The biggest news in Boston’s Theater District is sad news. The historic Wilbur Theatre, home to class acts from the Barrymores to the Cronyns (and more recently to Sir Peter Hall and Fiona Shaw), is on the block. The building has been designated as a landmark, but whether it will remain a playhouse is uncertain. In other venues, there are signs of life, both villainous and innocent. In the former category, the Tony-winning spectacular WICKED, based on Gregory Maguire’s ingenious backstory for the witches of Oz, has returned to the Opera House (through November 11), where its green-hued, broom-mounted anti-heroine nightly rises higher even than the ticket sales. And the Tony-winning, John Doyle–directed revival of SWEENEY TODD, in which the cast is also the orchestra, kicks off its national tour at the Colonial Theatre (October 23–November 4). David Hess stars as the anguished barber, with Tony winner Judy Kaye as the low-rent Julia Child who turns his crimes into pies.
In the sunnier department, there’s everything from Irving Berlin to Walt Disney. The bulging songbook of the former is the subject of IRVING BERLIN’S I LOVE A PIANO, which begins its national tour at the Cutler Majestic Theatre (September 21-30), filling the house with the strains of “God Bless America” and “Easter Parade.” The stage version of television-movie phenomenon DISNEY’S HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL brings the G-rated matriculants of East High to the Citi Performing Arts Center’s Wang Theatre (October 31–November 4). For those who haven’t had enough Irving Berlin, WHITE CHRISTMAS returns to the Wang for a second engagement (November 23–December 23). And MAMMA MIA!, the romantic fairy-tale that shoehorns some 20 Abba songs into its tale of a daughter’s quest to discover her father, brings its jumpsuits and ’70s harmonies to the Colonial Theatre (November 27–December 16).
Large regional theatres
Apocalypse seems on the mind of the American Repertory Theatre. The Cambridge company follows a new adaptation of the 2001 Richard Kelly film DONNIE DARKO (Zero Arrow Theatre, October 27–November 18), a sort of anti-Harvey in which a giant rabbit convinces a troubled teen that the world is about to end, with yet another look at Michael Frayn’s award-winning COPENHAGEN (Loeb Drama Center, November 24–December 23), in which a variously viewed 1941 encounter between Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his German protégé, Werner Heisenberg, in the city of the title does influence whether the world ends. The ART also hosts THE VEILED MONOLOGUES (Zero Arrow Theatre, October 16-21), Dutch actress/writer Adelheid Roosen’s Eve Ensler–esque exploration, based on interviews of Muslim women living in the Netherlands, of sexuality under Islam.
Elsewhere are very different looks at war. North Shore Music Theatre resurrects the apparently indefatigable LES MISÉRABLES (October 23–November 11), with its brave, rhythmic stride toward the barricades. And the Huntington Theatre Company revives David Rabe’s searing 1976 look at early Vietnam violence stateside, STREAMERS (BU Theatre, November 9–December 9). On its second stage, at the Calderwood Pavilion, the Huntington presents the world premiere of Irish-émigré-turned-Boston-playwright Ronan Noone’s BRENDAN (October 12–November 17), which is about a recent Irish immigrant adjusting to America. Do we smell autobiography?