“What becomes a legend most?” For an in the flesh answer travel to West 45th Street in New York where a true legend, Angela Lansbury, is making her eagerly awaited return to Broadway in a first rate production of Te
rrence McNally’s latest offering Deuce, a fictitious comedy about arguably the greatest women’s doubles team in tennis history.. Lansbury, the musical actress, and McNally, the prolific playwright, need little introduction to Broadway audiences having each won four Tony Awards, but the fact that Lansbury, at 83, hasn’t appeared in a production here for 25 years has become a cause to celebrate.
No matter how professionally it’s produced, Thornton Wilder’s classic, OUR TOWN, typically evokes the feeling that one has just visited the high school auditorium. For better or worse, The Roundabout Theatre’s production of 110 IN THE SHADE at Studio 54 is a similar experience as it asks us to visit a moment of innocence in which story telling is laid bare.
The legendary showman Harold Prince has helmed the World Premiere of the new musical LoveMusik, giving the show a high concept Brechtian style that captures precisely the moody quality of the Kurt Weill songs featured in the evening. The esteemed director, who brought us memorable productions of Cabaret, Sweeny Todd, The Phantom of the Opera and Evita, has two multi talented Broadway stars Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy to play Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya in the story of their 25 year relationship. The show is daring, indeed, but considering all the talent involved ultimately disappointing and rarely moving.
A soaring yet uneven revival of Eugene O’Neill’s tragic love story, A Moon for the Misbegotten, has arrived on Broadway by way of London’s Old Vic Theatre, where the production in a limited run was a critically acclaimed hit last season. The complete company, headed by the British darling, Olivier Award winner Eve Best and two time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey are reprising their roles under Howard Davies’ direction in the British import. Mr. Spacey, incidentally, is the artistic director of The Old Vic and a devotee of the playwright having appeared on Broadway in O”Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh, but the evening belongs to Eve Best, who delivers a searing performance as the gangly heroine.
Christopher Plummer shines in the Broadway revival of the 1955 courtroom drama Inherit the Wind. The play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is a somewhat fictionalized recounting of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, where a substitute high school biology teacher was indicted and tried for teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution in his classroom.
Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Didion, the names conjure up vastly different images and styles, yet the two have come together for a Broadway production that is considered by many to be the theatrical event of the season. Under David Hare’s seasoned direction the great Redgrave, a Academy Award and Tony Award winning actress, returns to Broadway in a one character play The Year of Magical Thinking based on Didion’s haunting memoir of the same name.
Grace O’Malley, the heroine of “The Pirate Queen”, is a warrior, chieftain, mother and an abused wife who befriends Queen Elizabeth I, saving Ireland from British subjugation. It’s all in a day’s work for this superwoman. Yes, you guessed it, a lot of soap, a pinch of history and some rehashed tuners from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s “Les Miserables” and you have their latest Broadway musical.
Curtains, the new musical by composer John Kander and the late lyricist Fred Ebb features one of the final scores by the legendary songwriting team that gave us Cabaret, and Chicago, and if the musical with a book by Rupert Holmes has none of the edge of those classics, the backstage murder mystery is nonetheless a lighthearted homage to the golden age of musical theater. The show directed by Scott Ellis is a non stop entertainment, but the energetic performances of the talented cast give the evening an added panache that the musical lacks.
The Broadway revival of Prelude to a Kiss, the romantic comedy by Craig Lucas now being presented by Roundabout Theatre Company under Daniel Sullivan’s direction is quite pleasant. The play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1990, made its world premiere Off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory turning Alec Baldwin into a star opposite Mary-Louise Parker and subsequently moved to Broadway where Timothy Hutton replaced Mr. Baldwin. In 1992 Mr. Lucas adapted the play into a successful feature film with Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin that many people still remember fondly.
Charles Busch has fashioned a gleeful love letter to the theater with his seriocomic new play, Our Leading Lady, set backstage at the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. on the days surrounding April 14, 1865, the day President Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth while watching a performance of Our American Cousin. The play a blend of fact and fiction focuses on a scheming actress Laura Keene, who was on stage that eventful night becoming a footnote in history. From his inspired idea, the talented Mr. Busch has crafted a two act smorgasbord of laughs that bogs down in the somewhat heavy handed second act. Director Lynne Meadow has mined his vision for all its campy comedy, but the play, although vastly entertaining, feels stretched and not always sure of its footing.
In R.C. Sherriff’s war drama Journey’s End the men wait in trenches about 70 yards behind the enemy line with only a modest dugout for respite between their shifts. They are caught in limbo, but they carry on as best they can, knowing the waiting will ultimately end in battle and possibly death. The British director David Grindley has crafted a beautifully paced experiential retelling of the play that will haunt you for days, possibly even weeks, after you have seen it. Be warned this is not escapist theater, but a grim depiction of three days in these soldier’s lives as they prepare for the moment when the waiting will end.
The Labyrinth Theater Company is stirring up a little bohemian magic at the Public Theater where a delightful production of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating directed by Peter DuBois is making its world premiere. The top notch cast is headed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his first New York stage appearance since winning the Oscar “gold” for Capote. Not much happens in terms of excitement but what does transpire is lively, heartwarming, and poignant. Here is a slice of New York City life told from the struggling journeyman’s point of view.
“Get me a gun”, Barry Champlain the late night talk show host of TALK RADIO demands, using an expletive never heard in this medium. As Champlain, Liev Schreiber makes a commanding and physically riveting presence…his legs twitching with angst, the veins in his forehead pulsing with anger.
To witness one of the most powerful theatrical productions in the entire city, walk a few blocks West of Times Square on 42nd Street to the Signature Theatre Company and pay $15 for a ticket to King Hedley II, the final installment of the Signature’s 2006/2007 tribute to the late playwright August Wilson. Earlier this season the Signature scored impressively with their staging of Wilson’s Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running. The company had long planned a Wilson season, but when the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright died on October 2, 2005 that season took on greater significance.
The Lincoln Center Theater production of Dying City, a new play by Christopher Shinn directed by James Macdonald is an engaging 90 minute journey into the troubled souls of three people impacted by the war in Iraq. The little play with much to say was originally produced in London last spring at the Royal Court Theatre and has been beautifully staged here at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.