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5 Predictions for the Theater in 2017

TheaterMania offers a guide to tomorrow's big stories.

It's impossible to perfectly predict the future, but with a little insight and an eye trained on developing trends, one can get pretty close. This is especially true in the theater, which has some big stories brewing for 2017. Here are 5 things that we predict will happen onstage in the coming year.

1. Hamilton Original Cast Members Will Return in Starring Broadway Roles
With original Hamilton ensemble member Ariana ("The Bullet") DeBose starring as Jane in the new Broadway musical A Bronx Tale and leading lady Philippa Soo set to return as the eponymous character in the musical version of Amélie, we predict that 2017 will bring the homecoming of even more members of the Hamilton contingent. Each performer's comeback is sure to be complete with above-the-title billing in their own new project. We're thinking, Jonathan Groff returning to the role of Frozen's Kristoff, Renée Elise Goldsberry as Hermione in The Cursed Child, or Jasmine Cephas-Jones as Moulin Rouge! The Musical's Satine. Get on it, casting directors.

Reed Birney, Cassie Beck, Jayne Houdyshell, Sarah Steele, and Arian Moayed star in Stephen Karam's The Humans, directed by Joe Mantello, at Broadway's Schoenfeld Theatre.
(© Brigitte Lacombe)

2. With the Success of The Humans, Broadway Play Producers Will Take More Risks
A lack of a recognizable title and stars will usually do a play in, but not Stephen Karam's The Humans. When this hilarious and dark five-character drama started performances at the Laura Pels Theatre off-Broadway, there was no way to predict that this Roundabout Theatre Company production would move to Broadway, win the Tony Award for Best Play, recoup its budget, and announce a national tour. The success of The Humans is a heartening one for playwrights like Karam, who have spent their careers writing daring works that more often than not get lost in the landscape of non-profit theater. It's similarly encouraging for producers, who are starting to understand that the theater industry is still a place for complicated dramas that don't rely on star casting.

2017 is shaping up to be the year producers take risks left and right, allowing mainstream viewers to witness the Broadway debuts of beloved writers like Paula Vogel (Indecent) and Lynn Nottage (Sweat), as well as rising dramatists including Joshua Harmon (Significant Other) and Lucas Hnath (A Doll's House, Part 2). We predict there will be more on the horizon, so here's to the risk takers, long may they reign.

Michael Aronov, Jefferson Mays, and Anthony Azizi starred in J.T. Rogers' Oslo, a play about negotiations between Israel and Palestine, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
(© T. Charles Erickson)

3. Introspective Theater Is Out, Political Theater Is In
2017 will be the year that America's playwrights and composers set aside their existential quandaries for a brand of theater that is more engaged in the here and now. Lyrical family dramas and three-hour plays about nothing will take a backseat to shows about national themes, historical dramas, and good old-fashioned agitprop. Already scheduled for this spring are plays about the disappearing industrial working class, women's suffrage, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Expect a lot more where that came from. Those who like the theater to be a safe space away from politics will find it harder and harder to find a hot new play or musical that fits the bill. Of course, there will always be Cats, now and forever.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won the 2016 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen.
(© David Gordon)

4. Pasek and Paul Make Strides Toward EGOT
Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have been hovering around the spotlight since they made their off-Broadway debut with the musical Dogfight in 2012. Since then, they've earned a Tony nomination for their score of A Christmas Story: The Musical, a Daytime Emmy nomination for their song "Unlimited" (which they wrote for an Old Navy campaign of all things), and just recently, nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for the song "City of Stars," which they co-wrote with Justin Hurwitz for the film La La Land. Now that their original musical Dear Evan Hansen is open on Broadway with rave reviews to keep it going through awards season, this is shaping up to be a banner year for the songwriting pair. The full EGOT might be stretch, but we wouldn't be surprised if they ended 2017 with a few more letters in that prestigious acronym.

Josh Groban stars in the immersive Broadway production of Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, directed by Rachel Chavkin, at the Imperial Theatre.
(© Chad Batka)

5. The Golden Age of the Immersive Musical Dawns
Musicals that place the audience in the heart of the action have been on the rise in recent years: Here Lies Love, which told the story of Imelda Marcos with the audience on its feet in a nightclub environment, ran at the Public Theater in 2013 and through most of 2014. But with the immersive Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway and a highly anticipated environmental production of Sweeney Todd set to play the Barrow Street Theatre off-Broadway, we predict that 2017 will be the year that the immersive musical becomes a permanent fixture on the theatrical scene. Already, the National Theatre of Scotland is adding its own spin on the genre with The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at the McKittrick Hotel (home to the ultimate immersive experience, Sleep No More). While Prudencia Hart is not a traditional book musical by any means, but there is rarely a moment that goes by that is not filled with music and song. As is true with all colliding ideas, we predict that immersive staging will advance musical theater, while musical sensibilities will alter our idea of what stories can be immersive.