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Theatre News: Audra McDonald and Brandy on Broadway, Jesse Tyler Ferguson in the Park, ‘Cabaret’ on Tour

Brandy

> Brandy Norwood (otherwise known as Brandy) will make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in the long-running production of Chicago, producers Barry and Fran Weissler announced this week. The revival, which opened on Broadway in 1996, has welcomed many stars in its nearly 20-year run, including most recently Jennifer Nettles in the role of Roxie. Brandy will begin performances on April 28 and continue through June 21.

Audra> Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway in spring 2016 in Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, a backstage musical about the making of the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, producer Scott Rudin announced. To be directed by George C. Wolfe (Angels in America) and choreographed by famed dancer Savion Glover, the show will mark the first collaboration between the two artists since Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk in 1996. Shuffle Along, a controversial all-black musical that launched the career of Josephine Baker, was created by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle.

Jesse> Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater will join Sam Waterston in this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park season, the Public Theater revealed last week. Ferguson joins previously announced Waterston in director Michael Greif’s production of The Tempest, which will run from May 27 to July 25, while Rabe and Linklater will play opposite each other in director Daniel Sullivan’s production of Cymbeline, which plays from July 23 to August 23, both at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.

> Roundabout Theatre Company announced the launch of a national tour of its acclaimed production of Cabaret, beginning performances in Providence, R.I., in January 2016. Directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, the revival was originally produced by the Roundabout in 1998 and returned to Studio 54 last season starring Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams. Emma Stone and Sienna Miller have also stepped in to play the role of Sally Bowles in the Broadway run. Casting for the tour has not yet been announced. 


Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs Open on Broadway in ‘The Heidi Chronicles’: REVIEW

Heidi0099r

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

You may be surprised, at times, that characters don’t burst into song in director Pam MacKinnon’s often campy revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 play The Heidi Chronicles, which opened on Broadway March 19 at the Music Box Theatre. Though our vocabulary around feminism has changed, the decades-spanning story of a woman finding her way (and herself) through second-wave feminism certainly bears revisiting and still resonates in many ways. But, while the production features strong performances from a charming leading cast, MacKinnon’s caricatured approach to the play’s historical setting pushes the story to feel more distant than relevant.

Heidi0242rHeidi Holland, played with gusto and grace by Elisabeth Moss, first addresses us from behind a lectern in 1989, an art historian speaking out for women artists overlooked in the male-dominated canon. We then begin Heidi’s story at a high school dance in 1965, where she meets her lifelong friend Peter (who later turns out to be gay), played to quirky and comic perfection by Bryce Pinkham (Tony nominated for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). At a Eugene McCarthy rally in ’68, she meets cocky and quick-witted Scoop (played by Jason Biggs, excellent), who becomes her on-again, off-again lover for the next decade.

Heidi0219rThe women in Heidi’s life, and her shifting relationships with them, are the measures against which her personal journey unfolds—the radical feminists surrounding her in the ‘70s give way to mothers and career women of the ‘80s. Having given her life to the movement and been molded in its ideals, she’s disillusioned to find that most of her comrades have abandoned her and the high road she imagined stretching before them; by the time they reach their late 30s and early 40s, youthful ideals give way to conventional adult life.

As she’s proven in her sterling performance as Peggy Olsen on Mad Men, Moss is very much at home in the role of a striving, nuanced, pioneering woman, and her talents translate seamlessly to the stage. Both Pinkham and Biggs are perfectly cast, and their unique chemistries with Moss are a delight to watch. The three leads give grounded, emotionally resonant performances, which, refreshingly (if unfortunately) stand in marked contrast to the rest of MacKinnon’s production.

