Seattle-area theater patrons are able to see big Broadway plays and musicals more quickly than before, as the 5th Avenue and Paramount Theatres bring in Tony-winning shows faster and Seattle playhouses are on the lookout for important dramas.
Two not-so-bold predictions: The Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton” will win the Tony Award for best new musical in the June 12 ceremony, broadcast by CBS. And when this innovative tuner about renegade founding father Alexander Hamilton visits the Paramount Theatre on tour next season, ticket demand will blast through the roof.
Here is another good bet: Many other works honored with Tony nods and wins will turn up in Seattle sooner rather than later.
Not so long ago if you wanted to keep up with current theater, you had to give your regards to Broadway in person. It could be a long wait until new hits reached Northwest patrons — it took four years, for example, for “Les Miserables,” which had its New York debut in 1987, to man the barricades here.
Now producers quickly launch lucrative national tours and touring networks link Seattle to Broadway more efficiently. The 5th Avenue Theatre and Paramount Theatre bring in hits faster, while Seattle Repertory Theatre and other playhouses scout lauded dramas. (The Tony-winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” comes to the Paramount in 2017; and the best new musical of 2015, “Fun Home,” will land at the 5th Avenue.)
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In addition to “Hamilton,” which has a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations, here are several other Tony-nominated productions likely to pop up at a theater near you:
“Waitress.” This show depicts a waitress (endearing Jessie Mueller), grappling with an unplanned pregnancy, an abusive husband and an affair with her obstetrician. Despite such travails, the mood is mainly upbeat. The feminist-lite message of a sisterhood of servers is as sweet as Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, one of many imagined dessert delights. And the score by Sara Bareilles and a folksy, feel-good vibe make it all go down easy. But this is a blander, quainter confection than the indie film it’s based on. Whether the 5th Avenue or Paramount hosts the announced tour, expect tie-ins with local bakeries.
“Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” George C. Wolfe’s ambitious meta-musical melds the jazzy tunes from a vintage hit with a lesson in black showbiz history. The merger is intriguing and informative, but cumbersome in its exposition-heavy take on how songwriters Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, with others, created an all-African-American Broadway musical smash. “Shuffle Along” gets a big boost from Audra McDonald (nominated for her seventh Tony). Any tour will also need stars of renown, but here the big draw may be the choreographer: Savion Glover, tap maestro and local favorite, who’s also up for a Tony.
“School of Rock.” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s retro-rock family entertainment (based on the movie) gazes affectionately at a slacker musician who becomes a pied piper to kids at a snobbish private school. Adapted by Julian Fellowes (yes, the creator of “Downton Abbey”), this is jokey escapism with a scoop of romantic mush, and if you think about it for a minute it’s scarily anti-academic. But the clever book and hyper-talented adolescent actor-musicians keep it popping, and the national tour could do well, even without much critical enthusiasm, in a city that loves rocking out.
“King Charles III.” Shall I compare thee to a Shakespeare play? Mike Bartlett’s agile aristocratic saga weds contemporary politics and modern parlance to Elizabethan couplets and historical drama. In Bartlett’s speculative vision, members of the Royal House of Windsor speak in fluent iambic pentameter, and go into full political intrigue mode after Elizabeth II dies, and Prince Charles makes his rocky ascent to the throne. This fall Seattle Rep airs the play in a coproduction with American Conservatory Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company.
“The Humans.” Yes, we know: another dysfunctional family drama. Hold on, though, because Stephen Karam’s touted study of a deflated older couple and their adult daughters captures with empathetic acuity the simmering defeat and spiritual malaise that many post-recession Americans with frayed dreams are feeling. Unemployment, adultery, unrequited love, mental illness — these common conditions are elevated without melodrama, and with the survival humor that keeps us human in hard times. Seattle Rep may snatch this up, but if not, ACT Theatre or ArtsWest should, and local actors would relish the meaty roles.
“Eclipsed.” Danai Gurira’s searing portrait of Liberian women facing horrific hardships during a long civil war is strong stuff. As sexual trophies of a brutal rebel warlord, they are prisoners trapped in a makeshift family presided over by the ravaged oldest captive. The script rambles, but the realities it portrays are haunting. The existence it conjures is not entirely grim: The women snatch at any sparks of joy or triumph as if they were diamonds. The Broadway headliner is Tony competitor Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”), and any Seattle staging offers a rare banquet of great parts for black actresses.
“The Father.” Where “The Humans” and “Eclipsed” offer glints of hope, this hit play from France’s acclaimed Florian Zeller stares straight into the abyss of dementia. The elder patriarch here (mastered by Tony-nominated Frank Langella) is a smug, arrogant, at times charming man whose apartment and grasp on reality alter drastically as his memory and autonomy disintegrate. Presented from his perspective, and that of the daughter trying to aid him, this Beckettian work details his mounting confusion, panic and regression. It’s a stunner, but also a hard sell. Is there value in this kind of head-on collision with something we all fear? Perhaps, if a local company feels passionately enough about the play to stage it.