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Theatre News: ‘The King and I,’ ‘Curious Incident,’ Second Stage on Broadway, Ed Harris at The New Group and More

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> Lincoln Center Theatre’s acclaimed revival of The King and I will play an open-ended run at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, the company announced last week. In addition, a national tour is slated to kick off in November 2016 from Providence, R.I. The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, as well as nods for performances from Kelli O’Hara, Ken Wantanabe, and Ruthie Ann Miles.

Curious2> Simon Stephen’s hit play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, will launch a national tour in October 2016, producers Stuart Thompson and Tim Levy announced last week. Originally produced at London’s National Theatre, the Broadway run has been nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Play and a nod for its young star Alex Sharp.

> Second Stage Theatre has completed its purchase of Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, where the company plans to exclusively present new works by living American playwrights. The deal, which has been in the works for several years, makes Second Stage the fourth not-for-profit theatre company with its own Broadway venue. Renovations are set to begin in 2016, with the first productions expected for the 2017-18 season. Meanwhile, the company announced two productions for its Off-Broadway season in 2016: Invisible Thread, a new musical by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews that explores the challenges faced by American aid workers in Africa, directed by Diane Paulus (Finding Neverland), and Smart People, a new play by Lydia R. Diamond to be directed by Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun).

Ed-Harris> Oscar nominees Ed Harris and Amy Madigan will star in Sam Shepard’s Buried Child Off Broadway as part of The New Group’s 2015-16 season, the company announced this week. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the dissolving of the American dream will return for its first major New York production in 20 years under the direction of artistic director Scott Elliott. The company’s season will also include a production helmed by Cynthia Nixon of playwright Mark Gerrard’s Steve, and Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley, also directed by Elliott.

> The Broadway engagement of Doctor Zhivago became the quickest flop of the season this week, closing at the Broadway Theatre on Sunday, May 10 after just over three weeks of regular performances. Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak (also the basis for the 1965 film), with book by Michael Weller, music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), and lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and Amy Powers, the musical was largely dismissed by critics and struggled at the box office, particularly as it was passed over by the Tony nominations announced just a week after it opened.


Anne Hathaway Stars in Military Drama ‘Grounded’ Off Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

The propelling force that drives Grounded, a solo play by George Brant that opened Off Broadway Sunday night at the Public Theatre, feels like strapping into the cockpit with its fighter pilot protagonist. Fueling every minute of its momentum, Anne Hathaway delivers a fearless and wholly captivating performance as a military aviator who both destroys lives and creates a new one over the course of the play’s 70 minutes. Under the direction of Julie Taymor, the thrilling yet intimate production navigates psychological twists and turns in the pilot’s mind with the audience sitting shotgun. 

Grounded0127rRThe story begins “up in the blue,” a vast, whizzing-by sky, where we learn the pilot feels most alive and herself. Her course veers quickly, though, when she unexpectedly gets pregnant after meeting a guy at a bar while on leave. The condition is enough to get her grounded for medical reasons, and her relationship to her beloved bird’s-eye-view is forever changed — both because she winds up starting a family with the father, and because when she does return to service, her new driver’s seat is on the ground, controlling a drone from behind a desk (in the “chair force,” as she calls it).

Grounded511rRThe transition isn’t easy. Instead of barreling through the sky solo, she works her shift in an around-the-clock war from a Nevada base, and lives nearby with her husband and daughter. While it may seem like a welcome solution to the typical scenario of going off to battle (and away from family and into harm’s way), returning home each night feels like coming home from the war over and over; this is not the sort of work that’s easily left behind at the office. Motherhood doesn’t affect her devotion to military service, but the intertwining of her civilian life with remote combat creates a whirlwind in her psyche — ultimately racking her own understanding of life and death.

If this sounds like a lot of story for one person to tell, it is — and Hathaway does it with tireless gusto and remarkable richness of feeling, maneuvering sharp turns of emotion with ease and baffling precision. Though she plays only one character, she’s also responsible for conjuring up the others who impact the pilot’s life, including her family and fellow servicemen (she is the sole female officer in the story). She does all of this while maintaining the pilot’s point of view, so her exchanges with others are always an opportunity to shed further light on her own character.

