The musical version of “Groundhog Day” as well as starring stage turns for Ralph Fiennes (in Henrik Ibsen’s “Master Builder”) and Timothy Spall (in Harold Pinter’s “The Caretaker”) are among the shows on tap for artistic director Matthew Warchus’s inaugural season at the Old Vic in London.
The programming selection of the Tony-winning director (“God of Carnage”) marks an immediate departure from his predecessor, Kevin Spacey, who relied on star turns and big-name plays to bring the Old Vic back from the brink of closure. Instead, Warchus is promising an altogether more diverse program, harking back to the theater’s origins as a variety hall.
Also part of the plan is a marked increase in the amount of new work the Old Vic will present — an expensive and risky process, especially for a theater that receives no public subsidy. To that end, the Old Vic has struck a producing deal with Scott Rudin (who is attached to “Groundhog Day”) and Sonia Friedman that will allow the commercial producers to transfer its productions to the West End and Broadway, generating further revenue for the theater’s activities at home.
Warchus declared his intention “to present more productions per year, of wide-raning work, in a ‘something for everyone’ approach which reflects my own eclectic tastes and love of this unique and uplifting art form.” His first season will include dance, comedy, musical theater as well as classic plays — a formula he hopes to repeat.
The biggest show is “Groundhog Day,” which has been in development for two years and reunites members of the creative team of West End and Broadway success “Matilda”: composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, choreographer Peter Darling and Warchus himself. The film’s original writer, Danny Rubin, provides the book for a show that is set to premiere next spring, though exact dates have not yet been announced.
“Groundhog Day” will follow two major star performances: Spall, returning to the stage for the first time in nearly 20 years and playing the title role in “The Caretaker,” and Fiennes (who’s currently starring at the National in “Man and Superman”) leading David Hare’s new adaptation of “The Master Builder.” Both productions will be directed by Warchus himself
Before then, the director will open proceedings in September by directing a new play about the British education system, “Future Conditional,” by writer Tamsin Oglesby (“Really Old Like Forty-Five”), with comedian Rob Brydon starring alongside 23 young performers. Richard Jones, who won two Olivier Awards earlier this month for his opera work, will then revive Eugene O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape,” before a new stage adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax” by David Grieg (“The Events”) runs over Christmas.
Looking ahead, Warchus announced a number of long-term commissions (which may or may not bear fruit), including new plays by Richard Bean and comedian Mark Watson, and adaptations by Dennis Kelly, novelist David Nicholls and the poet-playwright Caroline Bird, writing a musical based on the cartoon character Dennis the Menace. Warchus also confirmed that a stage musical adaptation of his film “Pride,” about LGBT support for mining communities in the 1980s, is under way.