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Theatre News: JHud to Star in ‘The Color Purple,’ Plus John Cameron Mitchell, Vanessa Hudgens and Chita Rivera on Broadway

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> Jennifer Hudson will make her Broadway debut in The Color Purple this fall, producers announced this week. Based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name, the musical, with book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, originally premiered on Broadway in 2005 and ran for over two years. The new, pared-down revival directed by John Doyle transfers after a critically acclaimed run at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013, and will be produced on Broadway by the show’s original team of Scott Sanders, Roy Furman and Oprah Winfrey.

JCM2> John Cameron Mitchell begins his eight-week run as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre on January 21. Mitchell, who penned the musical with Stephen Trask, created the title role Off Broadway in 1998 and starred the cult-favorite 2001 film, which he also adapted and directed. Check out our in-depth conversation with Mitchell about returning to the role of Hedwig here.

> Idina Menzel’s star-vehicle musical If/Then has announced a closing date of March 22 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Produced by David Stone (Wicked), directed by Michael Greif (Grey Gardens, Next to Normal), with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (Pulitzer winners for Next to Normal), the show opened last march and will have run for just over a year on Broadway.

Vanessa-hudgens-768> The Broadway-bound revival of Gigi, starring Vanessa Hudgens in the title role, will land at the Neil Simon theatre for previews beginning March 19 and an opening night of April 8, producers announced this week. Last seen on Broadway in 1974, the musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, is adapted from the 1958 movie of the same name and based on the 1994 novella by Colette. The new production directed by Eric Schaeffer features a revised book adaptation by Heidi Thomas and is currently in performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

> Two-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera will return to Broadway in The Visit, a musical by songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) with book by Terrence McNally, at the Lyceum Theatre this spring. The musical, which was previously produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2001 and Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer, will also be directed by John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company). Previews for the musical based on the satirical play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt as adapted by Maurice Valency begin March 26 for an opening night of April 23; Tony winner Roger Rees co-stars.

(Hudson: Anthony Mandler Courtesy of RCA, Hudgens: Matthew Murphy via People)


Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson Open in ‘Constellations’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

If you’re short on reasons to love Ruth Wilson (Golden Globe winner for The Affair) or Jake Gyllenhaal (leading man of your dreams since the days of Donnie Darko), their magnetic performances in Nick Payne’s engrossing new play Constellations, which opened on Broadway last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre, prove they’re as formidably talented as they are beautiful, onstage as onscreen. (Yes, it seems some people really can have it all.)

Con2Payne’s drama, which arrives in New York after a critically acclaimed production at London’s Royal Court Theatre and West End transfer in 2012, delivers on its cosmic title—with a love story that is, quite literally, “timeless.” Set in what the program deems “The Multiverse,” the play’s romance unfolds in a world of infinite—or at least multiple—possibilities. The theory Payne explores, which may be familiar to sci-fi fans and wide-eyed physicists alike (Wilson’s character is among the latter), allows for the existence of parallel universes and eschews the notion of linear time. (Don’t worry: The show runs a swift 70 minutes.)  

Con5In this case, that means our two stars (get it?) together on a black stage, surrounded by white orbs (a striking scenic design by Tom Scutt), performing variations on a series of scenes that combine to form a multi-dimensional love story. What if he’d been married when they first met? What if she’d been less withholding on their first date? From minor shifts in mood to more divergent twists in plot, the repeated variations create a sort of rich, imaginative portrait of love in a world of possibilities.   

Under deft direction by Michael Longhurst, Gyllenhaal and Wilson bring fierce yet effortless dedication to every moment, shifting abruptly from one scene to the next with precision and grace. The overall affect is, at first, playful and engaging—the play’s opening line, posed by Wilson’s character: “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” (They both eventually proceed to try.) And as details of the story gradually become clear, Payne’s play turns increasingly thought provoking and ultimately quite moving.

Con3As Marianne, Wilson (whose London stage credits include starring opposite Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire and Jude Law in Anna Christie, both at the Donmar Warehouse) balances goofy charisma with a palpable emotional depth. Gyllenhaal (who made his American stage debut Off Broadway in Payne’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet) brings a more understated, hapless charm to the quieter Roland.

Payne’s play, whose conceptual daring owes much to ground-laying works by Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, A Number), may leave some audiences scratching their heads. But, whether the drama’s metaphysical questions interest you or not, these celestial bodies are well worth stargazing at. 