Grounded578rRTaymor’s stunning visual work is refreshingly pared down from her typical scale (blink away your memories of the scandal-plagued behemoth Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark). The director’s distinctive imagination creates a vivid world of the mind with striking moments of subtle stage magic, while her physical staging nimbly steers Hathaway through the story’s many psychological ringers. Her hand is also evident in the engrossing design elements, including a floor of desert sand and haunting projections. This immersive quality helps drive the play’s disarming point closer to home, that violence out of sight should not and cannot be out of mind — as this production won’t soon be out of many.

Recent theatre features... 
‘Fun Home’ and ‘An American in Paris’ Top 2015 Tony Award Nominations: ANALYSIS
Chita Rivera Stars in New Musical ‘The Visit’ on Broadway: REVIEW
New Musical ‘Something Rotten!’ Brings Shakespeare and Sex Puns to Broadway: REVIEW
Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW
'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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


‘Fun Home’ and ‘An American in Paris’ Top 2015 Tony Award Nominations: ANALYSIS

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Nominations for the 69th annual Tony Awards were announced this morning, with new musicals Fun Home and An American in Paris racking up top honors at 12 nominations each. Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth were also revealed as the hosts of this year’s ceremony, which will broadcast live on CBS from Radio City Musical Hall on Sunday, June 7.

Read the full list of nominations HERE.

Click on the links below for reviews of the shows on Towleroad.

Fun_Home_0088_-_Sydney_Lucas__Beth_Malone__Emily_Skeggs_Photo_Credit_Joan_MarcusFun Home, the intimate family drama a lesbian coming of age, based on Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic novel, racked up nominations for five of its leading players as well as for its original score, script, direction and design. The comparatively sprawling An American in Paris, a ballet-driven musical from Christopher Wheeldon based on the Cary Grant film, earned nominations for four of its leads as well as its script, design, and more. Something Rotten! was close on their heels with 10 nominations, and Chita Rivera vehicle The Visit, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s final musical, rounds out the race for best musical.

SKYLIGHT_1_4433-V1-RGBWhile American scribes dominated the musical categories, including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, which racked up nine nominations including Best Revival of a Musical, British imports rose to the top of the pack in play categories, including Wolf Hall Parts One & Two, the two-part Tudor drama based on Hillary Mantel’s hit novels, which lead with eight nominations, the most for any play. The revival of Skylight received seven nods for its all-British creative team, including playwright David Hare, director Stephen Daldry, and stars Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy. Another West End import, Simon Stephens’ The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was close behind with six nominations, including Best New Play and a leading actor nom for newcomer Alex Sharp. British stars Ruth Wilson (Constellations) and Helen Mirren (The Audience) were tapped for the leading actress category from otherwise little-recognized productions, as was Elisabeth Moss for The Heidi Chronicles, which is closing Sunday due to middling sales.

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway3Robert Askin’s Hand to God was the most praised American play, receiving nominations for Best New Play and a leading actor nom for a virtuosic Steven Boyer, as well as Geneva Carr and Sarah Stiles. Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced rounded out the best play category, earning just a single nomination. Revivals of The Elephant Man, which received nods for its stars Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, and You Can’t Take It With You, which received five nominations (including for Scott Ellis, who directed both), will compete with Skylight and This Is Our Youth for Best Revival of a Play.

FindingNeverlandcCarolRoseggThe season’s biggest grossing hits were the most conspicuous snubs, including Larry David’s Fish in the Dark and Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play (which received a sole supporting actor nom and none for its marquee stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). The River, whose playwright Jez Butterworth and star Hugh Jackman have been Tony favorites in previous seasons, was completely shut out, as was a high-profile revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, starring Glenn Close and John Lithgow, which steadily declined in sales over the course of its limited run.

New musical Finding Neverland, which grossed over $1 million last week and has already announced a national tour despite opening to poor reviews, was likewise completely passed over. On the other hand, The Last Ship, which struggled to find an audience and closed after just a few months, pulled through a nomination for best score, by theatrical newbie Sting.

