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Theatre News: Stone Debuts in 'Cabaret,' Knightley, Moss and Biggs Coming to Broadway

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This month in theatre news, Emma Stone steps in as Sally Bowles, Keira Knightley will make Broadway debutPippin to depart and The Heidi Chronicles to move in at the Music Box, Martin Short will join It's Only a Play.

> Emma Stone steps in as Sally Bowles in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of Cabaret at Studio 54 on November 11. As reported in the New York Times, the star had originally signed on to appear in the production with Alan Cumming when it opened last spring, but film commitments forced her to withdraw. Michelle Williams, who was cast in her place, will continue performing through November 9.

Keira knightley> Keira Knightley will make her Broadway debut next fall as a woman whose adulterous affair has violent consequences in Thérèse Raquin, a new adaptation by Helen Edmundson of Émile Zola’s 1867 novel, Roundabout Theatre Company announced. Directed by Evan Cabnet, the star-driven production will be the first in RTC’s 50th anniversary season, with performances beginning in October, 2015.

> Martin Short will join the cast of Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, stepping in for Nathan Lane when he departs the production on January 4. The play will extend its run at the Schoenfeld Theatre another two weeks before moving next door to the Jacobs Theatre, where Tony-winning musical Once will close shortly prior. Helen Mirren steps into the Schoenfeld the following month, as Queen Elizabeth in Peter Morgan’s The Audience.  

Pippin> Tony-winning musical Pippin will end performances at the Music Box Theatre on January 4, producers announced. The high-flying production of Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s 1972 musical won Tonys for Best Musical Revival as well as for director Diane Paulus and original stars Patina Miller and Andrea Martin. The show opened in the spring of 2013, a U.S. national tour is currently underway with future productions planned in London, Australia and Amsterdam.

> Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs will move into the Music Box Theatre in the Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, directed by Pam MacKinnon (A Delicate Balance), producer Jeffrey Richards announced. The Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play about feminism’s coming-of-age in the 70s and 80s will begin performances in February, 2015.

> It Shoulda Been You, a new musical conceived by Barbara Anselmi with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, will arrive on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in March, producers announced. Previously produced at the George Street Playhouse in 2011, the comedy about an unlikely wedding gone awry will be directed by David Hyde Pierce and star Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Sierra Boggess and David Burtka among others.

 (Stone: Richard Phibbs via Entertainment Weekly)


Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, Cynthia Nixon Open in ‘The Real Thing’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Real thing1

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Equal parts cerebral and sexy, Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play about love, deception and the limits of fiction gets a chic, starry revival from Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines theatre, where it opened on Broadway last night. With ace performances from the cast, director Sam Gold’s production anchors the lofty intellectual tangents of Stoppard’s writing in grounded, emotional drama.

Real thingThe opening scene shows a wife, Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon) returning home from a business trip to her drunk, jealous husband, Max (Josh Hamilton). She’s gone from London to Switzerland without her passport, Max discovers, leading him to conclude she’s cheating. The following scene reveals the first is from a play in which Charlotte and Max are performing—Charlotte is married to the playwright Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Max and his wife Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), also an actress, are close friends of the couple.

When Henry and Annie are left alone, we learn they’re having an affair and by the play’s more engrossing second act, the two have left their spouses and married each other. Much of the play is concerned with the nature of romantic love, the fallacy of monogamy and the challenges of writing. Henry is widely accepted as a stand-in for Stoppard as they share many parallels, including Stoppard’s relationship with a married woman, the actress who played Annie in the play’s original production.

Real thing3Making a bold (and impressively verbose) Broadway debut, McGregor does fine work making clear sense of Stoppard’s dense, heady dialogue, and the mischievous charm for which he’s known on-screen perfectly suits gallantly vain Henry. Ms. Gyllenhaal likewise makes a radiant Broadway debut as Annie, her easy sex appeal and unwavering poise a formidable match for her indomitable lover. Nixon, a stage vet who originated the role of Debbie (Charlotte and Henry’s daughter) in the play’s first Broadway production, gives an assured performance as sharp, unflappable Charlotte.

Some 30 years on, Stoppard’s play could easily be set in the present, but the design team’s nod to early 80s London style gives the production its seductive angles and textures, including a dynamic set by David Zinn, enviable costumes by Kaye Voyce and lighting by Mark Barton. 

