Awards season is officially upon us, with nearly nightly red carpet events celebrating Broadway openings and anticipation mounting for the Drama Desk and Tony nomination announcements. The Drama Desk nods will be announced by a fantastic trio including Frozen's Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez along with Cinderella's Fran Drescher on April 25, only days before Lucy Liu and Jonathan Groff announce the shows and individuals in the running for 2014 Tony Awards on April 29. If the reason you've been avoiding filling out your nominations bracket is that you can't even begin to keep track of what's opened on Broadway this season, Drama Desk Awards host Laura Benanti has come to the rescue with the two newest additions to TheaterMania's Laura Benanti Explains series: Laura Explains the Season's Musicals and Laura Explains the Season's Plays.
Nearly a dozen new productions have opened on Broadway in the last month, beginning with Rocky, a new musical version of the classic boxing film produced and coauthored by Sylvester Stallone. Other new musicals that have premiered in the last several weeks include Bullets Over Broadway, a version of the 1994 Woody Allen film featuring the music of the '20s and '30s; Disney's glitzy new stage adaptation of Aladdin; and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's If/Then, starring vocal powerhouse Idina Menzel (she's come a long way). March also brought us the Broadway revival of Les Misérables, with a cast that includes West End favorite Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean, Will Swenson as Javert, and Tony winner Nikki M. James as the "good but not smart" Éponine.
Joining her husband Will Swenson on Broadway (and bridging the gap between musical and play), five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald just opened Lanie Robertson's one-woman play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, once again proving her jazzy chops. Other, less musically inclined plays that have recently opened on the Great White Way include starry revivals of A Raisin in the Sun, led by Denzel Washington and English actress Sophie Okonedo, and Of Mice and Men, featuring the Broadway debuts of James Franco, Leighton Meester, and Irish movie star Chris O'Dowd. The last month also saw the premieres of a few fresh works: Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses, James Lapine's Act One, and Terrence McNally's Mother and Sons. The impressive casts of the past month's three new plays are indicative of a resurgence toward a trend on Broadway toward casting theater stars in principal roles.
The last month's exciting theater moments have extended beyond opening nights. For instance, one incredible week brought us both Carnegie Hall's one-night engagement of the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls starring Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, Patrick Wilson, and Sierra Boggess, and the City Center Encores! production of another Loesser musical, The Most Happy Fella, featuring the very busy Laura Benanti, Cheyenne Jackson, and Shuler Hensley. If you weren't able to make it across the Atlantic for that exciting early-April week, you're in luck, because we brought you video footage of both productions, here and here. Shuler Hensley's ''Encores! performance came hot on the heels of his run opposite Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's in Two Plays in Rep, a production which played its final performances to much adorable fanfare on Stewart's Twitter feed.
As opening nights continue to light up the Great White Way in the next several weeks, we're particularly looking forward to seeing new productions of musical favorites such as Cabaret and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (finally in its first Broadway production). And of course, as always seems to be the case, we're on the edge of our seats waiting to see what the West End is sending our way — this time it's Michael Grandage's production of The Cripple of Inishmaan starring WhatsOnStage Award winner Daniel Radcliffe.