S. Epatha Merkerson in the LA production
of Come Back, Little Sheba
(© Craig Schwartz)
S. Epatha Merkerson in the LA production
of Come Back, Little Sheba
(© Craig Schwartz)
January has historically been a relatively light month on Broadway -- but not so this year! In addition to the official opening of Disney's The Little Mermaid on January 10 and David Mamet's November January 17, three other shows begin performances as the New Year starts out with a bang.

S. Epatha Merkerson reprises her acclaimed Los Angeles performance as Lola in William Inge's classic drama Come Back, Little Sheba (beginning January 3), presented by Manhattan Theater Club at the company's Biltmore Theatre. The play concerns a woman caught in a stale 25-year marriage to the alcoholic Doc (played by Kevin Anderson), and what happens to that relationship when the couple takes in a beautiful young boarder, Marie (played by rising star Zoe Kazan).

The Roundabout Theatre Company presents the Olivier Award-winning comedy The 39 Steps (American Airlines Theatre, January 4-March 23), Patrick Barlow's stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film and the original novel by John Buchan. A hard-working cast of four -- Arnie Burton, Charles Edwards, Jennifer Ferrin, and Cliff Saunders -- play more than 150 roles in this show, about an innocent man who learns too much about a dangerous spy ring.

Another Olivier Award winner, the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of Sunday in the Park with George, is also presented by Roundabout, this time at Studio 54 beginning January 25. Sam Buntrock directs Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Pulitzer Prize winning musical inspired by the Georges Seurat painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell repeat their Olivier-winning roles, and are joined by a cast that includes Michael Cumpsty, Alexander Gemignani, Jessica Molaskey, and Mary Beth Peil.

The ever-busy Roundabout is also presenting the Off-Broadway revival of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart (Laura Pels Theatre, January 18-April 13). Kathleen Turner directs a cast that includes Patch Darragh, Jennifer Dundas, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Jessica Stone, and Chandler Williams. The New Group has the American premiere of Mike Leigh's latest play Two Thousand Years (Theatre Row, January 15-March 8), about an assimilated Jewish family whose quiet life in suburban London gets turned upside down when their son becomes seriously devout.

Fiona Shaw reunites with director Deborah Warner for Samuel Beckett's Happy Days at BAM (January 8-February 8). Meanwhile, F. Murray Abraham, Jonathan Cake, and Elizabeth Marvel will perform in the world premiere of Academy Award winning filmmaker Ethan Coen's trio of short plays, Almost an Evening at Atlantic Theater Company's Stage 2, January 9-February 3. Academy Award nominee Harvey Keitel, Emily Skinner, and Max von Essen will star in a special concert presentation of the smash hit London musical, Jerry Springer -- The Opera at Carnegie Hall (January 29-30).

Looking for more great actors? Tony Award winner Richard Easton heads the cast of Classic Stage Company's production of David Ives' New Jerusalem (through February 3), about philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. Michael Chernus, Mamie Gummer, Keira Naughton, and Jeremy Shamos head the cast of Brooke Berman's Hunting and Gathering, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters (January 22-March 1). The play, directed by Leigh Silverman, follows the interconnected journeys of four New Yorkers. Obie Award winner Lisa Emery stars in Keen Company's production of David Hay's The Maddening Truth (Clurman Theater, January 15-February 17), about Ernest Hemingway's third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn. Soap opera favorite and Broadway veteran Stephen Schnetzer takes on one of the title roles in Richard Abrons' Three Travelers (Theatre at St. Clement's, beginning January 15), about a trio of jaded western tourists seeking wisdom in India from a world-famous, deceptively irreverent Guru.

War figures prominently in the January offerings of several companies. Janeane Garofalo, Bebe Neuwirth, and David Strathairn are among the stars of The Fire Dept Theatre Company's production of At War: American Playwrights Respond to Iraq (Bleecker Street Theatre, January 21-February 4). The Culture Project debuts New Yorker writer George Packer's Betrayed, based on the author's interviews in Iraq and other countries (January 25-March 16). Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre is offering writer/director Lars Norén's War (January 29-March 2), which tells the tale of a family living through genocide. And Ariel Dorfman's Widows (59E59 Theaters, January 10-February 3) receives its New York premiere, courtesy of Reverie Productions. Set in a war-torn village, the play is a parable of individual courage in the face of political oppression.

Amas Musical Theatre presents Eric H. Weinberger and Beth Falcone's world premiere tuner, Wanda's World (45th Street Theatre, January 16-February 3), about a girl with an active imagination, dreading her first day of school in a new town. The Obie Award-winning company Clubbed Thumb presents Jordan Harrison's new play Amazons and Their Men (Ohio Theater, January 3-26), inspired by the life and work of Leni Riefenstahl. Richard Foreman's latest work, Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland: A Richard Foreman Theater Machine (Ontological Theater, January 17-April 13) uses digital material filmed in Japan and England, and attempts to represent a skewed reality.

Last, but not least, the annual Under the Radar festival is back, celebrating a diverse kaleidoscope of new theater. The majority of performances take place at The Public Theater, including Young Jean Lee's Church (January 9-19), Mike Daisey's How Theater Failed America (January 13), Nature Theater of Oklahoma's Poetics: A Ballet Brut (January 10-20), and Dael Orlandersmith's Stoop Stories (January 10-19). Associated events, performed outside the Public, include Foundry Theater's Etiquette (Veselka, January 8-20), Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (P.S. 122, January 9-27), which received this past year's Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, and Classical Theater of Harlem's Trojan Women (Harlem Stage at the Gatehouse, January 10-February 10).