Heidi0096rIn its nearly 30-year span, Wasserstein’s play seizes on decade-defining moments and sentiments that can easily ring cliché—and, because this production often puts those eras (and their defining concerns) in air-quotes with a steady rotation of wigs, projections, and indicative design—they too often do. When the original production premiered on Broadway in 1989, Wasserstein was telling a story about her own generation with a certain heightened naturalism. Just over 25 years later, that history is relevant as ever—even when it's done up to look more like Hairspray.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


Helen Mirren Reigns on Broadway in ‘The Audience’: REVIEW

Audience

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

There is a two-word catchphrase that, while seated in The Audience, which opened Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, you may be tempted to blurt aloud in the darkness more than once. But, of course, you wouldn’t dare: This is Broadway, not Broad City, and you are in the presence of royalty. All such expressions of “Yaaass, Queen!” directed toward Dame Helen Mirren, returning here to the role of Elizabeth II, for which she won an Oscar in the 2006 film The Queen, will just have to remain on the inside. (Think of it as your first immersive step into British culture.)

Audience1The play also marks Mirren’s reunion with scribe Peter Morgan, who penned both that celebrated film and The Audience, which premiered on London’s West End in 2013 with Mirren in the role, also under the direction of Stephen Daldry. The play’s title refers to a long-standing weekly meeting held between the Queen and the Prime Minister in Buckingham Palace, and its action spans the Queen’s ascendance to the throne in 1952 through to the present. Assembled in non-chronological order, scenes jump from decade to decade, each inviting us to eavesdrop on a tête-à-tête between two of the world’s most powerful leaders in their time.

Audience3If you’re expecting a history lesson, well, you may find yourself getting a crash course (the crib sheet in the program will help), as these private conversations are inseparable from the public sphere. Undoubtedly, many of the play’s deeper subtleties hinge on our grasp of events unfolding outside the palace walls and the unique climate of international relations during a particular decade. To that end, Morgan does a fine job of anchoring the Queen as the world spins rapidly around her, generating a fixed point of view as events of various consequence and prime ministers of different temperaments come and go.

But Morgan’s play is foremost a fascinating character study, brought to life by Mirren’s stunning performance as the Queen. Mirren is one of the rare performers so vividly associated with a true-life figure, and watching her return to the role of Elizabeth II is something of a marvel. She disappears into the role like a second skin, seamlessly inhabiting different stages of the Queens’s rule—from the naiveté of her first audience (at age 25) with Winston Churchill to her unfazed aspect opposite David Cameron at the age of 88.  (The astonishing costume changes and stately set are courtesy of designer Bob Crowley.)

Audience4The Queen is something different to each prime minister who steps into office: a mother figure and confessor to some, a friend or rival to others. But to us, as to her subjects, she remains constant. Much of what makes The Audience so compelling is feeling privy to the Queen’s inner life—being given the chance to recognize the personal character of someone whose outer persona is so ubiquitous. Monarchy—and politics—are, after all, theatre. And Morgan’s play offers a backstage pass to the longest running show in the world.

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Theatre News: Darren Criss Does ‘Hedwig,’ Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and ‘Hamilton’ Coming To Broadway

Darren-Criss-CelebHealthy_com

> As reported earlier, producers have announced that Glee star Darren Criss will take over as Broadway’s next Hedwig on April 29, after the musical’s creator and original star, John Cameron Mitchell, ends his run in the acclaimed revival at the Booth Theatre. Criss was previously seen on Broadway in 2012 in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Tony winner Lena Hall will also step aside make way for Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot, Passing Strange) to take over the role of Yitzhak. Jones will begin performances on April 14.

Hamilton> The Public Theater’s Off-Broadway production of Hamilton, the new acclaimed musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of In the Heights) will transfer to Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre this summer, producers Jeffrey Seller and the Public Theater announced last week. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton, and with book, music and lyrics by Miranda, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and direction by Thomas Kail, the show will begin previews on July 13 for an opening night of August 6.

Clive owen> Roundabout Theatre Company announced that Clive Owen will make his Broadway debut in Harold Pinter’s Old Times, the opening production of the company’s 50th anniversary season this fall. Directed by Douglas Hodge, the dark, comedic drama will begin previews on September 17 for an opening night of October 15 at a theatre yet to be determined.

