In Case You Missed It: Critics Weigh in on Mamet and Pacino as Hamilton Revolutionizes "Star Wars"

News   In Case You Missed It: Critics Weigh in on Mamet and Pacino as Hamilton Revolutionizes "Star Wars" Playwright David Mamet and actor Al Pacino revealed their latest collaboration to the press this week, while "Star Wars" director J.J. Abrams announced that Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was taking a trip to Takodana.

China Doll, the much-in-the-news David Mamet two-hander starring Al Pacino, officially opens on Broadway Dec. 4. That would seem to mean that reviews of the new drama would begin to appear online late in the day and in the papers Dec. 5. This opening date is highly unusual in that most producers try to avoid a Friday opening, the theory being that nobody reads theatre reviews that come out on Saturday. Some observers accused the producers of setting up such a schedule in order to downplay what they expected to be bad reviews.

Well, critics are an independent bunch. And in spite of the official opening, reviews of China Doll began to appear early on Dec. 4. And those bad reviews the producers may have been fearing? They did, indeed, come.

"There has been more than enough evidence in the past to certify that Mr. Pacino is a bona fide genius, so let's assume that there are reasons for what he's doing here," said The New York Times, giving Pacino the benefit of the doubt. "Traditionally, Mr. Mamet's plays are conducted at high velocity, with his characters spraying words like machine-gun bullets...But fast talk is rare in China Doll, meaning that it creeps, hunched and sluggish, instead of rushing forward."

Variety issued a plea: "Come back, come back, wherever you are, David Mamet. All is forgiven (even Race) if you will just quit jerking us around on non-plays like China Doll and get a grip." The Daily News quipped, "David Mamet said his new play, written for frequent muse, Al Pacino, would be ‘better than oral sex.’ Oral sex? China Doll is not even better than oral surgery."

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Les Misérables, the ever-returning cat of Broadway, said goodbye this week to the third of its seemingly endless lives.

The British mega-musical has opened on Broadway three separate times since the late '80s, and now it will have closed three times. Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s now-and-future-producer, announced Dec. 2 that his current production of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s show will end its run Sept. 4, 2016, at the Imperial Theatre. That's quite a long lead time, and gives fans of the show plenty of time to buy tickets (as well as the opportunity for Mackintosh to extend the production if he sees fit). A new U.S. tour of the musical will launch in 2017.

This new production of the musical will have given 1,026 performances over two-and-a-half years. That's a better show than the Les Miz 2.0 of 2006, which clocked only 463 performance, but far short of the original 1987 mounting, which, at 6,680 performances, will probably never be bested by any further Broadway visitation of the show.

Mackintosh recently announced that his new London mounting of Miss Saigon will come to Broadway this spring. So, for a few months next summer, with both Les Miz and Saigon on the boards, New Yorkers can imagine it's 1991 all over again.

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The requisite Hamilton story of the week is a bit snazzier than usual, as well as being about as culturally of the moment as possible.

It was learned Nov. 30 that Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and star of the Broadway phenomenon, also had a hand in another upcoming artist juggernaut, the film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." In an appearance on the NBC-TV talk show "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," "Star Wars" director J.J. Abrams said that he collaborated with Miranda on music for an updated version of the iconic cantina scene from the very first "Star Wars" movie. You know, the one where Luke and Obi-Wan meet and hire Han Solo in a bar peopled by all the dastardly aliens passing through that "hive of scum and villainy," Mos Eisley. (Yes, I know my "Star Wars.")

Abrams said the scene will take place in a "watering hole" on the planet of Takodana, run by alien pirate Maz Kanata. The alien customers will be created by the Disney-owned The Muppets Studio, whose predecessor, The Jim Henson Company, created both The Muppets and the "Stars Wars" character Yoda. Miranda has suppled the music they are dancing to in that scene.

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Progress on the Sheryl Crow musicalization of the movie Diner continues. The show, which debuted at the Signature Theatre in Virginia is back for a new incarnation that began performances Dec. 2. The new show is tucked away at the Delaware Theatre Company.

Derek Klena and Matthew James Thomas, who starred in the Signature world premiere, are again in the cast. Diner is directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who also helmed the Signature premiere.

The Signature premiere was greeted with positive reviews from critics and sold out its entire run. Nonetheless, additional work has been done on the musical over the past year. Diner has a book by the movie’s screenwriter and director, Barry Levinson, and an original score by Crow.

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Given how the fast-diminishing world of theatre journalism is no longer producing notable careers, the retirement of anybody who has managed to eek a life out of that line of work must count as notable news.

Frank Rizzo is a name recognized by anyone who followed theatre in New England. He has served as a full-time theatre writer at the Hartford Courant for nearly 34 years, and has also long contributed reviews to Variety. Rizzo announced Nov. 29 that he had accepted a buyout from the Courant and would be leaving his position to "pursue other cool projects." He posted a farewell letter to his readers in his column "Behind the Curtain," saying, "It's been a hell of a theatrical run… I couldn't have had a better audience of smart, discriminating and engaged readers who kept me on my toes, told me what they thought, and was an endless source of encouragement and inspiration."

He added that he would continue to write about theatre in Connecticut, and beyond.

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