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

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


Theatre News: Sienna Miller to Join ‘Cabaret,’ Plus ‘The Last Ship’, ‘Disgraced’ and ‘The Flick’

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> Emma Stone will extend her stint as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at Studio 54 for two additional weeks through February 15, and Sienna Miller will take over the role for the musical’s final six weeks of performances through March 29, Roundabout Theatre Company announced this week. The current Broadway revival starring Alan Cumming, which opened in March 2014, is a remounting of Roundabout’s Tony-winning 1998 production, in which Cumming also starred opposite Natasha Richardson.

Sting> Sting’s musical The Last Ship, about a struggling shipyard on the British coast, will close January 24 at the Neil Simon Theatre, producers announced on Monday. The show, featuring an original score by Sting, book by Tony-winners John Logan (Red) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal) and direction by Joe Mantello (Wicked), opened in October to mixed reviews and has struggled to stay afloat. Sting stepped into a featured role for six weeks beginning December 9 in hopes of igniting audience interest in the show. But despite a surge at the box office during his run, a sharp drop-off in advance ticket sales after his scheduled exit prompted the producers’ decision to shutter the new musical after just four months.   

> Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced will play its final performance at the Lyceum Theatre on March 1, producers announced this week. Directed by Kimberly Senior and starring Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, Josh Radnor and Karen Pittman, the explosive drama exploring faith, race, art and politics transferred to Broadway in October after an acclaimed run Off Broadway at Lincoln Center in 2012.  

Flick051rSc> Annie Baker’s The Flick, another Pulitzer Prize winner, will come back to the New York stage this spring at the Barrow Street Theatre. Originally produced by Playwrights Horizons in 2013, the play about a hapless trio of indie Cineplex employees returns for a commercial Off-Broadway run produced by Scott Rudin. The original creative team, including the full cast and director Sam Gold will remount the production. 

(photos: Richard Phibbs via Entertainment Weekly, Joan Marcus)


Theatre News: 'School of Rock' and 'Something Rotten!' Coming to Broadway, 'Side Show' Closing

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

> Andrew Lloyd Webber announced his new project, a musical adaptation of Richard Linklater and Mike White’s 2003 film School of Rock starring Jack Black, will come to Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre in November 2015. Featuring songs from the movie as well as new music by Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater (Sister Act) and a book by Downton Abbey-creator Julian Fellowes, the show will follow the movie’s story of a wily wannabe rock star who poses as a substitute teacher and forms a band with his students. Directed by Laurence Connor (Les Misérables), the production will begin casting in January.

Side show> Director Bill Condon’s reimagined revival of Side Show, Henry Kreiger and Bill Russell’s 1997 musical about the trials of conjoined twins, announced a closing date of January 4 at the St. James Theatre. Starring Emily Padgett and Erin Davie, the new production will close after just 77 performances, several weeks shorter than the original run, which ranks among Broadway’s most notable flops. Despite proof of middling ticket sales, lead producer Darren Bagert told the New York Times the production was pressured to close by theatre owner Jujamcyn to make room for another show. Read about the drama here.

> Side Show will step aside to make room for Something Rotten!, a new musical comedy produced by Kevin McCollum and directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, Book of Mormon), starting performances at the St. James on March 23, 2015 and opening April 22. With book and lyrics by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and book by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, the show tells the story of two brothers in 1595 England who pen the world’s first musical in attempts to outdo Shakespeare. The show’s original out-of-town tryout in Seattle was cancelled to hasten the Broadway premiere. Brian d’Arcy James and Christian Borle are expected to star.

Nina_arianda_photo_by_joan_marcus_c_small__120709221956> Manhattan Theatre Club announced Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love as its first Broadway production of the 2015-16 season, beginning performances in September at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Directed by Daniel Aukin and starring Nina Arianda (Tony-winner for Venus in Fur) and Sam Rockwell, the production was previously produced in Williamstown Theatre Festival’s 2014 season. This will mark the Broadway premiere of Shepard’s 1983 play about dueling former lovers in the American West.


Towleroad's Top 10 Plays and Musicals of 2014

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Theatre is risky business. Trusted safety precautions include movie adaptations (What’s your damage, Heather?), stars above the title (NPH, lick my glasses!) and proven classics with stars above the title (Swooning for Denzel? Get in line). Though some hedged their bets, the year’s best plays and musicals took big risks that paid off. Whether breathing new life into beloved stories or creating new ways of telling (with puppets!), the top of the crop never failed to thrill, entertain and enlighten. From highbrow to lowbrow and, well, Hedwig—read on for a list of my top 10 favorites.

