New York Times’ Brantley Previews Upcoming Theater Season

BY Mike Melia  January 7, 2011 at 1:00 PM EDT

'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark'; photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

The $65 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has generated the most attention and criticism from Broadway recently, as it’s been plagued with accidents, mixed reviews and actors bowing out of the production, but there are other shows to watch out for in New York and on stages across the country.

The trend seems to be big names from the screen taking to the stage. Jason Miller’s That Championship Season, a play about a basketball team, stars Chris Noth, Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Brian Cox and Jim Gaffigan. Robin Williams will make his Broadway debut in a play called Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, and Daniel Radcliff, of Harry Potter fame, and John Larroquette will appear in a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner has his first new work coming to Broadway in years, with The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, which debuted in 2009 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Off Broadway, Lynn Nottage’s latest creation takes a different tone than her Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined. By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is a comedy set in Hollywood.

Listen to a conversation with New York Times chief theater critic Ben Brantley about these and others to watch for, including the musical he is anticipating most: The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone:

Read the transcript after the jump.

MIKE MELIA: Now that the curtain has been raised on this new year, we thought it would be fun to take a look at what to watch for in the world of theater for 2011. For that we are joined by Ben Brantley, chief theater critic for the New York Times. Ben, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

BEN BRANTLEY: You’re very welcome.

MIKE MELIA: Well, let’s with the Great White Way. What are you excited to see on Broadway this year?

BEN BRANTLEY: Well, it’s not so much a question of what I’m excited to see as what the excitement is about, I guess. “Spider-man” has been very much in the news already. And Julie Taymor’s $65 million dollar musical based upon the comic strip character, it’s been delayed three times now it’s opening. Actors have fallen and broken bones in the course of the previews. There’s enduring interest in that. How good the show is I have no idea, but it will probably run for as long as it wants to simply because people want to go and see if something horrible happens to one of the performers, among other things, and it’s a big spectacle. Otherwise, it’s a very starry season. We’ve got a revival of Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season,” about a basketball team with Chris Noth and Kiefer Sutherland. We have Robin Williams making his Broadway debut in a play called “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” And Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter duties behind him, will be appearing in a revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” In a more intellectual framework, Tony Kushner the man who wrote the great “Angels in America” has his first new play in years, which has a mouthful of a title — “An Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.” That’s a riff on a title by George Bernard Shaw. It’s been incubating for a while. Dane Cook of all people is making his Broadway debut in a play called “Fat Pig” by Neil LaBute, which I’ve seen in an off Broadway incarnation. There will be lots of spectacle in the London import “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” about drag queens who go across Australia and which I’ve seen in London. It does have extraordinary costumes, extraordinary by all definitions. And a musical based on “Catch Me if You Can” — you may remember the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio — I’m sort of looking forward to. And one of my favorite actors of all time, Mark Rylance, is coming back to Broadway, where he just appeared in “The Beast,” in a really good British play called “Jerusalem” by Jez Butterworth. So, it’s a fairly rich smorgasbord.

MIKE MELIA: And we have the creators of “South Park” also bringing “The Book of Mormon.”

BEN BRANTLEY: Yeah, that’s a new musical I’m most looking forward to. “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” is one of my favorite movie musicals of all time, right up there with “Wizard of Oz” and “Singing in the Rain.” I’ll be very interested to see what Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, who wrote the music for “Avenue Q,” do with this. It’s about two Mormon missionaries who go to Uganda and I’m sure manage to offend absolutely everyone.

MIKE MELIA: Getting beyond the boroughs in New York, what are some good shows we can expect in theaters elsewhere around the country?

BEN BRANTLEY: Well, let’s see, in Atlanta we have a musical written by the guy who did “In the Heights,” a Broadway hit, Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on the cheerleader movie, “Bring It On.” That’s at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. It’s sure to have energy if nothing else. There’s a musical at the La Jolla theater in La Jolla, Calif., “Little Miss Sunshine,” again based on the movie. That seems to be an abiding trend. As we speak, I believe, Jane Fonda is doing at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles the play she starred in on Broadway, playing a musicologist who communes with a spirit of Beethoven in Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations.” it’s a good performance and worth catching if you’re in Los Angeles. There’s a much anticipated production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” a great musical and sort of an elegy to the old style musical from the early 1970s that stars among other people Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige, who created the part of Evita many years ago in London. The composer of “Dreamgirls,” Henry Krieger has come up with a musical called “Lucky Duck,” which will be at the South Coast Repertory theater in Orange County, Calif., which is the story of a duck who participates in “American Idol”-like competition, a parable for our times no doubt.

MIKE MELIA: Ben Brantley, thank you so much for giving us this preview and taking the time to talk with us.

BEN BRANTLEY: Happy to do it.