Broadway Beat: Here's a summer freebie in NYC for Philly theater buffs to check out

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Broadway in Bryant Park presents free hour-long programs on summer Thursdays at lunch hour.

Editor’s note: Toby Zinman has been a freelance theater critic for the Inquirer since 2006. She will clue you in to all the Broadway happenings you need to know about, from cast changes to ticket deals. Look for “Broadway Beat” every second Tuesday of the month.

Lunch in the park with show tunes

The Bryant Park Stage (Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street) hosts a weekly Thursday lunchtime show presenting cast members from such Broadway shows as Perfect Crime and The Play That Goes Wrong performing numbers from lots of big musicals. The Broadway in Bryant Park shows go on from 12:30-1:30 p.m. You can arrive as early as 11 a.m for lawn seating.

Here’s the July lineup. Note that the schedule might change:

  • July 12: Musical numbers from Chicago, SpongeBob SquarePants, Stomp, and Waitress.
  • July 19: Featured shows are Anastasia, Beautiful, Desperate Measures, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
  • July 26:  Numbers from Come From Away, Kinky Boots, The Band’s Visit, and Friends! The Musical Parody.

There are, in addition, many, many other things going on in Bryant Park, from square dancing to birding tours. See the full schedule at bryantpark.org/programs. And a block east, at Fifth Avenue, still on 42nd Street, are the beloved marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, guarding the New York Public Library. They were named by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

 Dining with the stars

Joe Allen is a legendary Broadway restaurant and a favorite hang-out for theater folks. Located on Restaurant Row at 326 W. 46th St., between Eighth & Ninth Avenues, it’s far more than just a place for a meal, although it is that, too — and a rather elegant meal at that.

When I stopped in there on a Tuesday mid-afternoon (the slowest of slow times in the theater world), within 10 minutes I saw the actor John Glover (Saint Joan) and the director Jerry Zaks (Hello, Dolly!).

Celebrity sightings are always fun, but the main attraction at Joe Allen is the poster-covered walls. What distinguishes these posters is that they’re all from flops — shows that closed on opening night and one that infamously closed during intermission (Moose Murders).

There are some surprisingly illustrious names on the walls: Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Mary Tyler Moore, and Donald Sutherland, for instance. People with fond (or painful) memories will request a table under a special poster.

This neighborhood, still called Hell’s Kitchen, was a rough place in the 1960s, with very few restaurants for actors, so Joe Allen opened this one. He served affordable food and let the actors run tabs until they got their next gig.

What no producer wants is to back a show referred to as a “Joe Allen,” but still the posters arrive.

Upcoming shows

Here are two new musicals to keep your eye on:

Head Over Heels, by the same people who gave us Hedwig and the Angry Inch, features the famous songs by the breakthrough all-girl rock band the Go-Go’s. Unlike the standard jukebox musical, this is a mashup of the band’s 1980s songs and a 17th-century epic by Sir Philip Sidney called Arcadia. The dialogue is in iambic pentameter and has a crazily complicated plot advocating same-sex marriage.

But wait, there’s more: drag queen Peppermint from Ru Paul’s Drag Race comes to Broadway in this show as an oracle. The show is now in previews. Opening night is July 26.

Gettin’ the Band Back Together follows a 40-year-old investment banker who loses his job, moves home with his mother in New Jersey (why is it always New Jersey?) and decides to reinvent his life by gettin’ the old high school band back together.

Judging by reviews from the show’s 2013 tryout at the George Street Playhouse — it has more than likely been tinkered with in the past five years — GBBT is lively and funny and cute. In previews starting July 18, opening night Aug. 13.

Coming in 2019

Glenda Jackson will return to Broadway in March in the mighty title role of King Lear. This will not be a reprise of her London performance last year, but a newly conceived production, reinterpreting the Shakespeare tragedy.

Coming sometime?

A tantalizing rumor: David Mamet’s masterwork Glengarry Glen Ross to be reimagined with an all-female cast. (Proving what? That women can be as vicious as men in the sleazy real estate marketplace?) This is likely to attract some starry names.

Quick, before it closes

Hello, Dolly! will play its last performance Aug. 25.  If you want to see the Divine Miss Dolly, here are the crucial scheduling details: Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce return to play Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder beginning July 17. Donna Murphy will perform as Dolly on July 22, July 29, Aug. 5, 12, 19, and  20.