Fall theater highlights include Stoppard, Loesser and Shakespeare

Seems like old times, compiling a broad list of options for a pretty much fully stocked autumn in the theater world. Thanks in large part to the federal aid that held the industry together through the worst part of the pandemic, American theater has managed to survive. This season, though, may represent the more formidable test of the strength of its institutions, large and small, and be a truer measure of how much of its audience it can count on returning.

To that end — and not even considering the much-anticipated arrival of Lea Michele in New York, as the Fanny Brice who might rescue the sagging Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” — herein find some of the potentially rewarding options:

Why don’t we start off with Frank Loesser’s humdinger of a classic, the one with the Gotham gamblers rockin’ the boat, and an unmarried poyson developing a cold? The Kennedy Center’s popular and consistently polished Broadway Center Stage series is back with a potential bang. The cast is to die for: Jessie Mueller as Adelaide, the chorus girl with the accent you could cut with a deli knife; James Monroe Iglehart as Nathan, her gun-shy paramour; Phillipa Soo as the finger-wagging soul-saver Sarah; and Steven Pasquale (Soo’s real-life husband) as suaver-than-suave Sky. They’ll all roll the dice with director Marc Bruni. Oct. 7-16 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org.

Kennedy Center ups the musical ante with a starry ‘Guys and Dolls’

As for thoroughly modern material, the unmissable moment this fall is the Broadway debut of this delightful musical, with music by Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home”) and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his play of the same title. This witty and charming musical, directed by Jessica Stone, is the story of Kimberly, a New Jersey teenager in the grips of an age-accelerating disease and played to beguiling effect by Victoria Clark (“The Light in the Piazza”). A smashing ensemble (including Justin Cooley, Bonnie Milligan, Steven Boyer and Alli Mauzey) further lifts the show, unveiled last year at off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company, to first-rate buoyancy. Performances start Oct. 12 at Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45 St., New York. telecharge.com.

It is mind-boggling that playwright Adrienne Kennedy is only now making her Broadway debut at age 91. But let’s be grateful it is indeed happening, with both a spare, chilling drama and an actress, Audra McDonald, capable of raising goose bumps. Kennedy’s 1992 memory play about a kidnapping and murder was most recently revived in a haunting online production by the Round House Theater in Bethesda and Princeton’s McCarter Theater Center. This time, Kenny Leon will stage the piece, aptly enough, in a theater freshly renamed for another Black theater luminary. Performances start Nov. 11 at the James Earl Jones Theater138 W. 48th St., New York. telecharge.com.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Simon Godwin, artistic director of Shakespeare Theater Company, is staging Shakespeare’s “Much Ado” at London’s National Theatre, set on the swanky, modern-day Italian Riviera. He’s also staging it at his Washington company, with an entirely different setting: a DC television newsroom, in which the passive-aggressive love match of Beatrice and Benedick is co-anchoring a telecast. How rare is there a Shakespeare comedy done two distinct ways by one director in the same season? Washingtonians will get half the (hopefully hilarious) answer. Nov. 10-Dec. 11 at Sydney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. shakespearetheatre.org.

Molly Smith is in her valedicory season as artistic director of Arena Stage, a post she has held for nearly a quarter-century. But she’s not leaving until, in characteristic fashion, she puts a theatrical stamp on a vital issue of the day. Arena has commissioned an original series of monologues by eight playwrights in response to the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade; the writers, including V (formerly Eve Ensler), Dael Orlandersmith and Sarah Ruhl, will speak to a convulsive moment in the ongoing struggle over abortion rights and the ability of women to control their own bodies. Smith directs. Oct. 20-Nov. 6 at Arena Stage, 1011 Sixth St. SW. arenastage.org.

Molly Smith announces her exit at Arena Stage

A sprawling play arrives by the contemporary maestro of literate drama, Tom Stoppard, and perhaps is the most personal work in the 85-year-old playwright’s esteemed career. Rooted in Stoppard’s discovery of his Jewish heritage, the play spans more than a half-century in the history of a fictional Viennese Jewish family. It was first produced in London in 2020 and comes to Broadway with its original director, Patrick Marber, and a cast of (take a deep breath) more than two dozen actors — unheard of for a nonmusical play these days. But this is a true occasion by any head count: the Stoppard play that may be the last he writes. Performances start Sept. 14 at Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., New York. telecharge.com.

The American Revolution as you’ve never seen it befo — no wait! That’s “Hamilton’s” claim to fame! So here come directors Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., with their own transformative take on who tells the story of the country’s founding. This time, it’s via a Tony-winning musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, first produced on Broadway in 1969. The writing and adopting of the Declaration of Independence is the subject, but now the cast of 22 is made up entirely of female, nonbinary and transgender actors. That these performers sing about a document that didn’t take their rights into account makes the evening all the more poignant. Sept. 16-Jan. 8 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., New York. roundabouttheatre.org.

At a time of angry uproar, theater can still show us the way forward

‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’

The only son in a deeply conservative family, playwright Will Arbery has done what a few in his profession have been able to: paint a textured portrait of the life of the mind on the political right. Set during a weekend in Wyoming, where four graduates of a small Catholic college have returned for a celebration with their mentor, the play is one of incendiary ideas about religion and the country’s future. It unfolds in a lively if unsettling roundel of debates. Sivan Battat directs a cast for Studio Theater that includes Laura C. Harris, Gregory Connors, Sophia Lillis, Louis Reyes McWilliams and Naomi Jacobson. Sept. 21-Oct. 23 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. studiotheatre.org.

The wave of another magic wand passes over Prospero’s enchanted isle, courtesy of a real magician — the redoubtable Teller, of Penn and Teller renown. Teaming up once again with co-director Aaron Posner, with whom he conjured an illusion-packed “Macbeth” at Folger Theater more than a decade ago, Teller brings this 2014 adaptation of Shakespeare’s valentine to the writer’s art to Round House Theatre. Their version, here in collaboration between Round House and Folger, incorporates other ethereal forms of magic, via the dances of Pilobolus and the music of Tom Waits. Nov. 23-Jan. 1 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. roundhousetheatre.org.

‘My Brief but Calamitous Affair With the Minister of Culture & Censorship or Death of the Dialogic in the American Theater’

Ari Roth, former artistic director of Theater J and his own Mosaic Theater Company, rides the wind back onto Washington stages with a new organization, Voices Festival Productions. Inspired by a series he began at Theater J — Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival — this new group will be situated at an event space, the Corner at Whitman-Walker, on 14th Street NW in Washington. First up is this play, based on events surrounding Roth’s premature exit from Mosaic, or what the Voices website describes as “the artistic director’s departure from the theater he launched with high purpose and blind spots.” Veteran director John Vreeke stages this world premiere. Sept. 29-Oct. 23, the Corner at Whitman-Walker, 1701 14th St. NW. voicesfestivalproductions.com.

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