10. Heathers: The Musical: Transforming the treasured and twisted 1988 teen flick into a stage musical was no easy feat, but writers Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy pulled it off with an intoxicating mix of verve and camp. Profane, over-the-top and, yes, ballsy—Heathers wins the award for this season’s guilty pleasure most likely to get stuck between your teeth. But the musical also toed a fine line with its carefully crafted tone, balancing its bubblegum cynicism with genuine sympathy for every social strata of high school hell.

TIOY9. This Is Our Youth: Director Anna Shapiro’s fine-tuned production of Kenneth Lonergan’s seminal Gen-X comedy about twenty-somethings stalling to come of age in NYC marks the play’s Broadway debut, and a high point in both its nearly 20-year history and the fall season. With dynamite performances from Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, Lonergan’s trio of hyper-articulate, aimless thrill-seekers buzzes with the hallmark frenetic energy of youth in any age.

8. The Bridges of Madison County: With a soaring, resonant score by Jason Robert Brown (sung to perfection by Kelli O’Hara and Stephen Pasquale) and book by Marsha Norman, Bartlett Sher’s Broadway production elevated its Harlequin romance-inspired material into a vividly intimate and deeply felt love story. Also based on James Waller’s best-selling novel, Sher’s production was as nuanced and graceful as Clint Eastwood’s 1995 film is sappy and melodramatic.

Bootycandy7. Bootycandy: Writer-director Robert O’Hara’s semi-autobiographical and provocative coming-of-age tale about growing up black and gay defied generic formula for a more daring, fractious kind of storytelling. From outrageously funny to touchingly intimate, O’Hara’s collage of colorful snap-shot scenes assembled into a refreshingly inventive and wholly effective big picture of life outside the margins.

Countdown continues AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Towleroad's Top 10 Plays and Musicals of 2014" »


Bradley Cooper Is ‘The Elephant Man’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Make no mistake: The main attraction at the Booth Theatre, where a prosaic revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 drama The Elephant Man opened last night, isn’t the freak-show headliner in the title, but the A-list name emblazoned above it in twinkling lights. They will flock from near and far, empty their wallets, step right up and see: Can the Hollywood hunk believably play a deformed half-man, half-beast? And deliver the high-octane performance required to mask the mediocrity of his chosen star vehicle? The answers are—well, sort of and no, not really.

Elephant1Bradley Cooper, last seen on Broadway opposite Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain, certainly brings an impressive physical dedication to his performance as John Merrick. The character and his story are based on the life of Joseph Merrick, a man who lived with extreme deformities in the late 19th century. Pomerance’s play follows the Elephant Man’s ascent from circus aberration to high society marvel under the protection and guidance of Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola), a gifted and ambitious doctor.

We first encounter Merrick as a haunting outburst of grunts and gasps behind a freak-show curtain, before Cooper (notably shirtless for the first few scenes) appears next to a slideshow of real photographs of Joseph Merrick. As Mr. Nivola details Merrick’s physical deformities, Cooper contorts his face and body into the warped shapes he firmly maintains through the rest of the play (the role is historically played without makeup or prosthetics).

Elephant2Thanks to these early visual aides and Cooper’s bodily discipline, it’s possible to imagine the very handsome Cooper as the extremely hideous Merrick—though, it’s much easier not to. This is partly because the actor’s looks and his celebrity are stacked against him, and partly because his performance doesn't overpower them. As his position in society improves, Merrick becomes increasingly curious, bright and charming—like a neglected child receiving his first welcome attention. But, too often Cooper voices his character much like an animated one, with a palpable detachment between his vocal delivery and Merrick’s lurid personal history and singular circumstances.

As Mrs. Kendal, the actress who befriends Merrick and introduces him to London’s upper crust, Patricia Clarkson is radiant and the production’s indisputable highlight. With a riveting and sensitively rendered performance, Ms. Clarkson takes her character from a vain, preening bird to the play’s emotional center. Her signature ease and reserved grace stand in marked contrast to Cooper’s effortful portrayal and Nivola’s bland turn as the impassioned doctor.

Elephant3Pomerance’s play, which also concerns itself with the clash between Christianity and modern science, is grounded in British colonial ideologies (i.e. the beastly Other must be saved! Cured! Civilized!). Though an integral context for Merrick’s true story, the imperial entitlement on which the plot hangs is the real elephant in the room. Director Scott Ellis’ production, while efficient and finely dressed (with beautiful costumes by Clint Ramos), hangs its hat on its star rather than offering a fresh take on stodgy material. 

Recent theatre reviews...
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


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