Did London Love Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man? Critics Weigh In

News   Did London Love Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man? Critics Weigh In It's all about Sunday's Tony Awards on Broadway this week, and London-originated shows feature strongly, notably in the play departments, with multiple nominations for Wolf Hall, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Audience, Skylight and the now-shuttered Constellations.

Bradley Cooper in <i>The Elephant Man</i>
Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man Photo by T. Charles Erickson

There's also a clutch of Brits who came to Broadway fresh: rising star Ruth Wilson (in Constellations), Julliard-trained British newcomer Alex Sharp (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) and the Royal Ballet's Leanne Cope (starring in An American in Paris).

And amongst British creative personnel nominated are directors Stephen Daldry, Marianne Elliott, Jeremy Herrin and Christopher Wheeldon, choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, designers Bunny Christie, Finn Ross, Bob Crowley, Christopher Oram and lighting designer Paule Constable.

Bradley Cooper gets raves; The Elephant Man less so
Meanwhile, heading the other way, last year's Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, starring Bradley Cooper in the title role, has been transplanted wholesale to the West End with its entire 13-strong Broadway company.

London press reviews were published on Monday and ran the gamut of five stars (in the Daily Mail and Metro) to two (The Stage) for Scott Ellis' production. but there was nearly universal admiration for Cooper's transformative performance, in which without any prosthetics, he becomes the man and demonstrates his multiple disabilities.

In the Times, Dominic Maxwell explained (behind paywall) how this was achieved: "As Treves goes through Merrick’s disfigurements, Cooper first skew-whiffs his lips, then makes his right arm look as bulky and his left arm look as delicate as the ones on the screen. It is pure make-believe, pure acting, and he keeps it up for the next two hours." For Maxwell, "There is really only one reason for seeing this imported Broadway smash hit, but it’s a good one: Bradley Cooper." In The Independent, Paul Taylor noted that Cooper does not take a solo bow at the curtain call, and says, "This is palpably a collective labour of love for him rather some weirdly paradoxical vanity project." And for Michael Billington in The Guardian, it was a performance that "makes you long to see Cooper in challenging classic roles." Next up, Hamlet?

The only negative comment came from Camilla Long, a career columnist and film critic in the Sunday Times rather than a theatre writer, who had bought her own ticket to see it last week and published ahead of the established critical embargo as a result.

She referred to Cooper saying in an interview that he felt "a deep personal connection with Merrick," and then stated (behind paywall): "But as I watched him drink in the (entirely unmerited) standing ovation after a Thursday matinee — frothing applause given by the audience with the same strange confused fury and hot bewilderment as a broken herring worker trying to donate a sperm sample at an internet fertility clinic in Copenhagen — I wondered exactly to which part of earning what must be thousands a week did Cooper feel a particularly 'deep connection'?"

She skipped to the curtain call, which couldn't come soon enough for her, and wrote, "As he took his bow, hair tousled, barefoot, hipster shirt open, I thought, he isn’t playing John Merrick, he’s playing Adam Driver from 'Girls,' and I’m sitting inside on a hot afternoon doing something I technically hate, which is going to the theatre. I’ve been twice in as many weeks (I can recommend The Play That Goes Wrong, a brilliant slapstick satire about a 1920s murder mystery), and become so insane that I’m even considering Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, in spite of a long-held belief that anyone who likes musicals has no emotions and had no friends as a child. It is absolutely no life."

If it is such a penance to go to the theatre, she really should spare herself — and us — the bother.

Jim Dale's homecoming gets raves

If The Elephant Man returns Joseph Merrick to London where the Leicester-born man lived and died in Victorian England, so Jim Dale — also originally from a place further north than London but who made his home there for a long time before moving to New York where he has lived for the last 35 years — is also back on British soil for a short time, reprising his Off-Broadway show Just Jim Dale at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand — the very theatre that he made his West End debut at 50 years ago.

