Tuesday, September 30, 2014

You Can't Take it With You Opens on Broadway

I intended to write this article yesterday afternoon, but time got away from me, so I am writing it now.  The 5th Broadway revival (and the 6th Broadway production overall) of You Can't Take It With You has opened to Broadway and the reviews are in.  Opinions on the show are decidedly mixed.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times LOVED the show.  He began his review by writing, "The only downside to the unconditional upper called You Can't Take It With You, which wafted open last night at the Longacre Thetre, is that it may strain previously underused muscles around your mouth.  That can happen when you spend two-and-a-half hours grinning like an idiot."  Brantley continues to wax poetic in a glowing review.   Brantley mentions that, while the show is considered a chestnut that shows its age if done poorly, this production has been made sufficiently current that the age is impossible to notice.

Other reviewers didn't agree with Mr. Brantley's review.  Marilyn Stasio of Variety put it thus: "[The play's] license to live the carefree life of children at play, extended by this 1936 comedy classic by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, appealed to a nation sunk in the Great Depression.  But for a modern audience paranoid about 'entitlements', not so much."  Ms. Stasio seems to agree with reviewers from the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and the Hollywood Reporter that the production is inconsistent.  They say that the actors seem individually to give competent performances but only as individuals, not as a cohesive ensemble.  James Earl Jones and Elizabeth Ashley are appreciated as the old pros who are trotted out every few years -- isn't it great to see them again after all these years? they all ask -- and they got decent notices from some of the reviewers, but not the standout reviews that will guarantee Tony nominations.  Rose Byrne received mixed notices for her performance, her performance being called everything from, effectively, competent and cutesy to bringing new life to her role.

Everyone across the board appreciated and respected Scott Ellis' direction, enough so that I think he is a clear Best Director nominee come Tony season.  The other clear standout from the reviews is Annaleigh Ashford.  The scenic design also got some good notices when any mention of a design element is unusual.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Finding Neverland Finds Home

I will be posting later today about last night's opening of You Can't Take It With You but I wanted to post some news about a show that has found a home.  The Broadway-aimed production of Finding Neverland, which premiered at the A.R.T. in Cambridge in a production directed by Tony-winner Diane Paulus, will be playing at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.  The theater us currently occupied by Motown: The Musical, which will be playing there through January 18, 2015.  Finding Neverland will begin previews in March in advance of an April 8th opening.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More Productions Announced for Spring 2015 Broadway Season

Several more productions have been announced for the spring season this year, including Charles III and Wolf Hall.

A production of Charles III, which had a successful run on London's West End, will transfer to Broadway this spring, pending availability of a theater -- speculated to be a Shubert-owned house.  Rupert Goold's direction and star Tim Pigott-Smith are likely to transfer with the show.  In an imagined future, Mike Bartlett's play looks at the humans beneath the crown in a world in which Queen Elizabeth II has died and her son, the current Prince Charles, becomes King.

The West End productions of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies will also be transferring to Broadway, as was previously reported on this site two weeks ago.  The two shows will play in rep at the Winter Garden Theatre under the title Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2.  Previews will begin March 20th and open April 9th.  Some of the London cast will be transferring with the show, including Ben Miles, Nathaniel Parker, and Lydia Leonard.  Three-time Tony-winner Mark Rylance will star in a television adaptation of Wolf Hall in the upcoming few months.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dr. Zhivago Officially Coming to Broadway

A production of Dr. Zhivago that was speculated several weeks ago has officially been announced.  According to an Equity casting notice, rehearsals are set to begin in February and open officially in April.  The show is expected to play the Broadway Theatre after Cinderella ends its run there in a production directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Kelly Devine.  The musical is based on the novel by Boris Pasternak and follows a doctor from the Russian revolution through World War II.  The production premiered at La Jolla before moving, in a highly revised production, to the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, Australia.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"While I Yet Live" Starts Previews

In a piece of shameless advertising on behalf of a friend, I would like to plug the fact that While I Yet Live, written by Tony-winning actor Billy Porter, has begun previews tonight in anticipation of an October 12th opening.  The play, which chronicles Mr. Porter's childhood in Pittsburgh, "growing up as a gay, black, Christian man, and a survivor of abuse," is playing at the Duke on 42nd Street and stars Tony winner Lillias White and Emmy winner S. Epatha Merkerson and is directed by Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"We're in the Money", or What Recession?

