At risk of unfairly sidelining the competition, it seems that this year’s spring-into-summer theatre seasons in New York and London are each dominated by one heavyweight title that risks eclipsing all else. On Broadway, all eyes are focused on the Shubert Theatre on 44th Street where no less a figure than Bette Midler has returned to the Broadway stage to star in a new revival of that evergreen favourite, Hello, Dolly! Midler inherits the role of the widowed Dolly Levi, the enterprising matchmaker originated by Carol Channing on stage in 1964 and then by Barbra Streisand in the 1969 film. Midler last played Broadway in 2013, starring to dazzling effect in a solo play, I’ll Eat You Last, about the one-time Hollywood super-agent Sue Mengers. Midler, shockingly, was overlooked for a Tony nomination for that play, so the New York theatre community seems doubly determined to see to it that due attention is paid to the screen, stage and music star this season, in a production packed full of Jewish talent, from uber-producer Scott Rudin to director Jerry Zaks. Nor is Midler the only big player on board. The supporting cast includes such Tony and Olivier Award-winning names as David Hyde Pierce (as Dr Niles Crane from TV’s Frasier) and musical theatre star Gavin Creel. Tuesday night performances will find the title role played by another Broadway favourite, two-time Tony-winner Donna Murphy, as part of a performance schedule that will give Midler two full days off each week so as to recharge her batteries.
Across the Atlantic, London’s National Theatre is reviving one of its greatest-ever hits: Angels in America; Jewish-American writer Tony Kushner’s defining play about America in the age of AIDS, one of the seminal theatrical texts of our time. This two-parter opens on 4 May in the South Bank’s Lyttelton auditorium with a cast headed by Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Olivier Award-winner Denise Gough (People, Places and Things). They are joined in the crucial role of the dying and destructive Roy Cohn (since revealed to have been a major influence on the young Donald Trump) by Broadway legend Nathan Lane in his first London stage show appearance since The Producers in 2004.
Fans of Maureen Lipman can cheer the veteran comedian’s return to the stage, opening opposite Felicity Kendal on 17 May in the first London revival of Lettice and Lovage. The extravagant comedy was first written by the late Peter Shaffer for his beloved Maggie Smith, who appeared in London and on Broadway opposite the late Margaret Tyzack, both of whom won Tonys for their work.
Speaking of Tonys, if it weren’t for Bette Midler a few streets away, there would be no greater divas on the New York stage this season than Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, who have four Tonys between them and are co-starring at the Nederlander Theatre in War Paint. Tried out last year in Chicago, this new musical traces the fortunes of cosmetic industry titans Helena Rubinstein (LuPone)—a Jewish beauty queen for the ages— and Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole). Importantly, this represents an original piece amidst a landscape too often given over to revivals; after all, without great new shows to applaud today, what would be the revivals of tomorrow?