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1998 starts with two major musical openings. Multiple-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Paul Simon makes his Broadway debut with the much-heralded The Capeman. Based on a screaming-headline incident in 1959 when a Puerto Rican youth named Salvador Agron

The buzz on Ragtime is that the LIVENT-produced show is as energetic and bouncy as one of Scott Joplin's tunes. Based on E.L. Doctorow's best-selling novel, the musical follows three families in turn-of-the-century America whose lives are intertwined with historical events and legendary such figures as Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, and Harry Houdini. Separate productions in both Toronto and Los Angeles have met with enthusiasm.

The New York stand will open the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts, right across from the New Amsterdam on 42nd Street, on Jan. 18 (previews Dec. 26). Frank Galati, who staged another theatre version of a literary vision of America (The Grapes of Wrath), has directing duties. The score is by the team of Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics). Librettist Terrence McNally will have his third show on Broadway in as many years (after Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class). McNally's Corpus Christi will open Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in February. The cast for Ragtime includes Brian Stokes Mitchell, Peter Friedman, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Mark Jacoby, and more than 50 others.

The next definite announced opening doesn't occur until March, when the hills will be alive again with The Sound of Music. Susan H. Schulman directs this revival of the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite about the Von Trapp Family singers. Schulman has received acclaim for her re-interpretations of such musicals as Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, and The Boys From Syracuse (at City Center). No names have been officially announced, but word has it that Maria (the one the nuns have a problem with) will be played by either Melissa Errico or Rebecca Luker. The show opens at a Jujamcyn house, possibly the Martin Beck, on March 12 (previews Feb. 6).

We're now entering uncharted territory where there are no fixed dates. Anything can happen in this land of maybe.

Alexander H. Cohen and Max Cooper have been investing in British productions with the hope of bringing them across the Big Pond. Their productions include The Herbal Bed, a fact-based drama about a court case involving Shakespeare's daughter; Life Support, by Simon Gray, starring Alan Bates (who won a Tony playing the title role in Gray's Butley), with Harold Pinter directing; and A Letter of Resignation, by Hugh Whitmore (Pack of Lies). The one with the strongest prospects for New York production is The Herbal Bed. This Royal Shakespeare Company show is slated for a limited run in Gotham in early 1998.

Sean Connery is listed as one of three producers for Art, another West End hit, about a trio of men whose friendship is altered when one of them buys a piece of modern art. Alfred Molina, Tony Shalhoub, and Stanley Tucci have been mentioned for the leads of this drama by Yasmina Reza, adapted by Christopher Hampton. A March opening is likely. Other London maybes include a revival of Piaf, with Elaine Paige as the Little Sparrow, and Swan Lake, a quasi-musical based on the classic ballet.

From our own shores, two shows seen in California have New York possibilities. High Society is a stage version of the movie musical based on The Philadelphia Story, currently playing at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. It features Cole Porter's film tunes (including the classics "True Love" and "What a Swell Party") with additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (Triumph of Love) and a book by Arthur Kopit (Nine). A cast of Broadway vets including Lisa Banes, Melissa Errico, Michael Goodwin, Randy Graff, Marc Kudisch, Daniel McDonald, John McMartin, and Jere Shea, plus direction by The King and I's Christopher Renshaw, bespeak plans for a Broadway transfer.

David Henry Hwang's Golden Child won two Obie Awards for its 1996 engagement at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Joseph Papp Public Theater. It was subsequently presented at Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory. The playwright is revising his script and a Broadway production is planned for March. The play concerns the disruptions to a merchant and his three wives, caused by changing values in 1920s China. James Lapine (The Diary of Anne Frank) directs, and cast members from the Off-Broadway and Costa Mesa productions, including Tsai Chin, Stan Egi, John Christopher Jones, and Julyana Soelistyo, may repeat their roles on the Main Stem.

The New York Shakespeare Festival may move another show to Midtown. The revival of On the Town has received buzz for a transfer to Broadway, having just completed a succesful run at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. But just a New York minute! The reviews of Eliot Feld's choreography and the performances of a few of the leads were decidedly mixed. Director George C. Wolfe's schedule is jammed. (In addition to his duties as the Festival's producer, he's staging Macbeth with Alec Baldwin at the Public, for January.) Then there's Adrianne Lobel's gigantic set, which features a replica of the George Washington Bridge. It would have to be scaled down to fit into a Broadway theatre. Feld has reportedly volunteered to withdraw from a future production so that critics would have to re-evaluate the show, but no announcements have been made about resurrecting the production.

Oscar-winner Quentin Tarantino may be making his stage debut as a psychotic drug dealer terrorizing a blind woman, in a revival of Wait Until Dark. Sounds just right for the director-author of Pulp Fiction.

The Toronto-based musical version of Jane Eyre, previously announced for the spring of '97, may yet make a Broadway opening, but no dates have been announced. Bernadette Peters will headline Annie Get Your Gun, in a revival of the Irving Berlin classic for Fran and Barry Weissler. Tommy Tune is working on a stage edition of Berlin's movie musical Easter Parade, which starred Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. It opens in Australia next summer and plans for a Broadway production in '98-'99 are underway. To continue this chain, a revival of Silk Stockings (the film version of which also starred Astaire) is in the works. Producer Elizabeth Williams has long had on her agenda a tuner based on Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, with book by Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor) and score by Don Schlitz ("The Gambler"). Sisterella, an African-American updating of the Cinderella story, with Michael Jackson as one the producers, has long been on the drawing board.

In addition to Easter Parade, there are even a few early musings about 1998-99. What the World Needs Now, a musical employing the works of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, is a possiblity for the Roundabout next summer. Walter Bobbie (Chicago) is reportedly working on a staging of the movie Footloose for the Theater at Madison Square Garden. A full-scale version of King David, which had a concert staging at the New Amsterdam earlier this year, is skedded for next season. Andrew Lloyd-Webber may revive his Whistle Down the Wind, which closed out of town last spring. Lord Webber will be producing, but not writing, an adaptation of the thrice-filmed A Star Is Born. Time and Again, another out-of-town closer, has hopes of finally making it to the Big Apple. Harold Prince is working on Parade, a new show with a score by Jason Robert Brown, and Stephen Sondheim is still toiling on Wise Guys. Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" fame is interested in a tuner version of the 1955 Oscar-winner Marty which features the immortal line, "Whadda ya wanna do tonight?"

With so many new shows cropping up, the answer should be simp

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