PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 6-12: Side Show Will Pack Up the Circus and Cats Comes Back to Life

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 6-12: Side Show Will Pack Up the Circus and Cats Comes Back to Life
 
It’s like Déjà vu all over again.

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie
Emily Padgett and Erin Davie Photo by Joan Marcus

Fall 1997. Side Show, an unlikely new musical by composer Henry Krieger and librettist-lyricist Bill Russell, based on the lives of the Hilton sisters, conjoined twins who were famous circus and vaudeville attraction for a time in the 1930s, somehow finds its way to Broadway. The reviews were mixed, though many admired the show’s staging and score. It was eventually nominated for several Tony Awards, but the public never caught onto the oddball show, and it closed after 91 performances. It thereafter began its life as a cult classic.

That would be that. But this is the musical theatre, where devotees do not consider flop shows necessarily failures, but simply misunderstood. And so, incredibly, Side Show got a second shot at Broadway this fall. The reimagined production, directed by Bill Condon, was substantially rewritten, with new material by Condon, plus some new songs. Before its Broadway bow, it was seen at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and then La Jolla Playhouse.

Some critics were enthusiastic, saying the show was not only substantially different, but substantially better. There was many a marquee quote. (Though just as many critics found the show as problematic and imperfect as before.) But it didn’t do any more good than it did in 1997. The public did not flock, and ticket sales were week.

This week it was announced that the show will play its final performance at Broadway's St. James Theatre Jan. 4, 2015. Its run will have been almost exactly as long — or short — as the original production.

*** Also throwing in the towel this week was the Broadway revival of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, which currently stars Alan Alda and Candice Bergen at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. It will play its final performance Dec. 14. Upon closing, the production will have played six previews and 95 regular performances. A national tour of Gregory Mosher’s production will launch in fall 2015.

***

The Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, starring Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, officially opened at the Booth Theatre Dec. 7 following previews that began Nov. 7. The show is already a box-office hit, with performances selling out day in and day out. With the reviews that greeted it, however, it is now a critical hit as well, though reviews liked Cooper a lot more than the play.

Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

“There's nothing subtle about the conceit, but it still works four decades later,” wrote the Daily News. “And the credit for that belongs to Cooper… To reflect Merrick's physical ravages, the Hollywood A-lister twists and holds his body in punishing positions. For two hours, he forges his mouth into a misshapen O and labors to speak. Grim stuff. But the production boasts ample humor, largely due to Cooper's delivery.”

Newsday praises Cooper’s “smashing, heart-ripping portrayal,” and added, “good enough for Bernard Pomerance's 1977 philosophical adventure story, which, as always, is better on the theatrical adventure than on its fuzzy philosophy.”

“As Peter Pan is traditionally portrayed by a gamine actress,” wrote New York magazine, “the grotesquely deformed title character of Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man, be embodied by an extremely handsome, seminude star eager to demonstrate his stage chops… Bradley Cooper more than qualifies: He is extremely handsome, he is seminude (at least part of the time), and not only demonstrates but proves those chops.”

Time Out New York, while liking Cooper, was particularly unforgiving about the text, saying. “Despite Scott Ellis’s lucid staging and a cast led by Bradley Cooper doing yeoman’s work as the grotesquely deformed Joseph Merrick, it groans and creaks as it moves. Not unlike last year’s short-lived run of Orphans, this is one of those revivals that raises doubts about the material’s original success. Here it may be a case of a juicy lead role in a flawed piece.”

*** Sting, who joined the Broadway cast of his new musical The Last Ship this week, had decided to extend his engagement with the production for an additional two weeks of performances through Jan. 24, 2015.

The show has struggled at the box office since it opened Oct. 26 to mixed reviews. The rocker stepped into the role of foreman Jackie White, replacing original cast member Jimmy Nail, who has been with the production since it played a pre-Broadway Chicago world premiere last summer.

***

Though cats are said to have nine lives, the first London life of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats lasted an awfully long time — 21 years beginning in 1981. That ought to be enough time for any feline. Nonetheless, the show is back on the West End, opening this week at the London Palladium. The production reunites the original creative team, including director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and designer John Napier, who were all perhaps missing that steady paycheck they had back in the 20th century.

Nicole Scherzinger
Nicole Scherzinger Photo by Alessandro Pinna

Nicole Scherzinger made her West End stage debut in the star role of Grizabella (she’s the down-on-her-luck kitty who sings “Memory”). Among Scherzinger's credits was a stint as a member of the best-selling girl group the Pussycat Dolls. (You can’t make this stuff up.) Talk about PR that writes itself.

Reviews were on the positive side, with critics liking Scherzinger and begrudgingly giving Cats its due. “Yet while Cats can’t mask the degree to which it’s rooted in the Eighties, it is a genuinely opulent ensemble piece with a surprising undercurrent of surrealism,” said the Evening Standard.

“Has the show dated since 1981?” asked the Telegraph. “Aside from some tinny electronic sounds, not really. Is that because it’s timeless? I don’t think so. Cats is actually a classy species of panto — fluffy, shiny, just about perfect for this time of year.”

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