Nothing has been confirmed on the Main Stem, but during press duties for his new film “2 Guns,” the thesp, one of Broadway’s top box office draws, has been talking up a starring gig in a new revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” To hear Washington tell it, the show will start previews in March in a production that will reunite him with director Kenny Leon and producer Scott Rudin, also collaborators on his Tony-winning turn in “Fences” in 2010. Diahann Carroll, Anika Noni Rose and Sophie Okonedo are among the actresses rumored to be joining him in “Raisin.”
If it materializes, “Raisin” — a textbook example of what has become one of Broadway’s most consistently profitable production models — would help make the upcoming Rialto season as starry as last year’s crowded slate.
The upcoming autumn sked is already packed with high-profile screen actors, starting with Orlando Bloom in “Romeo and Juliet” and including Zachary Quinto in “The Glass Menagerie,” Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in a Pinter-Beckett double bill, Ethan Hawke in “Hamlet” and, in another Rudin-produced revival, a staging of “Betrayal” starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz.
All of those shows conform to the formula that puts one (or more) big-name thesp in a revival of a well-known stage title for a limited engagement. It’s easy to see why the model is as popular as it is: It’s one of the safest bets on Broadway, tapping a bankable actor (or a theoretically bankable one, anyway) to star in a title that’s familiar enough to general auds so that it won’t intimidate. The fact that the runs are limited can add a buy-now element of frenzy to the box office, as is is the case with “Betrayal,” which, according to word on the Street, is racing along toward being entirely sold out well before its first performance.
At this point, though, the 2013-14 play season on Broadway risks being as overloaded with starry competition as last season, which saw some but not all star-driven productions turn a profit.
Led by Al Pacino, last fall’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” easily made it into the black, as did Bette Midler starrer “I’ll Eat You Last” and Tom Hanks topliner “Lucky Guy,” while Jessica Chastain vehicle “The Heiress” eked out a recoupment just before it closed. But those successes are balanced by a string of starry outings that shuttered in the red, including “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” starring Scarlett Johansson, “Orphans” toplined by Alec Baldwin, “The Performers” with Henry Winkler and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” led by Emilia Clarke.
Both Midler and Hanks deviated from the norm by appearing in a new play as opposed to a revival, and their respective shows’ stellar box office put them in an elite group of thesps who, to judge from prior Broadway stints, can ring in boffo sales no matter what the title. Like Pacino, Hugh Jackman and Julia Roberts, Washington is already on that list thanks to “Fences,” a major hit of the 2009-10 season.
The actor’s proven Broadway muscle looks poised to make “Raisin” a big-ticket item no matter what its competish. And with the spring slate of plays still falling into place, there doesn’t look to be as much of that as there would be in the fall — at least not yet.