PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 11-17: Winning Streak

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 11-17: Winning Streak
 
If only August Wilson were alive to see the reviews of director Bartlett Sher's Lincoln Center Theater production of his drama Joe Turner's Come and Gone — some of the best ever collected by a Wilson play, and certainly the best ever won for a Wilson revival in New York.
August Wilson's widow Costanza Romero and Bartlett Sher
August Wilson's widow Costanza Romero and Bartlett Sher Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Critics have often remarked that they considered this 1988 work, set in the 1910s, to be Wilson's best effort. It was hard for the public at large to know what to make of those assertions, since the original production, ahem, came and went pretty fast 20 years ago and hasn't been seen on Manhattan Island since.

Well, with the April 16 opening at the Belasco Theatre, the critics began raving anew about the play (including some who never saw the original), and now theatregoers can go and see what they're talking about. Critics rarely go out on a limb with the kind of accolades they wreathed Joe Turner with. "A drama of indisputable greatness," said the Times. "Dizzyingly powerful or beautiful (or both)," wrote the Daily News. "His masterwork," said Newsday. It's as if the reviewers were trying to tell the theatre historians their business.

Critics also uniformly praised Sher's production as wonderfully present, yet magically ethereal, and many chose not to single out individual cast members in order to pay proper homage to the ensemble. That ensemble included Chad L. Coleman, Roger Robinson, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Michael Cummings, Aunjanue Ellis, Danai Gurira, Andre Holland, Arliss Howard, Ernie Hudson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Amari Rose Leigh.

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The press also strained this week to make a solid case for Next to Normal, the new musical that debuted on Broadway after previous productions at Second Stage and Washington's Arena Stage. Hey, when you're campaigning for a musical about a housewife with bi-polar disorder, you've got to lead your reader by the hand a little.

The company of Next to Normal
photo by Joan Marcus

The scribes found the reworked show by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) to be clearer and much improved. Above that, they admired the work for its bravery and boldness, its sincerity and emotional directness, and loved Alice Ripley, who was commended for giving a towering performance as the mother. Moreover, they were grateful for it being on Broadway at all. As the Chicago Tribune put it, producer "[David] Stone made his money on Wicked. In the artistic universe, this is how you are supposed to spend it." What a spring this is turning out to be on Broadway. God of Carnage, Exit the King, Irene's Vow, West Side Story, reasons to be pretty, Hair, Rock of Ages, Next to Normal and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. The winning streak, critically speaking, keeps going. In a tough economy, when critics were probably subconsciously looking for something to cheer about rather than not, producers and artists stepped up and gave it to them in spades.

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A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Rachel Weisz as Blanche DuBois under the direction of Rob Ashford, will launch the Donmar Warehouse's new season, beginning performances July 23.

The season will also include a revival of Spanish playwright Pedro Calderon de la Barca's Life is a Dream, with Dominic West making his Donmar debut in Jonathan Munby's production, and Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage directing Alfred Molina as artist Mark Rothko in the world premiere of John Logan's Red.

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Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre — partly responsible for the praised Broadway production of Next to Normal — has stepped up to help produce the New York premiere of the new musical Vanities. The show had been Broadway-bound, but producers decided to postpone the New York bow in light of the troubled economy.

The personnel connected to the show remain the same. Judith Ivey directs stars Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles, and Anneliese van der Pol. The show is penned by Jack Heifner (book) and David Kirshenbaum (music and lyrics), based on Heifner's popular play about a trio of Texas cheerleaders and how they change (or don't) over the years.

Sarah Stiles, Lauren Kennedy and Anneliese van der Pol in the Pasadena Playhouse run of <i>Vanities</i>.
Sarah Stiles, Lauren Kennedy and Anneliese van der Pol in the Pasadena Playhouse run of Vanities. Photo by Craig Schwartz
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