Music is also central to the play, and Gold brings it to the fore with company sing-alongs during transitions between scenes. The device feels gimmicky in a play already chock-full of myriad ideas, but it's one Henry would probably love. 

Recent theatre reviews...
Straight Couples Adrift on Fire Island in Terrence McNally’s ‘Lips Together, Teeth Apart’: REVIEW
Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol Open in Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Disgraced’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing Open in ‘It’s Only a Play’ on Broadway: REVIEW
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Political Sex Scandal Comedy ‘Tail! Spin!’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW

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


Straight Couples Adrift on Fire Island in Terrence McNally’s ‘Lips Together, Teeth Apart’: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Fire Island lovers already nostalgic for summer will find themselves immediately transported upon entering Off Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre, where a revival of Terrence McNally’s 1991 play set in the idyllic Pines opened last night. The oceanfront deck (complete with infinity pool) is so lovingly rendered by designer Alexander Dodge, you can practically smell the sea-salt air and feel the cool relief of a cocktail against your lips. But don’t get too comfortable: The dream home’s occupants on this Fourth of July weekend are none too keen on the locals.

Lips3Sally (America Ferrera), a stymied artist with a 9-to-5, inherited the house from her brother, who recently died of AIDS. She and her staunchly salt-of-the-earth husband, Sam (Michael Chernus), are taking a holiday weekend away from their modest life in New Jersey to decide what to do with the property. Along for the stay are Sam’s moderately hyperactive sister Chloe (Tracee Chimo), a community theatre actress, and her husband John (Austin Lysy), a private school admissions director, who live a bit less modestly in Connecticut.

As they enjoy typical, leisurely distractions (the Times’ crossword, landscape painting, kite-flying, charades), audience-directed asides clue us into their inner conflicts and secrets. Sally is pregnant and fears another miscarriage; John has cancer; Sally and John once slept together; Chloe has an almost maniacal need to feel useful and Sam is, well, pretty much an open book. A dark cloud rolls in at the play’s outset, as Sally spots a man swimming purposefully straight out into the ocean. She has a sinking feeling he won’t return.

Lips2Neighbored on all sides by gay men, a group they neither understand nor accept, these are strangers in a strange but picture-perfect place. But it’s their isolation from each other, rather than their surroundings, that takes up McNally’s three-act story. Its focus on intimate drama allows the play’s subtler reflections on deeply rooted homophobia and AIDS panic to resonate all the more profoundly. The characters’ fear of mortality and desire to be known and loved parallel those of their gay neighbors, but most of them are too blind to see it—except for Sally, who wants so badly to try.

Director Peter Dubois does fine work bringing the play to a modern audience and orchestrating its talented cast. Chimoo is a standout as nutty, gabby Chloe, preening fearlessly like an exotic show bird confined to mundane, everyday life. As her younger brother, Chernus is a perfect fit, endearing us to Sam’s unassuming bluntness and rough edges, thus making his casual bigotry that much more bracing and uncomfortable. Lysy is likewise well suited to buttoned-up John, whose range of bottled feelings finds sly and often sudden outlets. As sullen, probing Sally, Ferrera brings a sweet earnestness that at times only skims the surface of Sally’s well of emotions rather than reaching for its depths.

Lips1For a play set on Fire Island during the AIDS crisis, McNally’s play is remarkably subtle (The Normal Heart it is not), and Dubois’ production lovingly embraces its characters, despite their flaws. Their narrow-minded anxieties may have sounded closer to ordinary in the early 90s, but now they take on a certain shocking sting, particularly for a New York audience. It’s a testament to how far we’ve traveled in 25 years. That they’re not altogether unfamiliar is a mark of how far we still have to go.

Recent theatre reviews...
Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol Open in Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Disgraced’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing Open in ‘It’s Only a Play’ on Broadway: REVIEW
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Political Sex Scandal Comedy ‘Tail! Spin!’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne Open in ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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


Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol Open in Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Disgraced’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

There is a chilling, heart-stopping moment at the height of Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s sharp and engrossing Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opened on Broadway last night at the Lyceum Theatre. Once you recover from the shock of it, you’ll wonder how you allowed yourself to be so caught off guard.

