It looked like Keira Knightley was heading for a banana-tumble when she boldly decided to swap the movies for the London stage in 2009.
She surprised many people with a nuanced, polished turn in Moliere’s “The Misanthrope.” She now aims to build on her triumph as Karen in “The Children’s Hour,” a Lillian Hellman play about the rumor of lesbianism in a girls’ school. (Comedy Theatre from Jan. 22, http://www.ambassadortickets.com)
Hollywood star Kevin Spacey already has proved his stage worth on many occasions. In June, he tackles the energetically evil title role of “Richard III” by Shakespeare, directed by Sam Mendes. Our winter of discontent is looking a lot sunnier. (Old Vic Theatre from June 18, http://www.oldvictheatre.com)
John Malkovich is used to playing gloomy, tortured roles on stage. Now he’s adding a live baroque orchestra and two sopranos into the mix. At the Barbican on June 17-18, he plays serial killer Jack Unterweger in a show mixing real-life biography with arias by Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. (http://www.barbican.org.uk).
The National Theatre offers a magnificent casting coup when Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch (brilliant as TV’s most recent incarnation of Sherlock Holmes) take on the roles of Frankenstein and his monster in “Frankenstein.” The twist is that they’re alternating roles every other night, so you have to buy twice to get the full juice. (Starting Feb. 5, http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk)
Lavish blockbuster musicals are heading our way too. “The Wizard of Oz” plays at the Palladium, starting Feb. 7. “Shrek” hits the stage on May 6 at the huge Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and “Ghost,” with music by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, opens June 22 at the Piccadilly Theatre. Recession? (http://www.wizardofozthemusical.com, http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk, http://www.ghostthemusical.com)
The Royal Opera is straying into musical-theater territory. The eagerly awaited “Anna Nicole,” based on the tragicomic life of sex symbol Anna Nicole Smith, opens Feb. 17, and promises to be caustic, funny and sad. The music is by Mark-Anthony Turnage, and the libretto by Richard (“Jerry Springer: The Opera”) Thomas. Other highlights include Roland Villazon in the title role of “Werther” (from May 5) and Joyce DiDonato in “Cendrillon,” both by Massenet (starting July 5.) (http://www.roh.org.uk)
Over the road at English National Opera, the operatically inexperienced Terry Gilliam (of “Monty Python” fame) braves the banana skins when he directs a new staging of “Damnation of Faust” by Berlioz (from May 6). Young American composer Nico Muhly tries his hand at opera with “Two Boys,” a true tale about young lads in a bizarre cybersex espionage tangle (starting June 24). There’s also a new staging of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” (from June 8). (http://www.eno.org)
On the orchestral front, a fascinating new partnership is about to be born between London’s two biggest concert halls. The Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican share hosting duties for four days with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (Feb. 20-23), playing Mahler, Stravinsky and Haydn. Then Rattle returns to the London Symphony Orchestra for some Messiaen and Bruckner on March 7.
Later in the year, the fiery Kristjan Jarvi conducts a concert performance of Bernstein’s “Candide” at the Barbican with the LSO (June 5). (http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk and http://www.barbican.org.uk).
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)