NEW YORK (AP) -- After a spate of January closings, Broadway can't wait to get to March and April when a surprisingly large parade of star-driven plays will open.
Consider some of names being employed to entice audiences into theaters: Jane Fonda. Jeremy Irons. Joan Allen. James Gandolfini. Geoffrey Rush. Susan Sarandon. Angela Lansbury. Rupert Everett. Nathan Lane. Bill Irwin. Matthew Broderick. David Hyde Pierce. And more.
The big question: In an increasingly expanding recession, will people come?
The two-and-a-half months following New Year's are glum at Broadway box offices even in the best of times. The holidays are over. Children are back in school. People are broke — and this year they are more broke than usual.
"We're in tricky economic times right now, there's no question," says Tom Schumacher, head of Disney Theatricals, which has three shows on Broadway — "The Lion King," "Mary Poppins" and "The Little Mermaid."
"It hard to tell the real story. It isn't that simple."
Those widely trumpeted January closings happened for a variety of reasons: long-running productions that simply had run their course, limited-engagement holiday shows and then a few that actually hadn't gotten strong enough reviews to survive. And now their replacements are starting to crank up, with most of Broadway's three dozen theaters booked with shows this spring.
Plays, both new and old, are mostly following the game plan that made financial hits out of such fall offerings as "All My Sons," "The Seagull" and "Speed-The-Plow": limited runs with big names.
Jane Fonda, who hasn't been on Broadway in 45 years, leads off the new-play arrivals with "33 Variations" by Moises Kaufman, best known for his work on "The Laramie Project" and "Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde." The actress plays a Beethoven expert looking at the master's obsession with a certain piece of music and her relationships with her own family. The drama arrives March 9 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen follow in "Impressionism," a world premiere by Michael Jacobs about the romance between a photojournalist and a New York gallery owner. The curtain rises March 12 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" was a big hit for Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer in London last year, and the New York edition, opening March 22 at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, has an equally starry cast: James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden. They play two liberal, middle-class couples who come together after their children get into a fight.
"Irena's Vow" makes the journey to Broadway after its success last fall off-Broadway. Tovah Feldshuh portrays the title character, a Polish Catholic who risks her life to save Jewish refugees during World War II. The opening is March 29 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
"reasons to be pretty" was also an off-Broadway hit last year. And now Neil LaBute's verbal slugfest about the emotional price tag of physical beauty arrives at the Lyceum Theatre April 2. The cast includes Marin Ireland, Steven Pasquale, Piper Perabo and Thomas Sadoski.
New musicals will be rare — none perhaps wanting to compete at Tony Award time in June with that British juggernaut "Billy Elliot," the fall's big musical hit. Three are set before May.
Up first will be something even rarer — an original show not based on a movie, play, novel, comic strip, video game or a jukebox catalog. It's called "The Story of My Life," a two-character 90-minute musical about two old friends, one a successful writer who moves away; the other, a bookstore owner who stays behind. Will Chase and Malcolm Gets star. "Life" opens Feb. 19 at the Booth Theatre.
"Rock of Ages" pulls its score from the greatest rock anthems of the 1980s, with songs popularized by such performers as Journey, Bon Jovi, Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Pat Benatar and more. A transfer from off-Broadway, the show revolves around the efforts to save a legendary rock club. Look for "Rock of Ages" April 7 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
"9 to 5: The Musical" brings another big-name composer to Broadway, Dolly Parton. She has written the score for the stage version of her hit movie about workplace revenge, female style. Megan Hilty, Stephanie J. Block and Allison Janey star in the roles played on screen by Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The office politics officially commence April 30 at the Marquis Theatre.
Broadway will be awash in play revivals this spring, many of them courtesy of three nonprofit theaters: the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and Lincoln Center Theater.
Flying in first is a revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," with a cast that includes Christine Ebersole, Rupert Everett, Jayne Atkinson and Angela Lansbury. The four-time Tony winner portrays Madame Arcati, a dotty medium who inadvertently summons from the great beyond the dead first wife of an English novelist, played by Everett. The ghostly doings debut March 15 at the Shubert.
Eugene Ionesco is a rare visitor to Broadway. But his absurdist comedy "Exit the King" will get a starry cast that includes Geoffrey Rush as a monarch who has brought his country to ruin, Susan Sarandon as his conniving first queen, Lauren Ambrose as his young second wife and Andrea Martin as a wily servant. It opens March 26 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
"Joe Turner's Come and Gone" is often considered August Wilson's best play and his widow, Constanza Romero, has said it was his favorite. Audiences will get another chance to see why. The revival opens April 16 at the Belasco Theatre. No cast yet for the Lincoln Center Theater production, but the director is Bartlett Sher, who helmed LCT's hit "South Pacific" last season.
England's Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, square off in "Mary Stuart," which arrives April 19 at the Broadhurst. Janet McTeer in Mary and Harriet Walter is Elizabeth in this battle royal, directed by Phyllida Lloyd of "Mamma Mia!" fame. The adaptation of Friedrich Schiller's classic play is by Peter Oswald.
"The Norman Conquests" is actually the collective title for three plays by that prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. The trilogy, which consists of "Table Manners," "Living Together" and "Round and Round the Garden," take place simultaneously — in a dining room, a living room and a garden. Love apparently is a many-sided thing. The official opening is April 23 at Circle in the Square for this acclaimed production from London's Old Vic.
Matthew Broderick returns to Broadway for the first time since his 2005 appearance in a revival of "The Odd Couple." The vehicle is the Roundabout production of "The Philanthropist" by Christopher Hampton, opening April 26 at the American Airlines Theatre. Broderick portrays Philip, an insular college professor, in the comedy that also features Jonathan Cake, Anna Madeley and Steven Weber.
David Hyde Pierce portrays a playwright contemplating romantic inspiration in the Manhattan Theatre Club revival of the rarely seen "Accent on Youth," Damson Raphaelson's 1930s comedy. Also in the cast are Charles Kimbrough, Lisa Banes and Mary Catherine Garrison. Complications begin April 29 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
The Roundabout tackles another lion of the absurd, Samuel Beckett — with a little help from Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman and John Glover. The work is Beckett's existential masterpiece, "Waiting for Godot," and the play opens April 30 at Studio 54.
Get ready for three iconic shows.
Those raffish denizens of Times Square, courtesy of Damon Runyon, return in "Guys and Dolls," opening March 1 at the Nederlander Theater. Singing the classic Frank Loesser score are Oliver Platt as Nathan Detroit, Craig Bierko as Sky Masterson, Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah Brown and Lauren Graham as the perpetually marriage-minded Miss Adelaide.
"West Side Story" finds its way back to Broadway for the first time in nearly three decades. The director is Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, updating Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to the gang warfare of urban Manhattan. The curtain rises on the rumble March 19 at the Palace Theatre.
And let the sun shine in with "Hair," the venerable rock musical. Most of the youthful cast is from the wildly successful outdoor production seen last summer in New York's Central Park. Now the Age of Aquarius will dawn again — indoors — this time at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where the show opens March 31.