I have two financial news stories to report about the Broadway community, one wonderful and one awe inspiring.

The first story -- the wonderful one -- is that this year's Broadway Flea Market, which was held this past Sunday raised a record high $713,986.  The annual event held in and around Shubert Alley in the heart of the theater district raises money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, a charity with close ties to the Broadway community.  The 28 editions of the flea market have raised a total of over $11 million in support of AIDS research and for AIDS-related causes across the country.  Since its founding in 1988, the organization has raised over $250 million for critically needed services for people with AIDS, HIV, and related diseases.

In other Broadway financial news, The Lion King has become (surprise, surprise) the highest grossing show ever.  The show has taken in, from Broadway, touring, and international productions, in excess of $6.2 billion -- edging out previous record holder The Phantom of the Opera.  The news even brought about a congratulatory note from Cameron Macintosh and The Really Useful Group calling The Lion King "The pride of Broadway."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Concert Staging of Smile at 54 Below Tonight

Ok.  So, this post isn't exactly about Broadway or the Tony Awards, but I want to put it up here regardless.  A friend of mine in the theater community, Jennifer Ashley Tepper, is producing a concert tonight at 54 Below -- the new "it" venue of New York's theater community.  And by new, I mean it's been open for over 2 years now and is still the hottest place in town for a certain crowd.  By which I mean, go there NOW!  You won't regret it.

Anyhow … the concert there tonight, at 7 and 9:30 (yes, that's right, TWO showings!), will be a reunion concert of Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Ashman's 1986 musical Smile.  The concert will be directed by Richard Biever and musical directed by Roberto Sinha, and will feature original cast members Jodi Benson, Anne Bobby, and Mana Allen.  The musical, with a score by Hamlisch and book and lyrics by Ashman, is being described as "a satirical portrait that follows the intrigue and exploits onstage and behind-the-scenes as Santa Rosa, California, plays host to the Young American Miss Pageant."  Tickets range from $35 to $70 and there is also a $25 food/drink minimum.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Love Letters Opens on Broadway

A revival of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters opened on Broadway last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and the reviews are in.  Most reviews focused on the place of letters in today's technologically driven society and the sentimentality of the writing without much comment on the production itself.  That being said, Mia Farrow's performance was universally praised as one of the strongest she's given in recent memory.  The fact that she does not do more stage work is a detriment to the theater community, most reviewers agreed.  Brian Dennehy's performance received much more reserved reviews.  He hit the right tone much of the time, but there was just something lacking in his perf, most people seemed to agree.  Gregory Mosher's staging of the production, however, was universally praised for its simplicity and sentimentality.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

News From Around the Block

I have two interesting stories to bring you today.

Broadway.com has posted the first sound bite from the upcoming revival of Side Show.  The production stars Erin Davie and Emily Padgett as conjoined twins in a side show.  The clip is of the two singing "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" -- a song from the show, with music by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger and lyrics by Bill Russell.  The revival, which begins previews in late October in anticipation of a November 17th opening, will be directed by Academy Award winning screenwriter Bill Condon (Chicago, Gods & Monsters) in his Broadway debut.

In other musical revival news, Josh Kaufman, winner of season 6 of Television's The Voice, will be joining the cast of Broadway's Pippin.  Mr. Kaufman will be performing in the show's titular role in a limited engagement from November 4th, 2014, through January 4th, 2015.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning

Earlier today, producers announced that the Broadway production of Beautiful: the Carole King Musical, has recouped its $13 million investment.  It is the first new musical of the 2013-2014 season to accomplish this feat -- a goal which it accomplished in roughly 10 months at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on 44th Street.  The show stars 2014 Tony-winning actress Jessie Mueller, who recently extended her contract through March 2015, as Carole King.  The musical will begin a West End run in London in February and a US tour will launch next September.

