Aaron Sorkin will return to Broadway in November with his play about the birth of television, “The Farnsworth Invention.” Dodger Theatricals will lead a producing team that is expected to include Steven Spielberg.
Des McAnuff will direct the play, which is scheduled to go into a Shubert theater for an unspecified November start date. McAnuff helmed a developmental workshop production at La Jolla Playhouse in March as part of the Page-to-Stage program; that staging was open to the public but not to reviewers.
Dodger will be principal producer on “Farnsworth,” with the breakdown of co-producers and associate producers not yet fully determined. Spielberg’s involvement as an investor — the filmmaker’s first stake in a stage venture — has been public knowledge since the La Jolla run.
An ensemble drama with a cast of 19 in its original staging, the play spans the first half of the 20th century, focusing on American electronics pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth and Russian-born media titan David Sarnoff as they clash over credit for the advent of television and the direction in which the medium will go.
“Farnsworth” was conceived by Sorkin as a screenplay but morphed into a stage project to be helmed by McAnuff at Dublin’s Abbey Theater. When those plans fell through due to a government-mandated funding shift toward Irish plays, the director and writer shepherded the play to La Jolla.
That production starred Jimmi Simpson as Farnsworth and Stephen Lang as Sarnoff. Some of the La Jolla cast may be signed up for the Broadway staging, but no elements have yet been confirmed.
“Farnsworth” joins a number of new plays already scheduled for fall openings on the Rialto. Confirmed titles include Theresa Rebeck’s “Mauritius,” Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer” and Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Also expected is London import “The 39 Steps,” Patrick Barlow’s comic riff on novelist John Buchan’s thriller.
In addition to “Farnsworth,” Sorkin has expressed interest in collaborating with McAnuff on a musical based on the Flaming Lips’ concept album “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”
Sorkin’s last work to play the Rialto was 1989 military drama “A Few Good Men,” which closed in early 1991 after a run of 497 performances. Since then, Sorkin’s career has steered him away from the stage, first into film with “The American President” and then into television with ABC’s “Sports Night,” NBC’s White House drama “The West Wing” and last season’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”
McAnuff, who exits his job as artistic director at La Jolla this year to join a creative team heading the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in his native Canada, won a Tony in 1993 for directing “The Who’s Tommy.” More recently, he staged the 2005 smash “Jersey Boys,” Broadway grosses for which are on track to cross the $100 million mark during the summer. The show helped pull Dodger Theatricals out of a slump after flops like “Dracula, the Musical” and Beach Boys tuner “Good Vibrations.”