Just when the straight play season on Broadway was turning into a Doubt rout, Martin McDonagh showed up and knocked all the critics out of their partial coma with the electrifying and eerie The Pillowman. The play opened at the Booth on April 10 and—though the New York theatre press has its share of McDonagh patrons—it seemed to take many a reviewer by surprise. Happy to be unexpectedly excited by something, the critics churned out a batch of enthusiastic reviews which nearly matched those won by Doubt in their number and uniform positivity (though there was considerably more disparity among the notices as to what exactly what the layered Pillowman, both nightmarish drama and gallows comedy, was about.)
The unexpected turn of events finally gave the theatre community a play beside Doubt that they could hash out over dinner without running out of conversation by the time the entrees arrived. Among the topics it introduced: how McDonagh, everyone's favorite sado-naturalistic Irish playwright, has entered a new, more mature stage in his writing; and how Billy Crudup, Jeff Goldblum, Zeljko Ivanek and Michael Stuhlbarg have registered performances destined to be regarded among their careers' best. At this point, few think Pillowman is going to knock Doubt out of the box, come awards time. But at least it's planted a seed of, well, doubt.
Elsewhere on Broadway, it was Charlotte d'Amboise week at the Al Hirschfeld. The one-time standby made her New York debut as the temporary Charity in the finally-arrived Broadway revival of Sweet Charity. D'Amboise performed the role for the show's entire Boston run, after headliner Christina Applegate broke her foot in Chicago. Applegate is due to take over on April 18. A few story-scenting New York critics intend to take in d'Amboise's performance and mention it in their review of the revival. Stand-alone critiques of d'Amboise's work, however, seem to be unlikely.
*** The Roundabout Theatre Company officially announced the cast of its coming production of Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife, directed by Mark Brokaw. Kate Burton will be joined by Denis Holmes, Lynn Redgrave, Enid Graham, Kathryn Meisle, Michael Cumpsty, John Dossett, Kathleen McNenny and John Ellison Conlee. Looks like a charter meeting of the New York Actors' Actors Club. The Constant Wife opens June 16 for a limited engagement through Aug. 7.
Yoko Ono was busy in San Francisco making sure we don't forget that the 2005-06 Broadway season is just around the corner. One of the first entries in that horse race, Lennon, begins its world premiere at the Orpheum Theatre April 12. Written and directed by Don Scardino, the new musical about the legendary Beatle will have run in California through May 14 and then play a stint at Boston's Colonial Theatre May 31-June 25 before heading to Broadway's Broadhurst to begin previews July 7 and open July 28.
Arriving around the same time, we learned this week, will be Primo, the London hit adapted by and starring Antony Sher. It will officially open July 12, playing a limited engagement through Aug. 7. Richard Wilson, who directed the London production, will helm the Broadway run as well. Sher will star as Holocaust survivor Primo Levi.
Helpfully ensuring variety in Times Square will be The Blonde in the Thunderbird at the Brooks Atkinston, starring none other than "Three's Company" star Suzanne Somers. The "one woman musical show" will play a limited run July 8-Sept. 3. Somers, it is said, will talk and sing.
Due much later in the coming season will be producer Margo Lion's first big Broadway project since Hairspray. The Wedding Singer, a new musical based on the hit Adam Sandler movie of the same name, will open on Broadway in spring 2006 after a tryout in Seattle (the same route Lion used with Hairspray). As with Lion's previous hit, The Wedding Singer will feature a creative team getting its first big break, Broadway-wise: composer Matthew Sklar, lyricist Chad Beguelin and librettists Beguelin and Tim Herlihy.
Playwright Jon Robin Baitz and actor Ron Rifkin have enjoyed their best luck in the theatre when together. Their collaborations on The Substance of Fire and Three Hotels more than a decade ago put Baitz on the map and resurrected Rifkin's then flagging acting career. With The Paris Letter, to begin its New York premiere May 13 at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, the two reunite. Rifkin plays a Wall Street hotshot whose past catches up with him and threatens both his personal and professional lives. Rifkin, of course, is no longer struggling. He's played the main baddie on TV's popular "Alias" for several seasons and is as big a star as he's ever been. Joining him will be Michele Pawk and John Glover. Directing is helmsman of the moment, Doug Hughes; the play will replace current Laura Pels tenant, McReele, which was also directed by Hughes. In fact, the bathrooms at the Pels now read "Hers" and "Hughes."
Finally, the Tony Administration Committee convened April 14 in the Sistine Chapel—I mean, some office in the west 40s—to make a host a eligibility judgements regarding shows that had opened on Broadway since the New Year. Among the decisions: Three of Spamalot's men, Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria, will be eligible as leading actors; and both John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, will be considered leading men as well. And that, friends, is how you neatly fill out the five-nominee Leading Actor in a Musical category.