In Case You Missed It: Jessie Mueller's Earning Raves (Again), and Hedwig's Putting Her Wig Back on the Shelf

News   In Case You Missed It: Jessie Mueller's Earning Raves (Again), and Hedwig's Putting Her Wig Back on the Shelf
 
The Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson new musical Waitress — which announced last week that it would come to Broadway — officially opened Aug. 20 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, with Diane Paulus directing and Jessie Mueller starring.

The show is based on the motion picture written by the late Adrienne Shelly. Nelson wrote the book and the music and lyrics were penned by Grammy winner Bareilles. As with the film, the show is about Jenna, a waitress and expert pie maker, stuck in a small town and a loveless marriage, who is offered a chance of escape by a baking contest in a nearby county.

Read Playbill.com's exclusive interview with Bareilles here.

Given that the show is headed to New York, out-of-town reviews such as these are routinely used by producers and creators to fine tune a show. According to Variety, Waitress could use some fine-tuning.

"While this feminist fairy tale of a show, in which singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles makes an impressive legit bow as a composer, is quite delicious at times," wrote the trade, "it still needs more work — especially in the second act — before it’s a recipe for success."

The producers were right to cast Mueller, however, according to the publication: "Mueller’s performance transcends the show’s imperfections. She’s funny, frisky and likable. She sings Bareilles' songs beautifully, giving every word significance and interest even as the tunes in the second half slip increasingly into thicker sentiment." The Boston Globe, too, thought Mueller was a chief reason to see the show, saying, "Jessie Mueller’s terrific performance in the new musical Waitress at the American Repertory Theater makes one hope she’ll still be starring when the show, helmed by ART artistic director Diane Paulus, debuts on Broadway next spring. The actress brings a weary gravity to the title role of the 'desperately sad' Jenna, along with a luminous singing voice that makes clear why Mueller won a Tony Award last year."

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch took its inch on Broadway and made it a mile.

The 2014 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Revival will play its final performance at the Belasco Theatre Sept. 13 at 3 PM. The production, with a book by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and direction by Michael Mayer, was initially announced as a 16-week limited engagement, but lasted much longer than anyone expected: It turned into a 76-week run.

Though the fact of the edgy rock musical was finally reaching Broadway was news when the venture was first announced, the production also generated excitement as a vehicle for Neil Patrick Harris, a longtime theatre booster and frequent Tonys host. Harris met all expectations, winning a Tony for his performance and playing to sold-out crowds during his run.

Harris was followed by many other Hedwigs, including Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, Mitchell himself (who created the role Off-Broadway), Darren Criss and Taye Diggs, who currently stars.

John Cameron Mitchell compares each Hedwig to a classic superhero.

Beyond Broadway, a national tour of Hedwig will start in San Francisco on Oct. 4, 2016, with productions also being planned for the West End and Australia.

Taye Diggs
Taye Diggs Photo by Joan Marcus

One interesting footnote: when it closes next month, Hedwig will hold the record as the longest-running show to have opened at the Belasco, a theatre that opened back in 1907.

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There was trouble over in England with the new Trevor Nunn production of The War of the Roses, an adaptation of four of Shakespeare's history plays that will play in repertory, beginning performances Sept. 16 at the Rose Theatre, Kingston in South West London.

The show, as one might expect of a Nunn show, has a fine cast — including Joely Richardson, Robert Sheehan and Norwegian actor Kåre Conradi — but not a very diverse one, according to some. Not one of the 20-plus company is an actor of color, and that has led to complaints from both Equity U.K. and the Arts Council.

The dispute ran the way such disputes always have: Equity, assuming its job as protector of actors’ interests, objects when a wider array of its members are not afforded casting opportunities in an instance where they might have; and the producer/director objects to the union meddling in what they believe are their artistic choices and autonomy.

Malcolm Sinclair, the president of Equity U.K., commented, "Whilst wishing every individual actor in the production well, can it be acceptable best practice in 2015 to cast a project such as this with 22 actors but not one actor of color or who apparently identifies themselves as having a disability?"

Equity U.K.’s minority ethnic members committee also chimed in, "To present this benchmark of British heritage in a way that effectively locks minorities out of the cultural picture [literally] flies in the face of the huge conversation taking place in British media at present, of the very real progress made in recent years to increase diversity in our industry."

Nunn, however, said he had a very good reason for the choosing the cast he did. "Having been involved since the early 1970s in the movement to cast, wherever possible, according to the principle of diversity, I am, of course, saddened to discover that Equity has criticised the casting for my current project," he said in a statement. "I took the artistic decision that a trilogy of Shakespeare’s early history plays, telling in documentary detail the story of the English monarchy and English nobility in the second half of the 15th century, should be presented with, as far as possible, historical verisimilitude."

But some very literal-minded folks noted that those claims were contradicted by the fact that Norwegian actor Conradi plays Edward IV, and two British actors, Joely Richardson and Imogen Daines, play the French characters Margaret of Anjou and Joan of Arc.

It was not pointed out, however, that several members of the cast are not actual royals or nobles in real life.

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In further news from across the pond, when Nicholas Hytner, former artistic director of the National Theatre, says he wants to build a new theatre, people listen.

Hytner and his former executive director Nick Starr plan to give their new troupe, London Theatre Company, a brand-new 900-seat theatre created within the new One Tower Bridge development. It is due to open in 2017.

This, as Hytner and Starr, pointed out, would be a novelty. For, like New York, London is full of many old commercial theaters, but very few new ones.

"While London is fortunate in its heritage of Victorian and Edwardian theatres, relatively few new theatres of scale have been built in London in the last hundred years," Hytner and Starr said in a statement. "It feels like the time is right for a new theatre that answers the needs of contemporary theatre-makers and audiences, and which will be the home to our new independent producing company."

The yet-unnamed new theatre (naming rights opportunity!) will be located on the South Bank, and will become the only commercial central London theatre of its scale outside the historic West End.

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Al Pacino
Al Pacino

When you play has only two characters, the replacement of one of the actors is a significant event.

Christopher Denham will join Al Pacino in the Broadway debut of David Mamet’s China Doll, which will begin previews Oct. 21.

Denham replaces Fran Kranz, who had to withdraw from the production due to that classic, all-purpose showbiz reason: scheduling issues. (Who can't rearrange his schedule to make room for a Mamet-Pacino project?)

It has also been announced that the limited engagement, originally scheduled for 87 performances, will now play 97 shows.

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