John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy Jamesin a publicity shot for Sweet Smell of Success
John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy James
in a publicity shot for Sweet Smell of Success
From a bathroom-inspired musical to penile origami to the revival of a Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, New York's 2001-2002 theater season promises to be... interesting. Here is a list of some of the potential highlights

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NEW MUSICALS:

Urinetown
This post-modern spoof of Brecht-Weill musicals, which first attracted attention at the New York International Fringe Festival in 1999, presents an Orwellian situation wherein a single, diabolical corporation controls all of the world's toilets. You think it's farfetched? See Section XI of the Starbucks' marketing initiative. Opens at Henry Miller's Theatre (the original home of the Sam Mendes' Roundabout Theatre production of Cabaret) on September 13.

Thou Shalt Not
Adapted from Emile Zola's Therese Raquin, this musical intones the Ten Commandments. The cast even features a Monk (her first name is Debra). Directed and choreographed by the white-hot Susan Stroman, with music and lyrics by crooner Harry Connick, Jr. See it at the Plymouth courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater beginning September 20 (the official opening is October 25) or face Biblical consequences.

Reefer Madness
L.A. theater's latest gift to NYC is this stage musical based on the 1936 "scare" film that was intended to show America's youth the horrors of marijuana but instead has become a camp classic. Music by Dan Studney, lyrics by Kevin Murphy, book by both. Choreography by Paula Abdul! Opens October 7 at the Variety Arts--which, appropriately enough, is not far from NYU.

Mamma Mia!
Mamma mia, what a concept! ABBA fans are in a state of bliss over this Broadway transfer of the London hit musical written around a very large handful of that supergroup's hits. Advance ticket sales for this pop extravaganza probably have its producers singing "The Winner Takes It All." The cast includes Karen Mason, Judy Kaye, and Louise Pitre. Opens October 18 at the Winter Garden, after any remaining stray Cats have been removed from that theater.

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Based on the 1967 semi-musical movie that starred Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing. Sutton Foster has the title role in this stage adaptation with music by Jeanine Tesori. Book by Richard Morris (author of the screenplay) and Dick Scanlan, with "additional lyrics" by the latter (some songs have been retained from the film). Michael Mayer directs. Previews begin March 19 at the Marquis Theatre; opens April 18.

Sweet Smell of Success
John Guare wrote the book for this stage musical adaptation of the classic 1957 film about nasty press agents. Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Craig Carnelia. With John Lithgow on the marquee, the title might be prophetic. Opens in March 2002 at the Martin Beck.

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Shuler Hensley in Oklahoma!(Photo: Michael LePoer Trench)
Shuler Hensley in Oklahoma!
(Photo: Michael LePoer Trench)
MUSICAL REVIVALS:

Oklahoma!
Rodgers & Hammerstein's first show has already had a Broadway revival; but this is a transfer of the smash-hit London production directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Susan Stroman, and it's supposed to be something very special. Patrick Wilson, fresh from The Full Monty, gets to sing the title song, and Shuler Hensley repeats his acclaimed London performance as Jud Fry. Opens at the Gershwin on March 21, 2002 (previews begin February 23).

Assassins
The Roundabout offers the first Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's musical examination of the psyches of folks such as John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, who tried to take out various Presidents of the United States. Broadway's Scarlet Pimpernel, Douglas Sills, is Booth, and Neil Patrick Harris is Oswald; also in the cast are Mario Cantone, Denis O'Hare, Raul Esparza, and Becky Ann Baker. Opens November 29 at the Music Box. (Expect the Secret Service to visit the theater.)

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NEW PLAYS:

The Shape of Things
Both in films (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty) and in the theater (bash), Neil LaBute has proven himself as a writer whose works deal with highly unpleasant subjects (sexual betrayal, horrific violence, etc.) and yet never seem manipulative. That's because the characters are so strong and LaBute's talent and intelligence are always apparent. The Shape of Things comes to New York following a hit run in London, and the fact that the cast consists of Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol, Rachel Weisz, and Frederick Weller has helped to make this one of the most anticipated Off-Broadway shows of the season. Opens October 10 at the Promenade.

Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker
Wonder of the World
David Lindsay-Abaire, the guy who brought us Fuddy Meers, offers another comedy involving a young woman's fantastic journey. In the play's central role, Sarah Jessica Parker meets a "suicidal alcoholic" and a "salty sea captain," neither of whom apparently recognize her as Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. Now, that's a wonder! Opens November 1 at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage 1.

Where's My Money?
A somewhat revised version of the John Patrick Shanley play about divorce lawyers, first produced this summer at Labyrinth Theatre Company. Opens November 7 at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage 2.

45 Seconds From Broadway
Neil Simon's latest, set in an theater institution--namely, the Café Edison, a.k.a. "The Polish Tea Room." Seems like a nice place for a different kind of Dinner Party. On the guest list for this one are such brilliant comedians as Lewis J. Stadlen, Marian Seldes, Carole Cook, and Alix Korey. Opens November 11 at the Richard Rodgers Theater, which is also just about 45 seconds from Broadway (and from the Café Edison).

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REVIVALS:

Hedda Gabbler
This new production of the Ibsen classic, adapted by Jon Robin Baitz, comes to the Ambassador following acclaimed runs at the Bay Street Theatre (in Sag Harbor) and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Kate Burton is supposed to be fantastic in the title role of a play that some people consider even more "feminist" than Ibsen's A Doll House. Previews begin September 19; opens October 4.

Dance of Death
Richard Greenberg adapts August Strindberg's tale of dueling spouses "celebrating" their silver anniversary. Sounds like rough going--but at least it's not Miss Julie! And on star power alone (Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren), this should be a huge hit. Opens at the Broadhurst on October 11.

Noises Off
Michael Frayn's hilariously funny backstage farce is back, this time with a cast that includes Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Richard Easton, and Faith Prince. Opens at the Brooks Atkinson on November 1; previews begin October 16.

The Women
Among the cast of this revival of Clare Booth Luce's legendary, all-female, 1936 comedy are Kristen Johnston, Rue McClanahan, Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Tilly, and Mary Louise Wilson. Opens November 8 at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre, which some people still insist on calling the Selwyn.

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Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson
ALSO WORTH NOTING:

We'll have to wait until March 2002 for director Richard Eyre's revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, but it should be worth it. Though the play specifically concerns the Salem witch trials, it was seen as an indictment of McCarthyism when first produced on Broadway in 1953, but it can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about any form of mass-hysterical scapegoating. In what sounds like a perfect choice, Liam Neeson will play the central role of the tormented John Proctor. Opens March 7 at a theater to be announced; previews begin February 19.

The Visit, Kander & Ebb's musical adaptation of the creepy Friedrich Dürrenmatt play of the same name, has an irresistible premise: A rich old woman promises to save her hometown from financial ruin if the townspeople will murder the man who wronged her in her youth. Opens October 1 at the Goodman in Chicago, starring Chita Rivera and John McMartin. Of course, the show has its sights set on Broadway if the Chi reviews are good.

Wendy Wasserstein is working on a musical adaptation of An American in Paris. David Henry Hwang's major rewrite of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, which opens in L.A. on October 14, may end up on Broadway eventually. And the aforementioned John Patrick Shanley is crafting the book for a musical version of his 1987 film Moonstruck.

If you think Urinetown's premise is scary, consider Judy Garland Live!. Depending on your point of view, it's either very disappointing or a big relief that female impersonator Jim Bailey's hommage to Garland, which was to have opened on Broadway in October, has been delayed until the spring.

Finally, right around the corner, there's an entertainment that's almost impossible to categorize: The London hit Puppetry of the Penis crosses the Atlantic and lands at the John Houseman on October 5, leaving me without any witty remark to top the show's title. This sounds like a show that must be seen to be believed.