1. Luna Gale (Goodman Theatre, Chicago, Jan. 18-Feb. 23)
The provocative playwright Rebecca Gilman (Boy Gets Girl, Spinning Into Butter, The Glory of Living) hasn’t gotten quite the attention she deserves outside her Chicago hometown. So it’s only fitting that the Goodman, where six of her plays have made their debut, will host the world premiere of her newest work. It revolves around a social worker facing tough decisions over what to do with the neglected child of two drug-addicted teenage parents, and reunites the playwright with two of her favorite collaborators: director Robert Falls and star Mary Beth Fisher.
2. The Who & the What (La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, Calif., Feb. 11-Mar. 9).
Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama, portrayed the cultural conflicts facing a Pakistani-American corporate lawyer. Akhtar continues the cultural exploration in his newest work, about a Muslim-American woman who clashes with her conservative family when she writes a book about women and Islam. The play will have its premiere at this enterprising southern California theater, which, under the artistic direction of Christopher Ashley, has been a breeding ground for such Broadway shows as Memphis and Hands on a Hardbody.
3. The Last Ship (Bank of America Theater, Chicago, June 10-July 13)
Elton John, Paul Simon and Bono have all tried it, with varying degrees of success, so why not Sting? The rock superstar’s first venture into musical theater is a semi-autobiographical story set in the English shipbuilding town where he grew up. “I was raised in this surreal industrial landscape that is still the landscape of my dreams,” he told Rolling Stone, “and some of my nightmares.” Sting released an album of songs from the show last fall, and if this Chicago tryout goes well, the show should arrive on Broadway next season.
4. These Paper Bullets (Yale Repertory Theater, New Haven, Ct., Mar. 14-April 5)
Another rock star who has had some experience on Broadway, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (American Idiot), wrote the songs for this oddball venture: a rock-n-roll take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, revolving around a fictional “fab four” group from Liverpool. Just how fictional remains to be seen. Rolin Jones (The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, TV’s Friday Night Lights) wrote the book for the show, from the enterprising Yale Rep, which has introduced the new work of playwrights ranging from August Wilson to Amy Herzog.
5. Camp David (Arena Stage, Washington, D.C., Mar. 21-May 4)
This venerable D.C. theater is an appropriate host for the premiere of a historical drama about the Middle East peace agreement hammered out in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The author is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower; Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief), and the inside-the-Beltway audience will be the very definition of a tough crowd.
6. Fortress of Solitude (Dallas Theater Center, Mar. 7- Apr. 6)
Jonathan Lethem’s acclaimed 2003 novel, about two friends, one white and one black, growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, may not seem the most obvious subject for a musical, but some formidable theater creators are giving it a try, including busy director Daniel Aukin (Bad Jews,The Winslow Boy) and composer Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). It’s a collaboration with New York’s Public Theater, which plans to mount the show next season.
7. Witness Uganda (American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 4-Mar. 16)
ART artistic director Diane Paulus has become one of Broadway most successful hit-makers, with the recent revivals of Hair, Porgy and Bessand last season’s Pippin. But she has also managed to maintain the street cred of one of America’s most avant-garde regional theaters. To emphasize the latter, she will be directing this new chamber musical about a New York City man who volunteers for aid work in Africa and “finds himself on a journey that will change his life forever.” The Book of Mormon, it is not.
8. The House That Will Not Stand (Berkeley Repertory Theater, Berkeley, Calif., Jan. 31-March 16).
With 12 Years a Slave one of the top contenders for Oscar nominations, Marcus Gardley’s new play about a free woman of color in 1836 New Orleans could be arriving at just the right cultural moment. Berkeley’s enterprising resident theater (where Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen first performed their current Broadway double bill, Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land) is co-producing the play with New Haven’s Yale Rep, where it will transfer in April.
9. The Qualms (Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago, July 3-Aug. 31)
Chicago-based playwright Bruce Norris took on race prejudice in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park and explored the marital fallout from a Spitzer-Weiner-style sex scandal in this season’s superb Domesticated. His newest play is set at a beachside apartment complex, where several couples gather for drink, drugs and partner-swapping. From the sharp-witted Norris and the high-voltage Steppenwolf company, expect fireworks.
10. Beaches (Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va., Feb. 18-Mar. 23).
Is there life beyond “The Wind Beneath My Wings”? Newcomer David Austin has written a new score (sans “Wings”) for this musical adaptation of the Iris Rainer Dart novel about two women’s 30-year friendship, which was turned into a popular 1988 Bette Midler movie. The show will be directed by Eric Schaffer, the Signature’s artistic director and one of the country’s great champions of the American musical, both new and old.