PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 16-22: Wonderland, Sister Act and High Open; Taymor's Web Untangled

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 16-22: Wonderland, Sister Act and High Open; Taymor's Web Untangled
 
As befitting a star of her caliber, Kathleen Turner made a dramatic entrance and a dramatic exit this week. Her new vehicle, a soapy play called High, by Matthew Lombardo, opened on Broadway April 19, and will close five days later, it was announced.

Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit
Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit Photo by Joan Marcus

The play, about an addict, an enabler and a sponsor, starred Turner as — pause — a nun. Well, a flinty, hard-as-nails, funny nun, one with a dark past. So there! The reviews actually weren't as bad as that open-and-shut reaction might suggest. Critics gave Turner her due, treating her turn as the honorable work of someone now considered a stage veteran. Many expressed open surprise at finding themselves engaged at first with the relationship between her nun and a recovering drug addict named Cody, played by Evan Jonigkeit. But in the final assessment, most agreed it wasn't enough to overcome the deficiencies of the play's "tritely sensational movie-of-the-week plotting and boilerplate construction."

I'm sure there are some out there who think another Broadway opening this week, Wonderland, should have been given the hook as quickly as High. Certainly, the critics gave the Frank Wildhorn musical a coat of shellac that would hold the paneling of any basement den for a good decade or so.

I'm guessing that Wildhorn and his quixotic producers expect no less. As the Times aptly put it, "Mr. Wildhorn's absence from Broadway since his 2004 adaptation of Dracula has not exactly occasioned widespread hand-wringing, and his competent rendering of various pop styles in Wonderland probably won't win him a host of converts. Mr. Murphy's lyrics are of a matching blandness, with Alice's earnest ballads of self-discovery amply stocked in cliché." The rest of the reviews ran along those lines, with levels of sarcasm and snarkiness varying in accordance with the accepted prose of the publication. (Time Out New York mocked the show with a Lewis Carroll-like poem.) "Frank Wildhorn keeps coming back," said the Hollywood Reporter, almost mournfully, "like indigestion."

Patina Miller in Sister Act.
photo by Joan Marcus

Brought into proximity with those two premieres, the unveiling of Sister Act — the third Broadway debut of the week — could only look like a sunny occasion by comparison. And indeed, the musical — based on the Whoopi Goldberg movie of the same name and produced by the actress — had a healthy number of supporters. It was called a "feel-good crowd-pleaser," "one of the season's happiest surprises," and full of "distinct and surprising charms." (Take note of all those "surprises"; critics didn't expect much from this show, despite its Alan Menken pedigree.)

However, is seems Sister Act may have a challenge in rustling up converts, coming as it has after another religion-oriented Broadway premiere. More than a couple reviews compared it, not favorably, to The Book of Mormon, the cheeky, edgy hit of the spring. These detractors — the kind for whom the use of the terms "feel-good" and "entertaining" are not always employed as a compliment — noted that, next to the work of the "South Park" boys, Sister Act "slumps back into bland musical-theatre grooves and mostly lacks the light of invigorating inspiration" and was — in the quesy-making metaphor of the week — "a harmless Broadway filler: an underseasoned Philly cheese steak." ***

Off-Broadway, the theatre company Punchdrunk's immersive, Macbeth-inspired, theatrical experience Sleep No More — in which attendees follow the wordless actions of the actors through an invented hotel's worth of rooms — will haunt Chelsea a bit longer. Producers have released tickets through June 25, after the site-specific event opened to strong reviews on April 13.

Sleep No More allows theatregoers to freely explore the dark environment, where scenes, tableaux and scenarios play out, conjuring the world and themes of Shakespeare's bloody tale. Audiences members don masks and must be silent during the experience (now there's a modern novelty!), and are encouraged to open drawers, pull back curtains, read private notes and journals as they navigate the shadowy, music-filled world. The production was boosted by healthy bits of coverage in the New York Times and New York Post.

The actors in the piece must consider the success of the enterprise a sort of mixed blessing. Due to the mysterious nature of the piece, Punchdrunk has not announced casting for Sleep No More. Now, that's no way to get an agent!

***

Crystal A. Dickinson, Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos in Clybourne Park at Playwrights Horizons in 2010.
photo by Joan Marcus

Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park was the somewhat-surprising winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, prevailing in a year when everyone acknowledged there was no frontrunner. The victory instantly raised the profile of the writer, a former Broadway and Off-Broadway actor of note who has been writing plays with moderate-to-good success for a decade.

Clybourne Park, Norris' riff on A Raisin in the Sun that examined race relations and the effects of modern gentrification, opened at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons in February 2010. It has since opened in London's West End, and won the Olivier Award for Best Play. Will all this attention mean that Norris will receive his first Broadway production? Well, it didn't for Lynn Nottage's Ruined, which won the Pulitzer in 2009, so don't hold you breath. But, here's a guess. The next Norris work will be produced by Lincoln Center Theater. They love a proven success over there. Particularly one that's spent some time in London.

***

Color me clueless, but can someone explain to me the stampede of movie star interest in the coming film version of the willfully cheesy, 1980s-set, jukebox musical Rock of Ages?

Every star in Hollywood, it seems, has been reported as being intensely interested in this project. Already cast in the feature are Russell Brand as Lonny, Alec Baldwin as Dennis, Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, Mary J. Blige as Justice and Paul Giamatti as the manager of the rock band. This week brought the news that Catherine Zeta-Jones, who earned a Tony Award for her Broadway debut in the recent revival of A Little Night Music, will play the mayor's wife in the Warner Bros./New Line film. The character is described as a kind of morally bent Tipper Gore and Anita Bryant mix — the sort that would sing Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

***

Kate Whoriskey
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Kate Whoriskey has stepped down as artistic director of Seattle's troubled Intiman Theatre and will return to New York City. Whoriskey's departure comes on the heels of the Intiman board of trustees' April 18 announcement that it had canceled the remainder of its 2011 season and would shut its doors in the face of mounting financial difficulties. The Tony-winning theatre also laid off its staff due to financial limitations.

Whoriskey, whose last New York stage projects were the short-lived Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker and the Pulitzer Prize-winning hit Ruined, was selected by Barlett Sher as his successor. Sher departed the Intiman in spring 2010 to become the resident director of Lincoln Center Theater.

***

The 3 PM performance of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark April 17 at the Foxwoods Theatre marked the final chance for audiences to see director/co-creator Julie Taymor's original vision for the musical. The show began previews Nov. 28, 2010, but has yet to officially open, although numerous critics filed mostly negative reviews in February. The production will now go into hibernation as its prepares Spider-Man: 2.0 (our title, not theirs).

Meanwhile, Christopher Tierney — the actor who plummeted 30 feet during the Dec. 20, 2010, performance of Spider-Man, becoming the musical's most famous victim — was given the green light to return to the production. And he actually is returning! Tierney is expected to be in rehearsal on April 25, according to the Associated Press. At a higher salary, I hope.

Carly Rose Sonenclar, Janet Dacal, Darren Ritchie, Kate Shindle, Karen Mason and cast
Carly Rose Sonenclar, Janet Dacal, Darren Ritchie, Kate Shindle, Karen Mason and cast
Today’s Most Popular News: