Darren Criss will return to Broadway as a lovelorn robot

Darren Criss, who parlayed his starring role on “Glee” into a multifaceted career in television, theater and music, will return to Broadway this fall in a new musical that is nominally about robots but also about life, love and loss.

The show, “Maybe Happy Ending,” is a Broadway rarity: a completely original musical, not adapted from a pre-existing story or song catalog. Criss will star alongside Helen J Shen and two other actors in the musical, which is set in Seoul at the end of the 21st century and is about two old-fashioned helper robots who meet in a robot retirement home and form a relationship while dealing with own obsolescence.

The musical, by Will Aronson and Hue Park, had an initial Korean-language production in Seoul in 2016 and an English-language production in Atlanta, at the Alliance Theatre, in 2020, where Jesse Green, a leading theater critic of the New York Times, called it “a charming, Broadway-ready new musical about robots in love.”

The Broadway production, announced Tuesday, will be directed by Michael Arden, who also directed the Atlanta production, and who last year won a Tony Award for directing a revival of “Parade.” Previews of “Maybe Happy Ending” begin September 18 and open October 17 at the Belasco Theater.

“It's a strange, futuristic look at love, with a beautiful soundtrack that feels pretty classic,” Arden said in a phone interview. “When I first read it I found it absolutely devastating, heartbreaking and beautiful: it was one of the most human stories I've ever encountered, even though our protagonists aren't human.”

Criss, an Emmy winner for “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” last appeared on Broadway in a 2022 revival of “American Buffalo”; he previously starred in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

“Maybe Happy Ending” will be the first Broadway show for Shen, who is currently in “The Lonely Few” at Off Broadway's MCC Theatre. Criss and Shen will play robots; the cast will also include one-time “The Voice” contestant Dez Duron.

According to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the capitalization of “Maybe Happy Ending” is $18.25 million. But a production spokesperson said the actual budget may be lower; He said the producers are trying to raise between $16 and $18.25 million to finance the show.

The musical's main producers are Jeffrey Richards and Hunter Arnold, who on Friday announced that they are also among the producers of a new Off Broadway comedy, “N/A,” starring Holland Taylor and Ana Villafañe. That play, written by Mario Correa and directed by Diane Paulus, will begin previews June 11 and debut June 23 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre. The show, described in a press release as inspired by real people and events, is about tensions between the first female Speaker of the House and the youngest woman elected to Congress; the characters have parallels to Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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