PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 15-21: Stormy Weather

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 15-21: Stormy Weather
 
The Julia Roberts play opened this week.
Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper in The Threepenny Opera.
Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper in The Threepenny Opera. Joan Marcus

Yes, of course, it had a name. Three Days of Rain was the handle, a work by a playwright of some note in theatre circles—name of Richard Greenberg, I believe. And it was directed by Joe Mantello, who has won a Tony Award or two. But to the hoi polloi and the intellectual elite alike, April 19 was the night Julia Roberts made her official Broadway debut.

Certainly, that's the way the critics treated the event. There was precious little analysis in the notices that hit the sidewalks early Thursday morn. The tabloids pushed reviews up near the front (page 3 in the Daily News, page 6 in the Post), and the Times actually accompanied Ben Brantley's review with a photograph of Roberts signing autographs. The critics cut right to the chase, letting the reader know in graph one exactly what they thought of the Girl of the Golden West. Others took the ever-popular tack that their reviews didn't matter a jot, because the run was sold out and the producers and the Julia-loving public couldn't care in the least what some egghead preached. (This dullest of tools in the drama critics' tool-kit was also pulled out by many a poor craftsman to saw down the Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick The Odd Couple earlier this season.)

The general verdict on Roberts: game, but stiff, small-voiced and not up to the task. But that wasn't all. Many critics found their estimation of the work—long regarded as one of Greenberg's finest efforts—wasn't as good as they remembered it back in 1997.

Despite all this, at last report the run still appears to be sold out.

*** The critics' mood didn't improve appreciably 24 hours later, when their ratings of the new Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera were made public. Scott Elliott, the New Group artistic director who is a critics' darling Off-Broadway, was searching for his first critical Broadway success with this new adaptation, fashioned by his frequent colleague, Wallace Shawn. (He's had popular success with his Roundabout treatment of The Women.) He'll have to wait a little longer. Reviewers were not impressed with what many viewed as the empty shock and muddled decadence of the director's vision. One artist to receive uniformly high marks was the seasoned old trouper Jim Dale, who played Mr. Peachum with a Music Hall dash.

The first Broadway opening of the week came on April 16 with the bow of Lincoln Center Theater's revival of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing, and it fared best of the three. While some critics found the 1935 work dated, others detected life in the old boy still and were pleased with the juicy work of stars Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Wanamaker and others.

***

After the opening of his production of Three Days of Rain , director Joe Mantello left for London to stage the UK premiere of Stephen Schwartz's Wicked. He'll soon be joined by an old friend: Idina Menzel has opted to reprise her Tony-winning performance as the green-faced Elphaba in the West End staging. Wicked officially opens at London's Victoria Apollo on Sept. 27. Previews are set to begin Sept. 7.

***

No one's suggesting an act of collusion on the part of America's regional theatres, but it did seem this week like many of them decided to announce their coming seasons at the exact same time. (What? You guys think theatre journalists don't have enough to write about in April?)

Among the more interesting coming attractions: Cambridge, Massachusetts' American Repertory Theatre will collaborate with the Dutch company Toneelgroep Amsterdam on a stage adaptation of the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire; Kate Burton will team again with her Hedda Gabler director Nicholas Martin on a new production of The Cherry Orchard at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, which will also present world premieres of Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius and Noah Haidle's Persephone; Yale Rep will produce a new work by The Clean House playwright Sarah Ruhl called Eurydice, a re-imagining of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through the eyes of its heroine; Hotel Cassiopeia, the new play by Charles L. Mee and directed by Anne Bogart, will have its first post-Humana Festival production at Chicago's Court Theatre; D.C.'s Arena Stage's will have the world premieres of the musical The Women of Brewster Place, written by the creator of the cult Off-Broadway show Zanna, Don't!, and the new family musical, A Civil War Christmas, by Paula Vogel; and Ford's Theatre in D.C. and Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut will share a production of the new Capra-inspired musical Meet John Doe, to be directed by Eric Schaeffer.

***

Finally, the Pulitzer people saved themselves $10,000 this year.

The esteemed body, which annually bestows one of the most coveted trinkets in theatredom, decided not to give out a Pulitzer Prize for Drama

for the first time since 1997. To add insult to injury, the jurors made public the three finalists they declined to honor. Those scribes shouldn't feel too bad, though. The Pulitzer poobahs have often found themselves in an ungenerous mood. The first such instance was in 1917—which, strangely, also happened to have been the very year they invented the prize. Very passive-aggressive if you ask me.

Paul Rudd and Julia Roberts in <i>Three Days of Rain</i>.
Paul Rudd and Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain.
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