Disgraced4Maybe you were busy admiring the seductive surfaces of director Kimberly Senior’s sleek, vivid production, getting wrapped up in the lives of the über smart, affluent and self-possessed thirty-somethings onstage, who seem to embody every astute, aspiring young person’s idea of That Perfect New York Life.

Amir (Hari Dhillon), a dapper corporate lawyer and second-generation Pakistani immigrant, and his wife Emily (Gretchen Mol), a thoughtful, blossoming visual artist, share an enviable, impeccably modern Manhattan apartment and cut a prime yet casual example of cross-cultural harmony. While Emily mines Islamic forms and aesthetic ideals in her latest work, Amir is a self-professed and often vocal apostate to Islam.

Disgraced2The drama begins when Amir’s nephew Abe (Danny Ashok) asks him to offer legal counsel to an imam imprisoned (falsely, Abe believes) on suspicion of funding Hamas. Amir strongly resists stepping in, while Emily urges him to help. Fast-forward several weeks when Emily has a shot at being included in a show at the Whitney. The curator Isaac (Josh Radnor), husband to a close colleague of Amir’s, Jory (Karen Pittman), visits to view Emily’s work. Jump ahead another few months to find the four friends gathering for an intimate dinner party.

Akhtar’s drama unspools a number of distinct threads that come together only in its explosive, compelling climax. Above all, it’s a play about ideas and appearances—intelligent, grounded people who think they know who they are and what they believe, until they don’t. The play raises provocative questions—about identity, race, faith, art, love and at times, the whole of human history. This is, of course, no small feat in 90 minutes and could easily go down like a giant pill.

DisgracedBut Akhtar’s characters are people you want to know, and uniformly excellent performances from the cast make you feel as though you already do. The heady and pressing questions that arise are firmly grounded in the very human and messy drama unfolded onstage. That they come from the mouths of characters so convincingly rendered makes them all the more haunting.

Senior, who also directed the play’s Off-Broadway premiere at Lincoln Center Theatre in 2012, does fine work balancing the Akhtar’s litany of nuanced perspectives on hot-button issues. For a drama so much about visual surfaces, the production’s design adds rich texture to the story, including the set by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Jennifer Von Mayrhauser and lighting by Kenneth Posner. 

In the time between the play's first production and its Broadway premiere, the context in which we hear and understand its core dilemma has changed dramatically, with renewed violence in the Middle East and racial tensions at home. Akhtar's drama certainly doesn't have the answers, but it asks the poignant questions.

Recent theatre reviews...
Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing Open in ‘It’s Only a Play’ on Broadway: REVIEW
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Political Sex Scandal Comedy ‘Tail! Spin!’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne Open in ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy Open ‘Love Letters’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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


Theatre News: A New Hedwig, Pacino Back on Broadway, 'Once' Closing, Upcoming Sondheim Musical

Michael c hall

This month in theatre news, Broadway gets a new Hedwig, Once sets closing date, Pacino teams with Mamet and Sondheim at work on a new musical.

> Michael C. Hall began performances last week in the title role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, stepping in after Girls star Andrew Rannells completed his 8-week run as the trans rocker. Hall, best known for Dexter and Six Feet Under, was just on Broadway last spring in Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses. No stranger to gender fluidity, he previously played several stints as the Emcee in Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1998 production of Cabaret. Hall will continue as Hedwig through January 4.

Once> Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical Once announced a closing date of January 4 at the Jacobs Theatre. Based on the acclaimed Oscar-winning film of the same name, the Dublin-set musical about a passionate and unlikely romance featuring an ensemble of actor-musicians, will have played 1,167 regular performances and 22 previews. The show’s U.S. national tour continues and a number of international productions are currently running or in development, including a West End production that will close in March of next year.

> Producers announced that Al Pacino will return to Broadway next fall in China Doll, a new play by David Mamet. In a statement, the playwright described it as “a play about a wealthy man, his young fiancé, and an airplane […] I wrote it for Al. It is better than oral sex.” The new play will be directed by Pam MacKinnon and produced by Jeffery Richards, Jerry Frankel and Steve Traxler at a Shubert theatre to be determined.

