In Case You Missed It: Off-Broadway Shines, Sandy Duncan Doesn't Make It to Neverland and More

News   In Case You Missed It: Off-Broadway Shines, Sandy Duncan Doesn't Make It to Neverland and More It was a big week for Off-Broadway, with openings of New Group's Buried Child and the opening of Off-Broadway transfer The Humans. Plus, news from Neverland and casting in Bikini Bottom.

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The Humans, the Stephen Karam family drama, opened on Broadway this week after an acclaimed Off-Broadway premiere last fall. The show officially opened Feb. 18 following previews that began Jan. 23 at the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Helmed by Joe Mantello, the cast was a ditto of the Off-Broadway ensemble, including Cassie Beck, Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed and Sarah Steele. Producers Scott Rudin and Barry Diller are behind the Broadway transfer.

The production marks the Broadway playwriting debut of Karam, who wrote Sons of the Prophet, a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

If Rudin & Co. were betting the critics would reiterate the accolades they directed at the play last fall, that bet paid off handsomely. (It wasn’t much of a longshot.) "The finest new play of the Broadway season so far — by a long shot — Mr. Karam's drama has been beautifully transferred from Off Broadway," wrote the Times, "with the production's prized virtues intact: a peerless cast, whose members all inhabit their characters as if they've been living in their itchy skins forever; direction from Joe Mantello that stealthily navigates the play's delicate shifts, from witty domestic comedy to painful conflict, and from there to something resembling a goose-pimply chiller; and a set, designed by David Zinn, that perfectly captures the unsettled atmosphere the writing so deftly establishes."

"Each and every character is enormously appealing," said Variety, "and Karam takes care to reveal their guarded secrets with great tenderness, just as Mantello's directorial hand gently advances the play from comedy to tragedy. The revelations of weakness in this close-knit family are not entirely unexpected — lost loves, failed jobs, depression, money troubles, health problems, unpardonable misjudgments and the overwhelming pain of grief and regret."

The Daily News called it, "fresh, funny, piercing and perceptive...Karam has an eye for detail on a near-cellular level, an ear for authentic dialogue and a superlative ability to balance laughter and sorrow."

Of course, dramas without a name playwright or name stars have gotten great reviews in the recent past and not seen a return at the box office. Time will tell if The Humans beats the odds.

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The New Group’s fresh revival of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child officially opened Feb. 17 following previews that began Feb. 2.

The Off-Broadway production features a formidable cast: film stars Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, "Mad Men" star Rich Sommer, Broadway vet Larry Pine, "House of Cards" actor Paul Sparks, as well as Nat Wolff and Taissa Farmiga.

Taissa Farmiga, Nat Wolff and Ed Harris in <i>Buried Child</i>
Taissa Farmiga, Nat Wolff and Ed Harris in Buried Child Photo by Monique Carboni

The production arrives two decades after the last major staging of the famed title. That show, in 1996, also happened to be the Broadway debut of the gothic drama, set in a remote Illinois farmhouse haunted by family secrets.

"Scott Elliott’s uneven revival may be performed in a lower key than the usual interpretations of this American gothic masterwork,” opined the Times. “But Mr. Elliott and his starry cast give us a thoughtful, lucid presentation that's absorbing enough to remind us of why it's always worth revisiting Mr. Shepard's haunted mansion. Buried Child is as effective a portrait as exists of the profound, torturing ambivalence with which we all regard where we come from."

The Hollywood Reporter, however, offered a blistering appraisal, saying, "Seeing Sam Shepard's Buried Child again, 20 years after its last major New York production, is akin to one of the principal themes of the play: you can't go home again. What once seemed so provocative, so daring in its assault on the American family and society in general, now comes across as windy and pretentious, willfully obscure and ponderous with symbolism. At least, that's how it plays in the New Group's off-Broadway revival."

Newsday echoed that sentiment, writing, "This may say something scary about us. But Sam Shepard's Buried Child doesn't feel as upsetting or as comically monstrous as it once did."

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It must have seemed like a lucky bit of casting when the producers of Finding Neverland landed Sandy Duncan to play the role of Madame Du Maurier. The show, after all, is about the author-creator of "Peter Pan" and Duncan’s most famous role is that self-same ageless boy. The actress has played the part on Broadway and in countless tours.

But the dream was over almost before it began. The morning of Feb. 17 the production issued the statement: "The producers of Broadway’s Finding Neverland regretfully announce that the beloved stage and screen actress Sandy Duncan, who recently joined the magical production in, must take an immediate, yet temporary leave of absence from the show due to family obligations. The entire company looks forward to warmly welcoming Ms. Duncan back to Neverland as soon as she’s able to return."

The New York Post reported that she is leaving due to "personal reasons," and could return, but quoted unnamed sources saying she "didn’t work in the role as Madame du Maurier."

Kristy Cates will play the role until an official replacement is named.

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Chicago's American Theater Company has named Will Davis, a New York-based director and choreographer, as its permanent new artistic director, effective immediately.

Will Davis
Will Davis

He succeeds P.J. Paparelli, who died May 21, 2015, of injuries suffered in a car crash in Scotland, where he was vacationing. During its history, Paparelli was essentially the artistic embodiment of the company.

As noted by the Chicago Tribune, Davis will be one of the very few transgender creative leaders of significant American arts institutions.

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The Broadway-aimed The SpongeBob Musical has announced additional casting of principal roles to join Ethan Slater as the titular sponge.

Danny Skinner will make his Broadway debut as SpongeBob's dimwitted starfish bestie Patrick, Gavin Lee (Bert in Mary Poppins) will play the sourpuss squid Squidward, and Nick Blaemire will play the scheming, microscopic villain Plankton. Last we checked, Blaemire is a regular-sized human. That's what we call an acting challenge.

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