PLAYBILL.COMS THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 22-28: Rally Round the Boys

News   PLAYBILL.COMS THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 22-28: Rally Round the Boys The crystal balls used along Broadway don't always work so well. You finagle the stage debut of Julia Roberts, stuff your Threepenny Opera full of stars and usher in the latest show by probably the most famous male pop star on the planet, Elton John. And what ends up hitting both the box office and critical bells? A thoughtful comedy about a bunch of English students and their florid, fat, old teacher, written by a playwright whose work had previously been damned by Yankee sages as "hopelessly English."

Andrew Knott, Richard Griffiths (center), and James Corden in the National Theatre of Great Britain's The History Boys.
Andrew Knott, Richard Griffiths (center), and James Corden in the National Theatre of Great Britain's The History Boys. Photo by Ivan Kyncl

The play was History Boys by Alan Bennett. It was previously a hit at London's National Theatre, and producers Bob Boyett and Bill Haber rightly insisted on bringing over the entire English cast, even though the only figure among them that could honestly be considered a star (the usual yardstick by which Actors' Equity grants passage to an English performer repeating their work in New York) is Richard Griffiths, who plays the teacher. In doing do, the two producers have likely afforded themselves the biggest success yet born from their three-year-old, first-dibs-on-transfers deal with the National.

The near unanimous range of critical huzzahs led to a bonanza at the box office almost unheard of in the world of plays (at least, plays that don't star Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). Before the week was out, the take was more than $1 million, and a press release trumpeting the news went out. (Producers of less successful ventures usually come down with a bad case of discretion when asked about box office figures.)

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The History Boys also did well by the two award-giving bodies who announced their nominations for the 2005-06 season this week. The Outer Critics Circle nominated it in four categories, while the Drama Desk threw eight nods its way.

The other two Broadway openings of the week didn't fare nearly as well. Lestat—the troubled Elton John-Bernie Taupin musical take on the bloodthirsty world of Anne Rice which had a troubled tryout in San Francisco and didn't find its trip down "The Devil's Road" any smoother on the East Coast—won just a single nod from the Outer Critics, for lead vampire Hugh Panaro, and received exactly one less nomination from the Drama Desk. The Wedding Singer , the new musical take on the 1998 Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy, fared even worse with the Outer Critics (not a single nomination), but colleted a solid eight nods from the Drama Desk. It also did better with the critics, batting about .500 whereas, with Elton and company, it was pretty much a swing and a miss. The fans of Singer found it pleasurable and light, with some appealing performances. The detractors deemed it artificial and derivative, and too reliant on a non-stop parade of jokey '80s references (none of which escaped this child of the decade, not even the musical twist on New Edition's hit "Cool It Now" in the second act number "Single"—talk about obscure!).

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The cast of the first-ever Broadway revival of A Chorus Line was announced this week. The ensemble is the result of a year-long audition process that saw thousands of triple-threats do their best to follow up the terrifying countdown "A-five, six, seven, eight!" Already known were frequent Chicago star Charlotte d'Amboise and The Light in the Piazza’s Michael Berresse, who will play, respectively, Cassie, the down-on-her-luck dancer, and Cassie's former lover Zach, who is now the director of the show for which Cassie has come to audition.

The others were revealed on April 26. And since there's no telling who might emerge from this undertaking as a star, here they all are: Ken Alan (as Bobby), Brad Anderson (Don), Natalie Cortez (Diana), Mara Davi (Maggie), Jessica Lee Goldyn (Val), Deidre Goodwin (Sheila), Tyler Hanes (Larry), James T. Lane, (Richie), Paul McGill (Mark), Heather Parcells (Judy), Michael Paternostro (Greg), Alisan Porter (Bebe), Jeffrey Schecter, Yuka Takara (Connie), Jason Tan (Paul), Chryssie Whitehead (Kristine) and Tony Yazbeck (Al).

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