Stephen-Sondheim-08> Lincoln Center Theatre announced two new additions to its 2015 docket: Shows for Days, a new comedy by Douglas Carter Beane (The Nance, The Little Dog Laughed) set in a 1970s community theatre, to be directed by Jerry Zaks Off Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, and Preludes, a new musical by Dave Malloy, directed by Rachel Chavkin (creators of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) about Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theatre.

> Stephen Sondheim is at work on a new musical with playwright David Ives (Venus in fur) based on two films by Spanish director Luis Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, according to the New York Times. The Public Theatre and Scott Rudin are producing the new work. No timeline has been set; Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public, said in a statement, “We will do it whenever Steve tells us to.”

> Producer Kevin McCollum announced that Robert Askins' dark comedy Hand to God starring Steven Boyer will open on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on April 7, 2015 with previews beginning March 12. Featuring a critically-acclaimed performance by Boyer as a young man whose hand puppet takes on a demonic life of its own, the play was previously produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre and again at MCC Theater earlier this spring. Moritz von Stuelpnagel directs.

 


Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing Open in ‘It’s Only a Play’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Anyone who thinks theatre people are a bunch of eccentric, egotistical, navel-gazing kooks will find little to prove them wrong in the starry Broadway premiere of Terrence McNally’s 1982 comedy It’s Only a Play, which opened last week at the Schoenfeld Theatre. Directed by Jack O’Brien, the backstage farce meets drawing-room play takes up with a team of show folk anxiously awaiting reviews on opening night.

It's only play 3If you’re determined enough to snag tickets to the nearly-sold-out run, you’ll find its crowded marquee of big names, including Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally and F. Murray Abraham, preening around the opulent interior of an upper east side townhouse, wringing their hands over the trials of mounting a play and goosing the audience with an exhaustive litany of de rigueur insider jokes and name drops.

The bedroom of this lux abode (lavishly designed by Scott Pask) belongs to theatre producer Julia Budder (Ms. Mullally), and tonight it’s doubling as a coat room for the opening party of her first big Broadway venture. Peter (Mr. Broderick) wrote the play’s lead role for his friend James (Mr. Lane), who turned it down to continue his stint on a mediocre sitcom and has flown in to make sure he didn’t pass on a hit.

It's only play 2The play’s leading lady Virginia (Ms. Channing) is a pill-popping star out on parole (complete with security anklet) and its British director Frank (Rupert Grint) is prickly, bizarre and apparently brilliant. A predatory critic is also on hand to generally antagonize all (Mr. Abraham), and the coat check boy (an aspiring actor, of course, played by Micah Stock) is charged with the running gag of schlepping outerwear for increasingly outlandish guests (Shia LaBeouf! The cast of The Lion King! Lady Gaga!).

Lane and Channing are both a delight, incidentally as caricatures of their own profession. Mr. Lane’s animated ease and precise comic timing make light work of his many rapid-fire one-liners. Ms. Channing is spot on as the industry-weary grand dame, all sharp-tongue and taut-face.

With a mild southern drawl and coiffed wig, Ms. Mullally doesn’t cut quite as extreme a figure as some of Broadway’s more eccentric producers. And while charming, Mr. Broderick seems a bit dazed—even as a playwright facing reviews on opening night. He’s also saddled with thanklessly delivering McNally’s sentimental odes to the art form, the sincerity of which seem stodgy and out of place.

It's only play 4In updating the original script for this production, McNally has packed it to the gills with jabs and winks aimed at celebrities big and small—with audiences invited to listen in on the fun (show people sh*t talking behind the scenes!). But like most opening night parties this one is relatively uneventful, aside from people waiting around for reviews to come in and reacting when they do. The rest of the play is taken up with the artists’ neuroses (at their most stereotypical) and these often backhanded zingers.

Much of McNally’s humor is low-hanging fruit (spoiler alert: the cast takes a group selfie), and much of the story (such as it is) gets buried in it. Though often funny, the players in McNally’s satire are gleefully narcissistic—and no more sympathetic than the critics they delight in vilifying. The play (like the play within the play) is obsessed with its own critical reception, though it's hardly clear why when the names above its title are enough to ensure box office gold.

Recent theatre reviews...
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Political Sex Scandal Comedy ‘Tail! Spin!’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne Open in ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy Open ‘Love Letters’ on Broadway: REVIEW
‘Bootycandy,’ Brassy Comedy About Black, Gay Experience, Opens: REVIEW

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


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