At least one London critic Michael Billington of The Guardian was at both: "Fifty years ago, as a boy-critic, I reviewed him in a cod-melodrama called The Wayward Way at this very theatre and singled out the 'Nureyev-like leap' with which he rescued the beleaguered heroine. Today, Dale still represents the delight of comedy in motion." He also described how one scene "had me weeping with laughter."

And in The Times, the more youthful Dominic Maxwell (not yet born when Dale made his West End debut) concurred (behind paywall), "Dale has the vitality and versatility of a true old-school showman throughout. This joyful evening is one hell of a homecoming."

Opening this week!
The biggest opening of the week is in the cinema not the theatre, when "London Road" reaches the big screen (on release from June 12). This highly unusual, ground-breaking musical premiered at the National in 2011, and sets verbatim real-life interviews about a community's reaction to the serial murders of prostitutes in their area to music. The entire original London cast that included Kate Fleetwood, Nick Holder and Michael Shaeffer are reunited, newly joined by others that include Olivia Colman and Tom Hardy.

Also not to be missed this week are visits from Sydney Theatre Company (bringing Beckett's Waiting for Godot to the Barbican, opening June 5, with a cast that includes Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Philip Quast and Luke Mullins) and Montreal-based circus troupe The 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts de la Main), who collaborated on Broadway's Pippin (and now bringing a return run of their 2006 show Traces to the Peacock, opening June 10.

The Almeida launches its a season of ancient Greek plays with Oresteia re-imagined for the modern stage in a production opening June 5 with Lia Williams (seen on Broadway in the original National Theatre run of Skylight in 1996 in the role currently being played there by Carey Mulligan). And at the National's Dorfman, Patrick Marber returns to the venue where both Dealer's Choice and Closer were also first seen for The Red Lion, opening June 10 under the direction of Ian Rickson, recently represented on Broadway by The River.

Outside London, Broadway showman Rob Ashford directs and choreographs a "new" Gershwin musical A Damsel in Distress, based on a 1937 film that starred Fred Astaire, opening at Chichester Festival Theatre June 10. Will it follow in the footsteps of Crazy for You to become an international hit? The cast is led by Richard Fleeshman (West End and Broadway's Ghost the Musical), Summer Strallen (Top Hat in the West End) and Sally Ann Triplett (most recently on Broadway in The Last Ship).

Crowd-sourcing for Sondheim
Sondheim's 85th birthday is to be celebrated in London with a gala to be staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Oct. 25 — and the producers are using the crowd-sourcing Kickstarter to fund it. In a video launch o the campaign, Imelda Staunton — currently starring in Gypsy — has said, "This year, Stephen Sondheim turned 85, and some of his old friends here in London – and I’m sure a few young ones – feel that we’d like to do something to celebrate. But we need your help to make it happen." More details here.

Liza Minnelli heading back to the London Palladium
As announced here, An Intimate Evening with Liza Minnelli will return the star to the London Palladium Sept. 20, where she has appeared regularly over the years, for one night only. Previous engagements there have included the legendary concert with her mother Judy Garland in 1964, and subsequent solo runs in 1973, 1978 and 1986. This show, however, will be more unusual: she will be interviewed for 90 minutes live onstage to talk about her career, followed by a few songs for which she will be accompanied by her long-time musical director and pianist Billy Stritch, plus a Q&A session with her fans in the audience.

Rent Boy - the Musical to Receive London premiere
Veteran gay writer David Leddick and composer Andrew Sargent's Rent Boy the Musical is to receive its UK premiere at London's Above the Stag Theatre, opening June 26 for a run to July 26. Set on the night of the "Hookie Awards," the Oscars of the escorting world, the score includes such songs such as "Who Invented The Jockstrap?," "Gay For Pay," "Tops and Bottom" and "The Boyfriend Thing."

For more updates
Follow me on Twitter @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen! And keep checking the international section of playbill.com for major stories.

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