PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 25-May 1: Working 8 to 11

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 25-May 1: Working 8 to 11
 
The characters in 9 to 5, the new musical that opened this week, may have been enduring standard working-stiff hours this week. But theatre critics and Tony voters were clocking different times, occupied, as they were, almost every evening this past week surveying the final efforts of the Broadway 2008-09 season. Five Broadway shows opened in five days, running up to the Tony consideration cutoff day.
Stars of 9 to 5 and Waiting for Godot
Stars of 9 to 5 and Waiting for Godot Photo by Joan Marcus

Well, actually, five shows opened in four days. Because, yes folks, the unthinkable happened — for the first time in long memory, two Broadway shows opened on the same night, April 30. Neither the producers of 9 to 5 nor those of the new revival of Beckett's Waiting for Godot blinked. They both kept to their pledge that they would open on the final Thursday of the season. Sardi's didn't fall down. Everyone kept their heads. But it was unusual.

Given the circumstances, the New York Times' lead critic, Ben Brantley, could have chosen to share the wealth, and tossed one of the two big shows to second-stringer Charles Isherwood. But hungry Ben kept them both to themselves, loving Godot and not loving 9 to 5 so much. By and large, the other reviewers fell in line with those opinions. Godot, directed by Anthony Page, was deemed a fine, even admirable interpretation of Beckett's existentialist classic, well suited to our worrisome times, and showing off its four stars — Bill Irwin, Nathan Lane, John Goodman and John Glover — to excellent advantage. Goodman, in particular, was hailed as a joy and a revelation as the grandiose Pozzo.

9 to 5 had its advocates; certainly some liked it better than Brantley. But even the supporters admitted that it was simply good entertainment, a bit dated in its feminist storyline, which hewed closely to the 1980 film, and somewhat cut-and-pasted in its influences. Given all that, though, they allowed that it could be a crowd-pleaser with legs, given its nostalgic and familiar storyline.

Carla Gugino and Brian Dennehy in Desire Under the Elms
photo by Liz Lauren

The week began with the Chicago-born, Goodman Theater revival of Desire Under the Elms, which brings back the team of director Robert Falls and actor Brian Dennehy to Broadway. While a few thought the team had failed to tame O'Neill's flawed tale of lust and familial rivalry, most considered the revival brave and daring, a success between the director and stars — who also included Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber — tore at the material with unfettered commitment. The Roundabout Theatre Company did nobody any favors, the critics decreed, by reviving Christopher Hampton's 1970 satire The Philanthropist about a group of insular, and apparently very dull academics. To a man, reviewers found the revival numbingly sleep-inducing, and had pointedly harsh words for star Matthew Broderick, whom they accused of being mannered, monotone, and bordering on non-existent. The fifth Broadway opening of the week, Accent on Youth, was at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. No doubt, after seeing quaking revivals of O'Neill, Schiller, Beckett and August Wilson, and stunning stunts like The Norman Conquests trilogy, Samson Raphaelson's gentle witty 1934 comedy of theatrical manners must have seemed like small potatoes, indeed, to the critics. And so they thought, terming it minor, pleasant enough, good subscriber fare, but nothing to write home about.

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And that's it. The 2008-09 Broadway season officially ended April 30. (The Tony Award nominations will be announced May 5.) There's always next season, though. Part of next season, it was announced this week, will be the New York City premiere of Carrie Fisher's popular solo show Wishful Drinking this fall. The darkly comic autobiographical play, created and performed by actress-writer Fisher and directed by Tony Taccone, has been a hit in regional theatres for more than a year. Wishful Drinking will begin previews on Sept. 22 toward an Oct. 4 opening at Studio 54 — where a lot of drinking went on, back in the day. Other stuff, too.

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