PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 5-11: Beginner's Luck

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 5-11: Beginner's Luck Less than three months into his five-year term as the new artistic director of the Royal National Theatre—arguably the most important job in the English theatre—Nicholas Hytner appears to be a resounding success.

His debut offering, Jerry Springer—The Opera, was not only a hit, but is the sensation of the moment in London. It was announced this week that the odd, mordantly witty show, which plants talk show host Jerry Springer in hell moderating a debate between God and the Devil, will transfer to the West End's Cambridge Theatre. Hytner's other offerings have also hit a bullseye. A new revival of Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, starring Simon Russell Beale, and the stage premiere of His Girl Friday, adapted by John Guare from The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and directed by Jack O'Brien, were both warmly embraced. And not just by the English press. The New York Times devoted space to both shows and the broadsheet appears to be giving Hynter its seal of approval. This week began previews on what is a good bet to ring the bell again: Kenneth Branagh's RNT debut in David Mamet's play Edmond. Hytner's immediate good fortune is a welcome antidote for the National, which was the target of years of abuse during the reign of its previous director Trevor Nunn. Nunn was accused of using the nonprofit as a shelter for too many obviously commercial, West End-bait musicals, like Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady. Those criticisms may have inspired Hytner to begin his reign with an experimental work like Jerry Springer. Nunn must have had a bitter laugh when he heard the news that Springer would graduate to the West End. A New York work ripe for graduation is I Am My Own Wife, Doug Wright's peculiar and acclaimed one-person examination of the life of that oddity of 20th-century German history, Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf. The play was extended yet again this week, to Aug. 3, giving commercial producers more time to mull over the drama's future. Several producers, including Carole Shorenstein Hays (Take Me Out) have expressed interest. Both Broadway and Off-Broadway are possibilities. No decision has been made, but one is expected any day.

John Cullum began his career in edgy theatre productions and seems to want to conclude it that way as well. After a long break from the stage, the 73-year-old, two-time Tony winner took a big chance on an absurd show called Urinetown—and ended up staying with the hit for more than two years. Now he has signed up to star in Erin Cressida Wilson, Mike Craver and Jack Herrick's Wilder, scheduled to begin previews at Playwrights Horizons Oct. 16. He'll play a man looking back on his life. The show is described as an "erotic chamber musical" which "playfully and poetically explores a tangled landscape of Oedipal longing." Hm. Well, Cullum's made long shots pay off before.

(L-R) A scene from <i>Jerry Springer</i>
(L-R) A scene from Jerry Springer (Photo by Catherine Ashmore (<i>Springer</i>), Carol Rosegg (<i>Wife</i>))