Friday, September 12, 2014

This Is Our Youth Opening

A revival of This Is Our Youth, Kenneth Lonergan's 1996 drama about disaffected youth set in Reagan-era New York City, opened last night at Broadway's Cort Theatre.  The production, which stars Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson, and which was directed by Tony-winner Anna D. Shapiro, began at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

The reviews are in and are about as strong as any I have seen of late.  The three stars have been given various degrees of praise.  Michael Cera has received the strongest reviews of the three, with reviewers generally lauding his abilities, even if he is simply playing the type of character he always plays and is well known for.  Mr. Culkin was in the middle of the pack, being reviewed as fitting in well in a strong production, if not adding anything particularly spectacular.  Ms. Gevinson got the weakest reviews of the set and, in fact, the only negatively reviewed part of the show.  She was, from my understanding of the review, described as having a shrill voice that would otherwise be annoying were she not so well directed into submission and competence.

The strongest two elements of this production seem to be the direction and the writing -- at least of the first act.  Ben Brantley said of the show that "the acrobatics being performed in Anna D. Shapiro's sensational, kinetically charged revival of [the play] … aren't anything like those you'd find at the Cirque du Soleil.  But they're every bit as compelling, and probably (painfully) a whole lot closer to your own experience."  Marilyn Stasio of Variety Magazine generally agreed, describing the production as a "superbly directed staging" of Mr. Lonergan's play.  As for the writing, Mr. Brantley summed it up best.  "Though first performed nearly two decades ago, and set in the early 1980s, "This Is Our Youth" hasn't dated in the usual way of portraits of bright and sullen young things banging their heads against the walls of a society that doesn't understand them."  The only complaint about the writing, however, was an ending that was not satisfying.  In the last quarter of the play, it would seem that the magic deflates out of the play by seeming to feel the need to explain the meaning behind everything seen up to that point.  But I wonder if Mr. Lonergan was trying to make the point that this is what youth is about -- the need to have everything explained and given meaning in a world not yet understood.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Productions in the Works

Several productions have announced this week that they are eyeing runs on the Great White Way -- one a revival of a screen-to-stage classic, as well as two British transfers.

A pre-Broadway revival of Lerner and Loewe's musical adaptation of Gigi, last seen on Broadway in 1974, will play the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  The production will feature a new book by British playwright and Emmy nominated screenwriter Heidi Thomas ("Cranford", "Call the Midwife", "Upstairs, Downstairs") and will be directed by Broadway vet Eric Schaeffer (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet), with choreography by Josh Bergasse (On the Town, TV's "Smash").  The Broadway productions has not yet announced dates, but will play the Kennedy Center in January and February of next year in hopes of coming to Broadway soon after.  The cast will include Vanessa Hudgens ("High School Musical"), Tony-winner Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza, Cinderella, Sister Act), Corey Cott (Newsies), Steffanie Leigh (Mary Poppins), and Tony nominees Kate Burton (The Elephant Man, Hedda Gabler) and Howard McGillin (The Phantom of the Opera).

In other news, British stage adaptations of two popular novels by Hilary Mantel.  The two novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, are the first two parts in a planned trilogy about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell.  The plays, written by Mike Poulton and directed by Jeremy Herrin, premiered at the Stratford's Swan Theatre, followed by a transfer in the West End via the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The potential Broadway transfer is rumored to be looking at the recently vacant Winter Garden Theatre in New York.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Big (and Little) Screen Broadway News

Several pieces of news have been released in the last several days about film and TV adaptations of Broadway material that I wanted to bring to your attention.  The teams behind the big screen adaptations of The Last Five Years and Annie, as well as the live TV version of Peter Pan, have all made big announcements, so the only question left is -- where do I begin?

I think the best place to start is with perpetual Tony bridesmaid (and friend to this blog) Kelli O'Hara.  It was announced yesterday that she will be joining NBC's live television broadcast of Peter Pan.  The five-time Tony nominated actress (Bridges of Madison County, Nice Work if You Can Get It, South PacificThe Pajama Game, and The Light in the Piazza) will be joining the cast as Mrs. Darling, the mother of Wendy, Michael, and John Darling.  As previously reported, both Mr. Darling and Smee will be played by Tony-winner Christian Borle, continuing the tradition of casting two roles together to save money, since the two characters never appear on stage (or screen) together -- though the actor playing Mr. Darling traditionally doubles as Captain Hook, not Mr. Smee.  Christopher Walken will play Captain Hook and Allison Williams (of Girls fame) will play the titular character.  The production will air live on NBC on December 4th.

