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Broadway has long held a place for familiar comforts. From musicals that haven’t left the neighborhood for a quarter century to shows that crop up like perennials, classics are part of the landscape, like streetlights or prix fixe menus served tout de suite.
The Music Man, which opens this month starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, has come around like clockwork every 20 years or so since its 1957 premiere. Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite hasn’t taken up residence below Central Park South since it first played in 1968, but the production that opens next month marks another longed-for return: of marquee stars Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, who last played opposite each other in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, when they had been dating just four years.
The late composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s favorite subject was no less than the human condition, and his insights still gleam, untethered to time. A fresh take on Company, which swaps a confirmed bachelor for a single woman in the city, feels wryly in tune with 21st-century Manhattan, as it certifies that the need for love and connection is universal.
“Obviously, splashy revivals receive a lot of attention, but these days people want to go to a big event if they’re going to leave the house,” says Broadway producer Eric Kuhn. “And that gets them into Times Square, eating at Joe Allen, or staying in a hotel. We want to get everyone back to work.”
Some glimpses into the past seem to promise a measure of reassurance, or at least an escape from present woes. But looking back can also be a way forward. “If we can understand the impulse behind our desire for nostalgia, we can use it to recognize who we are, rather than longing for how we were,” says Mei Ann Teo, associate artistic director of new work at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “Sometimes the act of revival can awaken us to the possibilities of who we can be.”
Other texts reappearing on stage this season aim to speak directly, and pointedly, to the moment. Ntozake Shange’s landmark excavation of Black womanhood, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, last on Broadway in 1978, will return to its original home at the Booth Theatre next month. And Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse will reprise their original roles, after 25 years, in Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play about sexual abuse, How I Learned to Drive, which makes its uptown debut.
Theater lives only as long as people are present in the room—there’s no wrenching a performance back from the ether once the curtain drops. So even when we know how the story goes, we slip into the dark for a new experience every time, because we’ve never been who we are at that very moment. It’s why we keep coming back.
This story appears in the February 2022 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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