Recent theatre REVIEWS... 
Chita Rivera Stars in New Musical ‘The Visit’ on Broadway: REVIEW
New Musical ‘Something Rotten!’ Brings Shakespeare and Sex Puns to Broadway: REVIEW
Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW
'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: angela sterling, joan marcus, john hayned, carol rosegg)


Theatre News: 'An American in Paris', 'Finding Neverland', 'Amazing Grace', 'King Charles III', 'The Gin Game' and More

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> Fresh on the heels of their Broadway openings, two new musicals have already announced national tours: the critically acclaimed An American in Paris, featuring a score of classics by George and Ira Gershwin and a book by Craig Lucas; and the less well-received Finding Neverland, which stars Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer, and features an original pop score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham. Producers for both shows announced the tours would kick off in fall 2016.

Alicia silverstone> Alicia Silverstone will star in the New York premiere of Melissa Ross’ play Of Good Stock Off Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I, the company announced this month. The play about three sisters revisiting their family home on Cape Cod for a summer weekend will begin previews on June 4 for an opening night of June 30. MTC’s artistic director Lynne Meadow directs.

> Amazing Grace, a new musical based on the true story behind that song, and the birth of the abolitionist movement, will play Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre beginning June 25 for an opening night of July 16. Featuring music and lyrics by Christopher Smith and book by Smith and Arthur Giron, the show had its world premiere in Chicago last fall and will be produced on Broadway by Carolyn Rossi Copeland and Alexander Rankin, under the direction of Gabriel Barre (The Wild Party) with choreography by Christopher Gattelli (Newsies).

King charles iii> King Charles III, the 2015 Olivier Award-winner for Best New Play, will arrive on Broadway October 10 at the Music Box Theatre for an opening night of November 1. The “future-history” play by Mike Bartlett imagines Prince Charles’ ascension to the British throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth. Directed by Rupert Goold, the production will star Tim Pigott-Smith, who played the title role to much acclaim on the West End.

> Tony-winners James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson will star in a revival of D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Gin Game on Broadway at the Golden Theatre, producers OSTAR Productions announced last week. The play about two nursing home residents who strike up an acquaintance and revisit their lives in tense conversation will be directed by Leonard Foglia and begin previews on September 21 for an opening night of October 13.

Heidi chronicles> Two Broadway shows have announced closing dates this month. The Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles, starring Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs, announced an early closing date of May 3 due to slow box office sales, just over six weeks after opening to mostly strong reviews. And after 14 years on Broadway, Mamma Mia!, the ABBA-scored hit that inspired a wave of other jukebox musicals, will shutter on September 5 at the Broadhurst Theatre (it was previously at the Winter Garden). Other current productions across the globe, including one on London’s West End, will continue.


Chita Rivera Stars in New Musical ‘The Visit’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

There are a lot of questions begged by The Visit, an unequivocally strange new musical that opened last night at the Lycium Theatre — i.e. “On what dark planet is this story set?” “Who are those blind eunuchs and why are they wearing white-face?” and, “How did this daring but slight musical find itself on Broadway?” There is only one answer, and she is the legendary Chita Rivera: the two-time Tony Award winner known for her half-century-long career and formative place in American theatre, giving what may be one of her final performances on stage.

Visit_4Of course, there are also its creators, John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, the songwriting team behind shadowy mega-hits like Chicago and Cabaret, and book writer Terrence McNally, represented down the block with It’s Only a Play. There is an unmistakable thrill to seeing Rivera in a new work from the storied scribes (the final one for Kander and Ebb), and her inestimable talent comes superbly alive in every moment she’s on stage. That she holds your attention from wandering too far into sea of question marks that surrounds her is probably for the best.

Based on a 1956 avant-garde satire by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, the story centers on a wildly wealthy woman, Claire Zachanassian, making a return visit to her small hometown, which has fallen into destitution. When she ran off in her youth, she left behind a great love, Anton Schell (Roger Rees), who now has his own family. Claire married rich many times to make her fortune, and upon her return, the townspeople are desperate to get their hands on it. She has a sinister plot up her sleeve to prove vengeance is best served cold, which, once revealed about midway through the intermissionless show, helps explain some of its more bizarre elements.

