheme to outwit one another for more power and authority, ultimately leading to violence and chaos that ends in disaster.
The honor of portraying this tragic king is one of the greatest achievements an actor could ask for. His complexity, deep vulnerability and powerful hold on the English language even as he descends into madness allow for many interpretations and provide many challenges for any actor or actress with the stamina to take it on.
Sam Gold’s adaptation of this powerful tale follows a now more common method of gender-blind casting. The role of Lear will be played by none other than Glenda Jackson, renowned actress and winner of an impressive collection of Emmys, Oscars and a long overdue Tony award.
Performances begin on Feb. 28 and will run for a short 19 weeks. It will be a high honor to watch this performance, and you are sure to be blown away.
3. “Hillary and Clinton“
This play takes place in an alternate universe where someone named Hillary Clinton, a presidential candidate during the 2008 U.S. election, faces an uphill battle in the state of Iowa against a powerful opponent. She calls on her husband, Bill, for help.
The play tackles topics such as gender roles, the politics of marriage, professional experience (or lack thereof) and the authority of the American governing administration. When Hillary’s husband and campaign manager have differing opinions, chaos is sure to break loose in this quick-witted, fast-paced production.
Laurie Metcalf is cast to play Hillary and has been riding a recent high after her role in the wildly successful Broadway production of “Three Tall Women,” a powerful show about death and identity, which also included Glenda Jackson in its cast.
While the characters are not meant to be exact replicas of their real-life inspirations, my hope is that they will catch the essence of the not only political but personal dynamics of life from behind the closed doors of some other Clintons, people you most certainly have heard of before.
4. “Kiss Me Kate“
Dubbed “Broadway’s most sparkling achievement,” this musical rom-com will melt the hearts of even the toughest theater critic. Fred and Lilli are melodramatic divorcees, playing the lead roles in a musical interpretation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Both off-stage and during the live performance, the audience gets to enjoy and lament the playful banter between the two ex-lovers, and the chaos that ensues when fiancés arrive unexpectedly, flowers are delivered to the wrong woman and several gangsters feel the need to join in their Shakespearean revelry.
“Kiss Me Kate” is full of show-stopping musical numbers, such as “So in Love” and “Always True to You in My Fashion,” which are performed by a highly talented ensemble of dancers, featuring the powerful singing chops and charismatic charm of Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase performing in the lead roles.
The doors open on Valentine’s Day and shows run through March; so, surprise a significant other or treat yourself! Either way, you are guaranteed to have a marvelous time.
“What the Constitution Means to Me” is a fascinating story of personal identity and the impact national documents can have on people’s lives. The original work, moving from its off-Broadway run to the Broadway scene, details the real-life experiences of Heidi Schreck (as played by herself) and her fascination with the Constitution as she speaks with her 15-year-old self.
Her close connection with the document and how it impacted not just her life, but the lives of generations of women in her family, is beautifully told, refreshingly relevant and breaks the boundaries of people’s understanding of how history impacts their lives. This play can be thought of in the same vein as Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” in that it breathes new life into the dusty documents of history, giving it a tactile humanity that is equal parts hopeful, hilarious and deeply personal.
Vox called it “moving, angry, heartbreaking and INSPIRING.” Performances begin on March 14, but be sure to claim your tickets now before it’s too late.
Whether you are a Shakespeare nerd or a history lover, a stickler for golden-age musicals or on the lookout for new material, this season has something good in store for you. This line-up of Broadway productions, while not exhaustive, highlights what I think will be some of the biggest and most enjoyable performances available this spring season. The experience of good theater is just that: good. The experience of great theater is fantastic.