5 Predictions for the Theater in 2019
Here's what is waiting in the wings for the coming year.
In 2018, the TheaterMania editorial team saw hundreds of performances, posted over 3,000 news stories, and spoke with just as many members of the theater community. Based on all of that research, here are the trends we see on the horizon for 2019, a year that promises bold creativity, radiant star power, and high drama. You won't want to miss it:
1. The Theater Will Push Back against Political Correctness.
If you want to inspire a playwright, tell her what she can't say. The contrarian, trouble-making impulse is strong with the theater's best writers, and 2019 will prove it. While born of the best intentions, "political correctness" — the glossary of what can and cannot be said (and by whom) — has become increasingly stifling to both society and the art that reflects it. The pushback is already materializing: Larissa Fasthorse's The Thanksgiving Play is a hilarious satire about "terminally woke" teaching artists trying to devise a culturally sensitive Thanksgiving pageant. The Broadway musical The Prom follows a gaggle of washed-up actors trying to score some publicity by campaigning for LGBT rights in Indiana (this clever swipe at the self-serving nature of #activism also boldly includes the word "dyke" in its libretto).
Not to be outdone, cabaret legend Penny Arcade will perform Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! as part of the Under the Radar Festival (January 3-13). Arcade has been touring the world with this show about sex and censorship since 1990, the last time America was being bombarded with prudery right and left. Now enjoying renewed relevance, expect B!D!F!W! to be the first shot in the 2019 war to reclaim the stage as a safe space for dangerous thought.
2. Musical Revivals Will Play Fast and Loose With Authorial Intent
In 2018, we saw a lot of boldly reimagined productions of classic musicals: Daniel Fish's sexy and brooding Oklahoma! orchestrated the Rodgers and Hammerstein score for a bluegrass band and turned the dream ballet into an expressionist nightmare. Jack O'Brien's Tony-nominated Carousel redrew the racial and gender lines of the piece, featuring an African-American Billy Bigelow and a strong editing of the text to remove references (and defenses) of domestic violence. Stephen Sondheim himself reworked his musical Company to change the genders of several characters, including the leading role of Bobby, which became Bobbie.
The success of many of these productions — or at least, the fact that they got people talking — is the start of something big when it comes to musical revivals. In 2019, I predict that many more writers and estate holders of beloved musicals will open up their work for radical revivals that challenge our expectations, and perhaps alter the intent of the original authors. Up first: Roundabout's Kiss Me, Kate, with the property's second set of book revisions in its history, this time by Amanda Green. And later, a new West Side Story staged by European avant-gardist Ivo van Hove, which, for the first time in history, will not feature Jerome Robbins's original choreography.
3. Plays Will Jump on the Musical-Theater Bandwagon and Leverage Familiar Titles
When it comes to Broadway sales, branding is half the battle, which is why we see so many of our favorite movie characters dancing and singing on stages across the city…and making enough money to stay there year after year. Original stories have always felt like the special purview of plays, which come and go much more rapidly, and have been expected to do so — until now.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child changed the game at the Lyric Theatre, where the record-breaking production will run for years if audiences keep flocking to see their favorite boy wizard. A few blocks uptown at the Shubert Theatre you'll find Harper Lee's classic American novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which is selling out shows with no end in sight. At Studio 54, Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale are performing a stage version of the acclaimed book The Lifespan of a Fact. And over at the Belasco you can see Bryan Cranston in the role of "mad-as-hell" Howard Beale in Network, which extended its limited 18-week run through the end of April and is raking in over $1 million a week. If familiar play titles keep bringing in just as much money (and star power) as Broadway's most branded musicals, I think we'll be seeing a good deal more of them in 2019.
4. Broadway Musicals Will Get Big-Budget Movie Adaptations
Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats are coming to the big screen, and reportedly, so is Dear Evan Hansen and the Broadway-bound teen cult hit Be More Chill. These announcements come on the heels of the surprising financial success of The Greatest Showman, and we're likely to see an explosion of similar announcements in the coming year. As producers try to replicate the success of Showman's movie musical format, it only makes sense that they'll turn to existing properties — doing so cuts costs as well as gives producers a sense of what audiences are looking for. So I'd say it's a fair bet there are film versions in the works for Come From Away and The Band's Visit (following the Hairspray trajectory of movie-turned-musical-turned-movie-musical). And I've got a suspicion this might be the year that the Wicked movie finally decides to close its eyes and leap into a bucket of Hollywood green.
5. Purple Rain Is in the Forecast
Two biomusicals this season — Summer, The Donna Summer Musical and The Cher Show — prove that audiences are willing to show up to see the lives and songs of their idols performed onstage (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is still going strong too). But if any cultural icon should have a show made out of his life, it's Prince. The Purple One's influence goes way beyond his songwriting genius and virtuosity with a guitar. With a career that had an indelible impact on the recording and filmmaking industries, Prince also kicked down sexual taboos, redefined maleness and masculinity, empowered people of color, and dazzled everyone with his inimitably royal fashion sense.
Whether you grew up with him the '80s, '90s, or early aughts, Prince's music and theatrical magnetism drew you in and made you want to join him. How do you hear the funky opening guitar riff of "Kiss" and not spontaneously make the song's first sexy grunt — Unh! — right along with him? Almost two years after his death at the age of 57, there's talk of a film featuring his music, but no word of a biopic. A Broadway show about the life of the legend himself seems even more apropos. That's why in 2019, I predict we will hear news that a musical about Prince's life and work will finally be on its way to the stage. Let the purple soon rain on Broadway!