Next up on the docket is the upcoming film version of The Last Five Years.  According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie version of Jason Robert Brown's hit musical from the early 2000's was picked up for distribution by Radius, which is planning to release the film on Valentines Day, 2015.  The film adaptation stars Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick in roles originated by Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott.  Ms. Scott will also appear in the film, along with Mr. Brown.

The last major piece of news I have for you all today is that the artwork for the upcoming remake of Annie has been released and can be found here.  The film will star Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan, Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Bobby Cannavale, and Rose Byrne, and will be released on Christmas Day.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Profile of "This Is Our Youth"

Playbill.com has published a profile of the upcoming revival of Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, which opens on Thursday at the Cort Theatre which I encourage you all to check out at this link.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Chorus Line Memorabilia Up for Auction

Memorabilia from the original 1975 production of A Chorus Line is soon to be up for auction on eBay. Proceeds will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.  The items currently belong to two fans of the original production, Gary Stevens and Alan George, who saw the show more than 75 times on Broadway over its 15 year run and also published a tribute book entitled The Longest Line.  The items will be up for auction in September, with a new slate of items up each week.  Check out the announcement Playbill.com posted for a listing of some of the items.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

One Show Closes, Another Opens

As is the business of Broadway, one show has posted its closing notice after two years on Broadway, while another show has announced its upcoming arrival on the boards.

The Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which began previews on January 25, 2013, before a March 3rd opening that year, will end its run this coming January.  By the time of its closing, it will have played 41 previews and 770 regular performances.  Along with its closing notice, the show has posted some good news.  Nene Leakes, known for her reality show appearances on The Real Housewives of Atlanta and The Apprentice, will be joining the cast for its final months.  Ms. Leakes will begin performances as Madame, Cinderella's stepmother, on November 25th and play through the show's closing on January 3rd, 2015.  She will be taking the role from talk show host Sherri Shepherd, who will play the role from September 9th through November 22nd.  The Broadway Theatre's next tenant has not yet been announced.

In other Broadway news, a Broadway transfer of the West End production of David Hare's Skylight, will come to the Golden Theatre in March, where it will begin playing in March after the closing of Pam McKinnon's revival of A Delicate Balance.  The production will begin previews on March 16th in anticipation of an April 2nd opening.  The production will play a limited 13 week run through June 14th.  The London import will be directed by two-time Tony winner Stephen Daldry, and will star Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy.  Here's how the producers have described the show:  "On a bitterly cold London evening, schoolteacher Kyra Hollins (Ms. Mulligan) receives an unexpected visit from her former lover, Tom Sergeant, a successful and charismatic restauranteur whose wife has recently died.  As the evening progresses, the two attempt to rekindle their once passionate relationship, only to find themselves locked in a dangerous battle of opposing ideologies and mutual desires."  The production played to sold-out houses when it opened on the West End in June.  The Broadway production will have set and costume design by Tony-winner Bob Crowley, lighting design by Tony-winner Natasha Katz, sound design by Tony-winner Paul Arditti, and original music by Paul Englishby.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Larry David Coming to Broadway

Actor, writer, and general funny man Larry David, the creator behind the smash hit TV shows Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, will be coming to Broadway this season.  Mr. David's play, A Fish in the Dark, will mark his Broadway debut, both as an actor and a writer.  Joining Mr. David in the cast are Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominee Rosie Perez, two-time Tony nominee Jane Houdyshell, Johnny Orsini, Jerry Adler, and Jake Cannavale.  Tony-winner Anna D. Shapiro, who is currently working on the Broadway production of This is Our Youth, will direct Mr. David's play.  Ironically, both of the plays Ms. Shapiro is directing this season will be playing at the Cort Theatre, with Mr. David's play beginning previews on February 2nd and officially opening on March 5th.  The design team includes Todd Rosenthall (sets), Ann Roth (costumes), and Brian MacDevitt (lights).

Mr. David has described the play as "a comedy with around 15 characters that explores a family death."