In Case You Missed It: Bette Midler's Return and BroadwayCon's Debut!

US/Canada   In Case You Missed It: Bette Midler's Return and BroadwayCon's Debut!
 
The theatre world fell into a collective swoon Jan. 19 when it was announced that stage and screen star Bette Midler would return to the Broadway in a revival of the 1964 musical, Hello, Dolly! Plus, Mother Courage opened, Mark Rylance earned an Oscar nod and BroadwayCon launched a new era of fandom.

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If Moses had come down from Mount Sinai with a third tablet, you couldn’t have gotten a bigger reaction than the one from the announcement of Better Middler taking on the title role in the upcoming revival of Hello, Dolly!

Midler was on Broadway in 2013 in the solo show I’ll Eat You Last, playing legendary Hollywood agent Sue Mengers. At the time, she talked about her trepidation about getting back on the stage after so many years, and assured that she would never do so again. Still, the idea was floated even back then by several critics and producers that she would be a perfect fit for the Jerry Herman musical. If only she could be persuaded...

Bette Midler
Bette Midler Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Well, someone came up with the magic combination of words and dollars, for the Divine Miss M is coming back to town. Jerry Zaks will direct, and Warren Carlyle will choreograph the production, which will begin Broadway previews March 13, 2017, and open April 20 at a theatre to be announced. Scott Rudin is the producer, and, to prepare, he has bought himself a new, extra-large safe to store all the money he’ll be making on the show.

Jerry Herman gave his stamp of approval, saying in a statement, "Who is out there that has the necessary stature, warmth, the incredible talent and ability, and especially the singular, outsized personality that I was looking for in a 21st century Dolly? Only one person: Bette Midler." ***

Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway production of Richard Greenberg's new play, Our Mother's Brief Affair, opened Jan. 20 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with Linda Lavin playing matriarch Anna in Greenberg's family drama about love and secrets, and Lynne Meadow directing.

Given the stature of Lavin as a stage actress, the reviews were as much an appraisal of her performance as they were of the new play. Most critics liked her better than they liked the play. Though some say that even mighty Lavin was beaten by the role.

The New York Times has the most positive take on the battle of actress versus play, saying, "Anna is but the latest addition to a memorable gallery of sharp-tongued Jewish mothers created by Ms. Lavin during the past several decades...But none of those roles asked quite as much of her as Anna, who is required to exist in both middle and old age, in recollection and reality, sometimes all at once. Ms. Lavin fulfills these demands with such thoroughness and subtlety that I wish the play that surrounds her were more compellingly realized."

Variety, however, thought she was defeated by the assignment, writing, "Not even the sainted Linda Lavin can save the deeply unpleasant character she plays in Our Mother's Brief Affair, a lazy play by Richard Greenberg...Stubbornly lacking in dramatic tension, the uneventful narrative features a mean-spirited woman who may or may not be on her deathbed, recounting a closely held secret to her disagreeable grown children."

John Procaccino, Linda Lavin, Greg Keller and Kate Arrington
John Procaccino, Linda Lavin, Greg Keller and Kate Arrington Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Hollywood Reporter agreed, saying, "It takes some doing to stifle the prickly humor of Linda Lavin, but Our Mother's Brief Affair makes her character both an unreliable narrator and one who's astringent to the point of unpleasantness." The trade called the drama "A madly overworked but underdeveloped little piece," while the Daily News said, "the play is a snooze...a script that is undercooked and overwritten at the same time," and New York magazine called it "entertaining but threadbare."

New York magazine also suggested that maybe it was time for Lavin to play a part for which she wasn't so well suited: "Sometimes one would like to see Lavin clawing her way out of a role instead of slipping so smoothly into it."

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It was a miracle that the new staging of Brecht's classic Mother Courage and Her Children at Classic Stage Company opened at all. It had lost its star and seeming raison d’etre recently when Tonya Pinkins, amid much rancor and exchange of words with director Brian Kulick, walked out shortly before the set premiere date. But open it did, with Kecia Lewis in the title role. Many reviews noted that Lewis was still calling for lines and sometimes reading from the script.

The Times liked what they saw. "Ms. Lewis's commanding performance would be impressive under any circumstances," the paper wrote, "but the drama surrounding her undertaking the part makes the achievement all the more remarkable...Ms. Lewis's rendering...was so powerful, complex and persuasive."

