PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 3-9: Stick Fly Opens; Once Is Broadway-Bound; Follies Goes West

News   PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 3-9: Stick Fly Opens; Once Is Broadway-Bound; Follies Goes West
 
Broadway newbee Lydia R. Diamond's play Stick Fly opened on Broadway on Dec. 8 at the Cort Theatre. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Dule Hill, Condola Rashad and Mekhi Phifer starred in the comedy about a less-than-peaceful, three-day summer weekend that the LeVay family spends in its generations-owned summer home on Martha's Vineyard. Songwriter Alicia Keys did not star, but you'd be forgiven for thinking she did; the name of the celebrity producer is the biggest thing on the posters for Stick Fly.

Ruben Santiago Hudson and Tracie Thoms in Stick Fly.
Ruben Santiago Hudson and Tracie Thoms in Stick Fly. Photo by Richard Termine

The play seemed to bring out the best prescriptive instincts on the critical corps. Reviewers were mostly impressed with the play as something new and different, if uneven and unwieldy. All agreed the play was "overstuffed" and ought to have been trimmed. "There's a tight, bright, nasty 90-minute play lurking in this sprawling two-and-three-quarter-hour work," wrote Newsday. Still, most reviewers cut Diamond considerable slack on this front. "As over-written as it is," said Hollywood Reporter, "Diamond’s script has enough amusing lines and perceptive observations — particularly about the behavior men learn or reject from their fathers — to keep it engaging."

A few reviews gave Diamond great credit for putting an unfamiliar world — a well-to-do, intellectual, African-American family in which class and race are just a couple of the subjects open to argument — on stage. "Yes, it's a mess," wrote the Wall Street Journal, "but a fascinating one, well directed by Kenny Leon and performed with total persuasiveness by his ensemble cast, and the best parts are so good that you'll be glad to forgive Ms. Diamond when she goes wrong." Others pointed out that, while the characters were interesting and well-spoken, one got few glimpses into their inner lives. Meanwhile, some reviews chided the play's slide into conventional melodrama, while others applauded this same tendency.

The cast received high marks, and Rashad was singled out for her "quietly captivating" portrayal of a maid's daughter with ambitions. Mama Phylicia must be proud.

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Steve Kazee in Once.
photo by Joan Marcus

Once, the folky Irish pop stage musical inspired by the hit independent film, is on a fast track indeed. Producers didn't even wait until the show opened Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop Dec. 6 to tell the world it would move to Broadway soon after. A covey of backers will take the show to Broadway's Jacobs Theatre for a first preview Feb. 28, 2012, and an opening night of March 18. The musical is based on the cult 2006 Irish movie-with-music of the same name, in which an ordinary Guy and a Girl meet over a broken vacuum cleaner and begin composing music for a demo tape, and possibly falling in love. The musical has an interesting array of highly talented creatives, even if none of them quite rate as a household name with American theatregoers. The music and lyrics are by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who won an Oscar for their work. The book is by noted Irish playwright Enda Walsh. John Tiffany, the acclaimed Scottish director of the international success Black Watch, directs. And the cast feature Steve Kazee as Guy and Cristin Milioti as Girl.

You can't really blame the producers for jumping the gun on this one. Word of mouth on the show has been good for weeks. In aiming the show at Broadway before the critics weighed in, the producers obviously showed great faith in the project's appeal. But what did those critics think when the show opened Dec. 6? Ah, there's the rub. Well, some liked it a lot. Others had reservations. The main reservation-haver was the New York Times, which thought Once trucked a little too much in dangerously sentimental cliches. "The script is now steeped in wise and folksy observations about committing to love and taking chances, most of which are given solemn and thickly accented utterance by Girl." Still, the Times liked the music very much and had other positive things to say. But no doubt producers wished Ben Brantley had written something closer to the review that ran in Hollywood Reporter, which said "this bewitching stage adaptation arguably improves on the movie, expanding its emotional breadth and elevating it stylistically while remaining true to the original's raw fragility."

Ron Raines and Bernadette Peters in Follies.
photo by Joan Marcus

Some Broadway observers have groused that the critically acclaimed and popular Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies is not being allowed to stay at the Marquis Theatre past Jan. 22 (the show was always considered a limited engagement). But at least the show will have a place to go when it is kicked to Broadway's curb.

It was announced this week that Follies, which began life at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will move on to Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre for a six-week run, May 3-June 9, 2012. Some cast changes are likely, but many in the Broadway cast are expected to Go West.

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In other Center Theatre Group news, it was confirmed that the Off-Broadway company of Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, the drama about the race and change in an American neighborhood, will reunite for a Jan. 11-Feb. 26, 2012, engagement at CTG's Mark Taper Forum.

Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos and Frank Wood will reteam for the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, which means that Broadway will likely get the original cast as well, as CTG had previously mentioned that this production is Broadway-aimed for 2012.

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If you need to cast an actor in the role of basketball legend Larry Bird, you might as well hire a 6-foot-5-inch former basketball player with a sports-pages-ready name.

The producers of the upcoming Broadway sports play Magic/Bird — about the relationship between Bird and Magic Johnson — announced that they had found their Larry in one Tug Coker, a former NCAA college basketball player with film, stage and TV credits. Coker (who is, of course, a Celtics fan) — who won't have to be taught how to dribble — will make his Broadway debut in the drama. No theatre has been named.

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