Do you prefer your singing underdogs prepubescent and British or flatulent and green? Either way, the fall season should have something for you. "Billy Elliot" (opening November 13) garnered ecstatic reviews in London in 2005; Elton John has by many accounts contributed his strongest theater score yet, and three young charmers share the title role of a plucky 11-year-old dancer from strike-ravaged Northern England. "Shrek" (December 14), meanwhile, features an odd hodgepodge of critics' darlings, including lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire (whose "Rabbit Hole" won the Pulitzer Prize) and composer Jeanine Tesori ("Caroline, or Change").
Two cherished productions from last year, meanwhile, make welcome returns. Horton Foote's incisive family tragicomedy "Dividing the Estate" transfers to Broadway on November 20, with much of the original cast. And with 2008 already two-thirds over, the most exciting theater piece of 2007 — the National Theatre of Scotland's Gulf War drama "Black Watch," returning to St. Ann's Warehouse on October 9 — stands a good chance of being the most exciting theater piece of 2008.
It may receive some competition, however, from "The Grand Inquisitor," directed by the iconic Peter Brook. Theater for a New Audience and New York Theatre Workshop, two of off-Broadway's blue-chip companies, are copresenting this one-man adaptation of the celebrated "Brothers Karamazov" passage; it opens October 29 at NYTW. That theater has hosted several productions by the Flemish provocateur Ivo Van Hove; this fall will see him relocate to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on December 6 for an adaptation of the John Cassavetes film "Opening Night." Other stage offerings at BAM include a highly physical Icelandic staging of "Woyzeck" (October 15) and "Continuous City" (November 18), the latest piece of high-tech acousti-sociology by the Builders Association.
Jason Robert Brown has been heralded as one of musical theater's more promising younger writers, but his output has largely been one book musical ("Parade") and two song cycles over 13 years. At 36, he qualifies as a grizzled veteran within the context of "13" (October 5), which features an all-teenager cast and pit orchestra. Some of these performers were still in diapers in 1999, when Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's "Wise Guys" had its first workshop at NYTW. Since then, the picaresque about two turn-of-the-20th-century brothers has gone through a series of casts, directors, and even titles. It was called "Bounce" for quite some time; now it's "Road Show," and opens at the Public on November 18, this time starring Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani.
"Glengarry Glen Ross" was the first David Mamet play to be revived on Broadway, and it won a pair of Tonys. And so Broadway will see two other starry Mamet revivals this fall. First comes his 1988 Hollywood satire "Speed-the-Plow" (October 23), with Raúl Esparza joining cable-TV favorites Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") and Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men"). Even quirkier casting will be seen just three weeks later, when John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer, and Haley Joel Osment headline the 1975 heist drama "American Buffalo" (November 17).
Other starry revivals include the Henry VIII/Thomas More grudge match "A Man for All Seasons," with Frank Langella playing the latter role for the Roundabout (October 7), and an acclaimed London production of "The Seagull," with Peter Sarsgaard joining Olivier Award-winner Kristin Scott Thomas. (Folks who like their Chekhov on the wilder side are directed to the Ohio Theatre, where the terrific Philadelphia company Pig Iron presents "Chekhov Lizardbrain" on October 9.) City Center's Encores! series marks the Leonard Bernstein centenary with "On the Town" (November 19). And Christian Hoff, a Tony winner for "Jersey Boys," headlines the Roundabout's rethinking of "Pal Joey" (December 11), with Stockard Channing and Martha Plimpton as two of the titular cad's lady friends.
Revivals of more recent works include the much-ballyhooed "Equus" from London (September. 25), featuring Richard Griffiths and a starkers Daniel Radcliffe; David Rabe's Vietnam drama "Streamers" (November 11 at the Roundabout's off-Broadway space); Howard Korder's men-behaving-badly comedy "Boys' Life" (October 20 at Second Stage), and Martin McDonagh's "Cripple of Inishmaan" (December 18 at the Atlantic). Oh, and Arthur Miller's World War II morality tale "All My Sons" returns October 16, with John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, and Patrick Wilson joined by a Hollywood brunette whose name escapes me.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" is taking a breather this year, but seasonal theatergoers can content themselves with "White Christmas." The stage version of the beloved 1942 film "Holiday Inn" reaches New York after a half-dozen regional productions on November 23. Another 1942 film classic, Ernst Lubitsch's Nazis-and-divas dark comedy "To Be or Not to Be," has also made a belated arrival on Broadway; it opens October 14.
The Signature's season-long celebration of the Negro Ensemble Company continues December 7 with Samm-Art Williams's 1980 drama "Home." Playwrights Horizons will feature the latest works by the prolific Adam Rapp ("Kindness," opening October 13) and Craig Lucas ("Prayer for My Enemy," opening in early December). John Patrick Shanley, meanwhile, trades in the moral inquiries of "Doubt" and "Defiance" with the musical "Romantic Poetry" (October 28 at Manhattan Theatre Club). And Mike Daisey continues his streak of trenchant monologues with the terrorism-themed "If You See Something Say Something" at The Public (October 27).
The major off-Broadway houses have found homes for several up-and-coming playwrights, including Tarell Alvin McCraney (the drag-themed "Wig Out!" at the Vineyard, opening September 30), Noah Haidle ("Saturn Returns," a time-hopping drama, on November 10), Beau Willimon (the inside-the-Beltway "Farragut North," at the Atlantic on November 12), and Itamar Moses ("Back Back Back," Manhattan Theatre Club's look at steroids in baseball, starting November 18). And look for even fresher voices from the Roundabout's year-old Underground space and Lincoln Center Theater's brand-new LCT3 initiative; look for Steven Levenson's "Language of Trees" (October 29), about an American translator in a Middle Eastern war zone, and Matt Sax's one-man hip-hop musical "Clay" (October 15 at the Duke on 42nd Street), to mark the advent of a whole new crop of underdogs.
Correction from September 22, 2008:
The Public is where "If You See Something Say Something" is opening, October 14 is when "To Be or Not to Be" opens, and New York Theater Workshop is where "Wise Guys" had its first workshop. Information particular to each show was misstated in an article on page S4 of the September 17 Sun.