Deadline said, "Lewis was…mesmerizing as a woman addicted to survival yet able to reveal a beating heart at moments that make Brecht's text less didactic than it often is thought to be." AM New York, however, disagreed, saying, "On the whole, the production is undeveloped and unfocused," and "Lewis…is still finding her way in the role." Nonetheless, the paper added, "She has moments of great authority."

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The Huntington Theatre Company's hit stage adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces, which ended Dec. 20, looks like its headed to Broadway. Or London. Either way, it's going beyond Boston, where it has set box-office records for the theatre.

Nick Offerman, Talene Monahon and Anita Gillette
Nick Offerman, Talene Monahon and Anita Gillette

The show is now being prepped for Broadway, according to a report in The New York Daily News. Quoting unnamed "insiders," the News reported Jan. 19 that "the creatives will be fine-tuning the production and hoping for a run either in London or another U.S. city before Broadway next season."

It was the highest-grossing show in HTC's 33-year history, according to the Boston Globe. The show, which starred "Parks and Recreation"'s Nick Offerman, earned more than $2.1 million in box-office sales.

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Claire van Kampen’s play Farinelli and The King, which made its debut at Shakespeare's Globe, may be headed to New York in November, according to London's Daily Mail. The New York production would again star Mark Rylance, who happens to be married to the playwright. Following its run at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe, the drama played London's Duke of York's Theatre in September 2015.

Set in 18th-century Spain, the play tells the true story of Farinelli, once the world's most famous castrato and one of the greatest celebrities of his time, and his decision to trade fame and fortune in the opera houses of Europe for a life of servitude at the court of King Philippe V of Spain (played by Rylance).

If it came to New York, the attraction would arrive during an interesting transitional period for Rylance. For London theatergoers, Rylance is a legend, as the man who led the Globe as its artistic director for many years. To New York theatergoers, Rylance is a star, a collector of Tony Awards whose every stage turn is an occasion for excitement. But for the average American, Mark Rylance is just a guy who prompts the question, "Where do I know him from?"

That is probably about to change. Rylance was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Stephen Spielberg's Cold War drama "Bridge of Spies," his most high-profile film part to date. He is also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role, and may very well win. Hollywood has finally discovered Rylance's talents, and moviegoers are beginning to appreciate the actor, as well. It may be enough for them to buy tickets to a play with a name as funny as Farinelli and The King.

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The Public Theater and director Thomas Kail is gathering together quite a cast for its Sarah Burgess' comedy-drama Dry Powder. Recently announced for the cast are "Homeland" star Claire Danes and film and "Simpsons" actor Hank Azaria. The cast also includes "The Office"'s John Krasinski.

The last time Danes appeared on a New York stage was on the curious occasion when she appeared in Tamar Ragoff's multimedia performance piece Edith & Jenny at P.S. 122 in 2007. (You’re forgiven if you missed that one.)

Burgess' new play is about Rick, a private equity dude (Azaria) who throws himself an extravagant engagement party the same week as his firm forces massive layoffs at a national grocery chain. Danes plays Jenny, an even more odious character, who advises Rick to damn the bad-PR storm and squeeze every last penny out of the company, no matter the consequences.

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Speaking of bad PR, David Mamet's latest play, China Doll, which opened on Broadway last fall to some of the more negative reviews of the season, had reportedly turned a profit — likely thanks to its star, Al Pacino.

The New York Times reported that the drama, about a one-time power broker whose world is closing in around him, has recouped its $3.7 million investment and is now operating in the black. This, despite the audience-draining reviews and a six-show-a-week schedule. Now, that's some star power.

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Perhaps the most theatre-y event in all of theatredom commenced Jan. 22 at the New York Hilton Midtown, when the first-ever BroadwayCon — a three-day event packed with performances, original cast reunions and in-depth panels—got underway.

Broadway's answer to the massively popular phenomenon Comic Con, the occurrence will ran through Jan. 24., giving Broadway's most effusive fans the chance to interact with performers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, writers, designers and others. BroadwayCon was created by Melissa Anelli and Stephanie Dornhelm and their company, Mischief Management. Playbill partnered with BroadwayCon to present the event.

The convention attracted thousands of theatre fans and, yes, just as as Comic Con, some of them dressed as their favorite theatre character. According to an early pre-convention report from the New York Times, "nearly 80 percent of the registrants are female; 75 percent are from outside the state of New York; and 50 percent are 30 or younger."

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