PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 19-25: Normal Heart's Broadway Beat, Spider-Man Update

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 19-25: Normal Heart's Broadway Beat, Spider-Man Update
 
For the contemporary theatre buff, there's a double excitement in the announcement that The Normal Heart will play Broadway in April.

Joe Mantello
Joe Mantello Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The first surge of interest comes from the fact that playwright Larry Kramer, after spending 40 years in the business, will finally get a Broadway production. The second is derived from the knowledge that Joe Mantello, one of the busiest and most successful directors in theatre, will return to acting for the first time since he starred in Angels in America. Until now, Mantello (who, I just have to say — because I can — is looking more and more like Rahm Emanuel these days) has steadfastly insisted that he would never step on a stage again. But, as producer Daryl Roth told this reporter earlier this month, "I said to Joe, if we're able to do this for a limited run on Broadway, would you do it? He said he would. This play means a great deal to him."

As he did in the earlier reading, Joe Mantello will play Ned Weeks, the hero of the drama about fear and silence in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Joel Grey, who will be seen in the upcoming revival of Anything Goes, will again direct. The cast will also include John Benjamin Hickey as Ned's lover, Felix Turner; and Ellen Barkin, in her Broadway debut, as Dr. Emma Brookner. The New York Times also reports that Cheyenne Jackson is currently in negotiations to be part of the cast.

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The critics who decided to review Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark ahead of its official opening date must be feeling somewhat vindicated this week.

The producers announced that they had hired Paul Bogaev, a 2004 Tony Award nominee for Best Orchestrations for Bombay Dreams (now there's a hit) as a consultant on the show, which has been previewing since November. Following this news, the New York Times reported that "the hire comes amid growing expectation among Spider-Man cast and crew members that the show's official opening, now set for March 15, will be delayed for a sixth time — perhaps for a significant period of time — to undertake a significant revamping of the $65 million show." "A significant period of time" is the operative phrase in that sentence. For some time, theatrical pundits have wondered why Spider-Man should open sooner rather than later. If the public likes the product, and is buying tickets despite the absence of critical approval, why expose the show to a second critical drubbing? (Critics reviewed the show on or around Feb. 7, without the invitation from producers.) One reason to open, of course, is to make it eligible for Tony Award nominations.

If the producers decide to wait and wait and wait (while refining their show, of course), it would certainly create an interesting precedent, one that would be studied by the producers of future Broadway mega-productions. Can theatre critics be rendered more superfluous than they already are? Apparently so.

In other Spider-Man news, it was also reported that producers were talking playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about tweaking the book of the musical. However, a show spokesman denied that the show had reached out to director Philip William McKinley. McKinley's sole Broadway credit is the Hugh Jackman musical The Boy from Oz, but who (rather appropriately, given the media mess surrounding the production) has directed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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Brian Murray
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The extended Broadway hit production of The Importance of Being Earnest needs actors to fill out the run, which now stretches to July 3. And it got them. Some good ones, too.

Brian Murray, Jayne Houdyshell and Jessie Austrian will join the show at the American Airlines Theatre on March 22. They replace Paxton Whitehead, Dana Ivey and Sara Topham, respectively, in the roles of Rev. Chasuble, Miss Prism and Gwendolen Fairfax. The rest of the original cast continue with the Brian Bedford-directed staging. And if Bedford ever gets sick, I can easily see Murray making an outstanding Lady Bracknell.

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There's some good news from the beleaguered Off-Off-Broadway scene.

Soho Think Tank, the Obie Award-winning theatrical company that until recently resided at the Ohio Theatre in Soho, will find a new permanent space under the name Ohio West in The Archive Building in the West Village, beginning in September.

The 73-seat theatre is part of a Romanesque Revival-style, red-brick apartment building. Soho Think Tank currently performs at 3 Legged-Dog, below the World Trade Center. The Ohio Theatre closed in 2010 after 29 years of productivity.

 

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Jonathan Hogan in Molly Sweeney.
photo by Carol Rosegg

The Irish Repertory Theatre production of Brian Friel's play Molly Sweeney, the story of a blind woman who undergoes an operation to restore her sight, has been extended.

The production, which opened Jan. 30 following previews from Jan. 19, had originally been scheduled to run through March 13. But it was widely praised by critics. Performances will now continue through April 10.

Directed by IRT artistic director Charlotte Moore, the cast features Tony nominee Jonathan Hogan, Geraldine Hughes and IRT managing director Ciaran O'Reilly.

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Producers Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum and Allan S. Gordon announced on Feb. 25 that the late Jonathan Larson's Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Rent will resurface in New York City — Off-Broadway, starting July 14 at New World Stages. Off-Broadway is hardly a demotion for the show; the musical began there, at New York Theatre Workshop, before finding Broadway (and international) success.

The new production will officially open Aug. 11. Michael Greif, who helmed the show's original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, will again direct. The creative team will also include choreographer Larry Keigwin, music supervisor Tim Weil, set designer Mark Wendland, costume designer Angela Wendt, lighting designer Kevin Adams and sound designer Brian Ronan.

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Max Wilk, a novelist, a nonfiction chronicler of show business subjects, playwright, screenwriter — and a dramaturg for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center for more than 25 years — died Feb. 19 at his home in Westport, CT, the O'Neill Festival reported. Wilk was 90.

Wilk's books include "They're Playing Our Song: The Truth Behind the Words and Music of Three Generations"; "OK! The Story of Oklahoma!: A Celebration of America's Most Beloved Musical"; and "The Golden Age of Television: Notes from the Survivors," among many others.

At the O'Neill, Wilk helped both emerging and established playwrights develop their new works. Among the authors who benefited from his expertise were Pulitzer Prize winners August Wilson, David Lindsay-Abaire and John Patrick Shanley plus Lee Blessing; OyamO; James Yoshimura; Jeffrey Hatcher; Wendy McLeod; Doug Wright; Willy Holtzman; Judy GeBauer; Charles Shulman; Sam Hunter; Ursula Rani Sarma; and Lucy Caldwell.

Wilk wrote three Broadway shows (the revue Small Wonder in 1948-49, the play Cloud 7 in 1958 and the revue A Musical Jubilee in 1975-76). He also wrote the play Mr. Williams and Ms. Wood, about Tennessee Williams and literary agent Audrey Wood, which he adapted for the stage from his book "Represented by Audrey Wood," which he co-wrote with Wood.

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