In Case You Missed It: Theatre Mourned the Loss of Too Many Great Talents

News   In Case You Missed It: Theatre Mourned the Loss of Too Many Great Talents
 
Every day, as Sondheim says,a little death. These past days, however, was particularly hard on the theatre community, with stalwart stage animals like Myra Carter and David Margulies making their final exit.

The actor whose death attracted the most attention, perhaps, was Alan Rickman. The British performer was internationally known as the terrorist, Hans Gruber, in "Die Hard" and as the menacing teacher, Severus Snape, in the "Harry Potter" films. But Rickman was classically trained and had dozens of theatre roles under his belt. His career was made when he portrayed a devilishly decadent aristocrat in Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985 in London, later playing the part on Broadway. Broadway would hear his sinuous voice again in Private Lives and Seminar.

Alan Rickman and cast in <i>Seminar</i>
Alan Rickman and cast in Seminar Photo by Jeremy Daniel

But the passing that perhaps hit the stage closest to its heart was that of Brian Bedford. The British-born performer was arguably — actually, for my money, inarguably — one of the great stage actors of his generation. He had a peculiar affinity for the classics, causing the works of Moliere, Shakespeare, Wilde, Shaw and more to come alive in his hands.

Bedford has a strong association with Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where he began working as both actor and director in the early 70s. He would remain devoted to the festival until the end. But, unlike many other actors who were institutions at Stratford, he was also a well-known commodity on the New York Stage. He first appeared on Broadway in 1960 with Five Finger Exercise by Peter Shaffer, and he won a Tony Award for his performance in a 1971 revival of Moliere’s The School for Wives. But it was in the 1990s that he really came into his own as a master thespian, in plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Wilde, Boucicault and Richard Nelson (Two Shakespearean Actors, a rare contemporary play for him, though he played a 19th-century actor in it). He reaped critical acclaim for his every Broadway foray.

By the time he did The Importance of Being Earnest in 2011, a Bedford turn was a Broadway event not to be missed. Seeing him perform, with all the wit, zest, intelligence and charm that entrails, seemed to hold for many theatregoers every intrinsic attraction a theatre performance could. Bedford was the whole package, effortless theatrical delight embodied in one man.

Brian Bedford in <i>The Importance of Being Earnest</i>
Brian Bedford in The Importance of Being Earnest Photo by Joan Marcus

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David Bowie was just beginning to dip his toe into the theatre as a composer, with Lazarus playing Off-Broadway to a sold-out run, when his death on Jan. 10 stunned the world.

The trail-blazing, shapeshifting singer and songwriter had been living with cancer for 18 months, but had told few people. Within hours of his passing, it became clear to many that Lazarus and his latest album "Black Star" (released on Jan. 8) — both of which traffic in themes of mortality — had been intended by Bowie as premeditated and thoughtfully planned artistic farewells. Bowie had, in effect, handled his imminent death the way he has molded much of his life, as a work of art of his own making.

David Bowie
David Bowie

The cast of Lazarus gathered on Jan. 11, as scheduled, in a studio to record the original cast album.

By the end of the week, there was the inevitable talk that the show — inspired by Walter Tevis' 1963 novel "The Man Who Fell to Earth," which was made into a film in 1975 that starred Bowie as an alien trapped on Earth — would transfer to Broadway. The show got mixed reviews when it opened, but that has not hurt its fortunes at the box office. It is scheduled to close Jan. 20.

The New York Post quoted an unnamed Broadway producer who said, "I thought the show was brilliant...but it’s pretty inscrutable. No one thought it was commercial until this week."

***

Broadway had one opening this week. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Michael Frayn’s comedy Noises Off officially opened Jan. 14 at the American Airlines Theatre. The cast included Andrea Martin, Megan Hilty and Rob McClure. Jeremy Herrin directed.

In the world of farce, Frayn's piece of backstage mayhem stands alone. The farce genre went out of fashion decades ago, yet Noises Off remains perennially popular with audiences. It is the farce that even farce-haters love. This is the play’s third visit to Broadway since it debuted on the street in 1983. The first two were critical and popular successes. And now the new one is, too.

"While some tightening of a bolt here and a screw there might marginally improve matters," wrote the Times, "once it hits its lively stride, Mr. Herrin's production rollicks along with machine-tooled precision, churning out belly laughs as if from an assembly line."

Said the AP, "Michael Frayn's farce about putting on a stage farce is breathlessly clever and funny, a staple of the contemporary theater repertoire. How can it be made even funnier? The Roundabout Theatre Company somehow has found a way, armed with inspired casting."

Hilty, who plays the comedy’s classic dumb blonde role, was in particular singled out for praise. "The stiff walk and posture that Megan Hilty has created for her clueless character, a stunningly untalented British stage actress cast for her generous curves, are the gift that keeps on giving," wrote Variety. "Whether she's galumphing around backstage or sashaying through a performance with priceless self-consciousness — delivering every line straight to the audience with a blissful inability to take direction or interact with her fellow cast — Hilty's Brooke Ashton is a sparkling comic caricature that never gets tired." Martin, too, was widely praised.

"Complaints? I've got none. This show is flawless," said the succinct Wall Street Journal.

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