> Bruce Willis and Elizabeth Marvel are set to star in Misery, a new play based on the novel by Stephen King coming to Broadway this fall. Written for the stage by William Goldman (Oscar-winning writer of The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), the drama about a novelist held captive by his biggest fan will be produced by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Castle Rock Entertainment and Raymond Wu. Directed by Will Frears, the production will mark Willis’ Broadway debut. Dates and theatre location have yet to be announced.

Marylouiseparker> Manhattan Theatre Club announced that Mary-Louise Parker will star in the company’s Off-Broadway production of Heisenberg, a new play by Simon Stephens, author of the current acclaimed Broadway hit The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Stephens’ play, about two strangers’ chance encounter at a crowded London train station, will begin previews on May 19 and open on June 3 at New York City Center Stage II under the direction of Mark Brokaw.     

(Hamilton: Joan Marcus)


Theatre News: Mitchell Extends in 'Hedwig,' 'Falsettos' and 'Allegiance' Coming to Broadway

Jcm hedwig

> John Cameron Mitchell has extended his stint as the star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Belasco Theatre through April 26. However, due to a knee injury he sustained during a performance on February 7, the actor, who co-created the musical with Stephen Trask and originated the title role Off Broadway, is taking a weeklong hiatus from the show to recover. Michael C. Hall, who played Hedwig earlier in the production’s run, will return to the role from February 17 through 21, after which Mitchell is expected to return. 

George_takei_0> George Takei will star in the forthcoming Broadway production of Allegiance, a musical about Japanese Americans during World War II inspired by the actor’s own experiences in internment camps. With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and book by Marc Acito, the musical first premiered in 2012 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego under the direction of Stafford Arima. The show is scheduled to begin previews on Broadway in October 2015 with an opening night set for November 8. Arima returns to direct, further casting and the theatre have yet to be announced. 

> A revival of the 1992 musical Falsettos, with music and lyrics by William Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and book by Mr. Finn and James Lapine (Into the Woods) is aiming for Broadway in the spring of 2016, producer Jordan Roth announced last week. A combination of two one-act musicals by Finn originally produced Off Broadway, the show tells the story of a man who leaves his family to be with another man. Lapine will return to direct, as he did the original production, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards and won for Best Book and Best Original Score.

(Mitchell: Joan Marcus)


Theatre News: Anne Hathaway Off-Broadway, Jim Parsons to Play God, and Bradley Cooper in London

Anne-hathaway

> Anne Hathaway and director Julie Taymor are teaming up Off-Broadway at the Public Theater this spring for Grounded, a new play by George Brant. The solo show, which was previously produced in New York by Page 73 Productions and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival prior to that, is about a pregnant fighter pilot assigned to operate a remote-controlled drone from her suburban home. Previews begin April 7 for an official opening on April 23.

Jim-parsons> Jim Parsons will star as the title character in An Act of God, a new comedy arriving on Broadway this spring at Studio 54, producer Jeffrey Finn announced last week. David Javerbaum, a former head writer and executive producer on The Daily Show With John Stewart, penned the 90-minute satire based on his own 2011 book The Last Testament: A Memoir by God. Directed by Joe Mantello, the show will begin previews May 5 and open on May 28.

> The Heart of Robin Hood, a play by David Farr that was headed for the Marquis Theatre on Broadway next month, will extend its run in Toronto and postpone its arrival in New York, producer David Mirvish revealed last week. Billed as an imaginative and acrobatic retelling of the classic Robin Hood story with original music performed by Parsonsfield, the show is directed by Gísli Örn Gardarsson’s and was previously staged at the American Repertory Theatre. Future Broadway plans have not been announced.

Bradley cooper

> The current Broadway revival of The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, will transfer to London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket to begin performances on May 19, producer James L. Nederlander announced last week. Directed by Scott Ellis, the revival will continue its limited engagement at the Booth Theatre through February 21, where it has broken box office records since opening this fall.


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