Roundabout to Stage ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘Yellow Face’ on Broadway

This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater

Written by: Michael Paulson

Roundabout Theater Company, the biggest nonprofit on Broadway, said it would produce the three shows next season.

Roundabout Theater Company, the biggest nonprofit operating on Broadway, is planning to stage a jazz-inflected production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s famed 19th-century comic operetta, in the spring of 2025, the organization said Tuesday.

Next season it also plans to stage the first Broadway productions of two plays: “English,” Sanaz Toossi’s work about a group of Iranians trying to learn English, which won last year’s Pulitzer Prize in drama, and “Yellow Face,” David Henry Hwang’s semi-autobiographical play sparked by the controversy over the casting of a white performer as a Eurasian character in the original production of “Miss Saigon.”

All three shows will be staged at the Todd Haimes Theater, which is currently called the American Airlines but is about to be renamed for the Roundabout chief executive and artistic director who died last year after four decades with the organization.

The announcement, which also includes plans for two Off Broadway plays and the promise of an Off Off Broadway work, indicates that Roundabout is planning its most robust season since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a financially devastating period that, for Roundabout, has been followed by fewer productions and smaller casts. Although revivals of classic musicals were once Roundabout’s bread and butter, “The Pirates of Penzance” will be the first musical production to begin at Roundabout in six years.

“We’re here, and we’re producing, and we’re producing some exciting stuff,” said Scott Ellis, a longtime Haimes collaborator who is serving as Roundabout’s interim artistic director, and who is expected to stay in that role for at least two years. “It felt important to say that we’re committed to producing as many shows as we used to.”

“The Pirates of Penzance,” a comedy about an indentured pirate apprentice who falls in love with a military officer’s daughter, was once a staple of American theater, and it has been staged a whopping 26 times on Broadway, starting in 1879. But the last Broadway revival was in 1981.

This new production, directed by Ellis, features a reconceived book, score and setting — it is to be set in New Orleans, with a framing device imagining that Gilbert and Sullivan staged “The Pirates of Penzance” there. The script has been adapted and updated (the female characters are more capable than in historic productions, for example) by Rupert Holmes, who has also written some new lyrics; the score has been reorchestrated with jazz stylings by Joseph Joubert and Daryl Waters.

The show is to star Ramin Karimloo, last seen on Broadway in a 2022 revival of “Funny Girl,” and David Hyde Pierce, best known for the television show “Frasier” and now featured Off Broadway, at the Shed, in Stephen Sondheim’s posthumous musical, “Here We Are.” Karimloo will play the Pirate King, while Pierce will play Major General Stanley as well as Gilbert, who is now a character explaining to the audience the adaptation’s conceit. The two test-drove the roles at a one-night Roundabout benefit concert in 2022.

The production of “Yellow Face,” which is to start performances in September, will star Daniel Dae Kim, who in 2016 played the King of Siam in a Broadway revival of “The King and I” and is an alumnus of the television shows “Lost” and the “Hawaii Five-0” reboot. The play is to be directed by Leigh Silverman, who in 2007 directed productions of it in Los Angeles (at the Mark Taper Forum) and New York (at the Public Theater). Kim recently recorded an audio version of the play for Audible, also directed by Silverman.

“It feels more relevant now than it did even when it was originally produced, so we made a big push to give the play its due,” Kim said in an interview. “Representation has been a big issue in my career and my life, and this play’s subject matter is really the issue of representation. In some sense it’s a time capsule, but it’s also a barometer for where we are today. And it’s also very funny and entertaining, because no one goes to theater to be taught a lesson — we go to theater to be entertained.”

The production of “English,” which is to start performances in December, is to be directed by Knud Adams, who also directed the Off Broadway production in 2022 at Atlantic Theater Company.

Roundabout is also planning to stage two new plays Off Broadway next season: “The Counter,” about a friendship between a waitress and a customer at a small-town diner, written by Meghan Kennedy and directed by David Cromer, and “Liberation,” about a friendship among six Ohio women, written by Bess Wohl and directed by Whitney White. And the company said it would stage an Off Off Broadway production in its underground space, but that it has not yet chosen that show.

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