Visit_6An attempted meditation on greed, lust, and revenge, the story feels more like a rickety framework on which to hang an array of mostly unrelated (but not unenjoyable) songs by Kander and Ebb, strung together by characteristically rote dialogue from Mr. McNally. The musical, which first premiered in Chicago in 2001 and is directed here by John Doyle, plants its feet in two camps: one the macabre, cold-hearted revenge story, and the other a sort of wistful, sentimental tale of lost love. The uneasy combination never quite manages to find solid ground.

As befits its outsider-stepping-in story, The Visit’s cast of players is likewise split. The Brechtian company, smeared with sooty makeup, acts mostly like a presentational chorus, speaking in exposition and turns of plot. Rivera, on the other hand is fully flesh and blood (and occasionally fur), delightfully vindictive and coolly droll, commanding the stage with a single lingering look or turn of phrase. Her coyly sympathetic characterization of Claire is the captivating center of an otherwise ponderous and mottled show. Fortunately, she’s likely the reason for your visit, too.

Recent theatre features... 
New Musical ‘Something Rotten!’ Brings Shakespeare and Sex Puns to Broadway: REVIEW
Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW
'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: thom kaine)


New Musical ‘Something Rotten!’ Brings Shakespeare and Sex Puns to Broadway: REVIEW

Something rotten

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

A love of musicals is something of a requisite for enjoying Something Rotten, a crowd-pleasing new one that opened on Broadway last night at the St. James Theatre. An origin story in the form of a send-up, the comedy about the first ever musical packs enough references to the Broadway canon to give any theatre queen whiplash. That’s not to say this Renaissance-set romp isn’t also chock-full of enough humor both high (Shakespearean sex puns) and low (regular sex puns) to please a range of tastes, but it saves its biggest winks for the regulars. Though often grossly (and unabashedly) overplayed, overall the show’s on-the-nose wit is disarmingly funny and likely to charm.

Something rotten 3Nick and Nigel Bottom (whose last name is subject to innumerable obvious jokes, for some idea of how this is going to go) are playwriting brothers toiling in the shadow of Shakespeare (Christian Borle, doing his best Mick Jagger). Nick (played by spot-on everyman Brian d’Arcy James) is the ambitious one with the supportive, salt-of-the-earth wife (Kate Blickenstaff, excellent), and Nigel (an endearingly nerdy John Cariani) is the insecure poet. In hopes of outdoing the Bard, Nick visits a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to find out what the next big thing in theatre will be (you’ll never guess the answer!). Meanwhile, Nigel is busy exchanging verses and innuendo with Portia (Kate Reinders), daughter of this tale’s Puritanical wet blanket (a priceless Brooks Ashmanskas), who speaks exclusively in euphemisms for gay sex.

Something rotten 5The music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (brothers themselves, with impressive track records in song- and screenwriting) follow in the tradition of musicals like Spamalot and The Book of Mormon, pairing down-the-line melodies with nimbly clever lyrics that would never shy away from, say, rhyming “genius” with “penis.” For the script, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell freely mine Shakespeare’s plays to assemble their framework — from fortune-telling, star-crossed lovers, and F-to-M cross-dressing, to a kvetching Jew and a trial.

Many of the musical’s basest laughs would be plainly eye-rolling (or some even more so than they already are) were it not for director Casey Nicholaw’s deft comedic hand coupled with the cast’s timing and finesse. In true homage to the form, Nicholaw’s choreography is likewise nail-on-the-head (you didn’t think you’d escape without a full-company kick line and a handful of tap numbers, did you?). Eclectic fairy tale sets by Scott Pask flow seamlessly, and don’t expect to covet any of Gregg Barnes’ kooky mash-up of period and fantasy dress (except maybe a wig or two for your next lip sync).

Something rotten 4Something Rotten arrives at the table eager to show off a full bag of tricks — stacked high with insider jokes wrapped in a by-the-book iteration of the form it both worships and spoofs. Like most tongue-in-cheek musicals (and most musicals in general, for that matter), its persistent gesture is more of a wallop than a nudge. And if, one hand in five you pull up, well, something rotten — you came to the table, didn’t you?

Recent theatre features... 
Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW
'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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


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