PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 6-12: Catch a Falling Star

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 6-12: Catch a Falling Star
 
Broadway producers, who are scared stiff by the greased-up toboggan-sled qualities of the current economy, apparently believe there is but one weapon in their arsenal that will slay this show-killer. That is: stars. Preferably stars in play, which cost less to produce than musicals, but stars regardless.

Will Ferrell in
Will Ferrell in "Old School" Photo by Dreamworks

And why shouldn't they think along those lines? Look at the two shows that announced this week that they had recouped their investments: The Seagull, which has Kristin Scott Thomas in the cast, and All My Sons, with John Lithgow, Patrick Wilson, Dianne Wiest and Katie Holmes. Shows coming up with hopes of repeating their example include the Will Ferrell solo You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush; Impressionism with Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons; Rupert Everett and Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit; and Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane in Waiting for Godot.

The latest, and perhaps the starriest, such venture is a new revival of Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King (no, kiddies, that's not a lost volume of the "Lord of the Rings" series). According to the New York Post, it is heading to Broadway this spring.

Starring will be Geoffrey Rush, who won an Academy Award for his performance in Shine, and fellow Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (the real box office catnip). The production will likely play the Barrymore, currently the home of the acclaimed revival of Speed-the-Plow. Australian director Neil Armfield will helm the production. Armfield also directed Rush in Exit the King last year at the Belvoir St. Theatre in Sydney.

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Now that composer Marc Shaiman musical Hairspray is entering its final days, it looks like his follow-up show is finally ready to roll. The Broadway-bound musical Catch Me If You Can — based on the 2002 DreamWorks film of the same name — will have its premiere in Seattle this coming summer, it was revealed this week by Playbill.com. It will take place at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. Jack O'Brien will direct. As to the cast, Shaiman said, "I can't say yet, but I hope many of the people who have been in it over the years will be in it." That could mean Nathan Lane and Christian Borle. ***

Signature Theatre Company's production of Home, Samm-Art Williams' Tony Award-nominated tale of an African-American man leaving his Southern roots to branch out in the North, opened this week to largely warm reviews, thus continuing Signature's successful examination of the writers, plays and legacy of the Negro Ensemble Company. The show, directed by Ron OJ Parson, has been extended by a week.

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Director Austin Pendleton spent the fall working with Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Marvel in Fifty Words. That estimable cast was apparently just a warm-up for Pendleton's increasingly star-laden new assignment. His production of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, for Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company, will feature Denis O'Hare at Vanya, plus freshly-announced Maggie Gyllenhaal as Yelena, Peter Sarsgaard as Astrov, Mamie Gummer as Sonya and Louis Zorich as Waffles.

Pendleton has either acted or directed Vanya perhaps more than any other American actor. Previews begin Jan. 17, 2009.

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Hamlet is the kind of a play that is built around the actor chosen to play the title role, which has long been considered the ultimate challenge to the performer's art. So it is unusual, to say that least, that the Hamlet of any Hamlet would miss a performance. It's unheard of that he would miss opening night.

But that's what happened in London at the Dec. 9 opening night of the transfer of the RSC's Stratford-upon-Avon production of Hamlet. The leading man, David Tennant, was not on hand, and the show's Laertes, Edward Bennett, was tapped to don the cloak of black.

Tennant had a very good reason for his truancy. He is suffering from a prolapsed disc, causing great back pain and underwent surgery Dec. 11. In a press statement, Tennant said, "It is hugely disappointing for me to have to miss these performances. My back problem has progressed to the point where it is currently impossible for me to carry on without surgery. I want to get back onstage as quickly as possible and I am very grateful to Ed who has courageously got to grips with the role but in a much shorter time. It's a fantastic achievement." So Bennett has become London's new accidental Dane. As the man said, "The readiness is all."

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