PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 27-March 5: Divided Love for Love

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 27-March 5: Divided Love for Love Love Never Dies, the long-awaited and much-gossiped-about sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, finally opened in London on March 9. But the drama is far from over.
Love Never Dies stars Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo
Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo in the 2010 London production of Love Never Dies. Catherine Ashmore

Reviews were not wholly terrible, but they were extreme, with marked camps of both lovers and haters. The Telegraph (which said it was Andrew Lloyd Webber's finest show since Phantom) and The Independent (which said it was, ahem, "Phabulous") both gave it four stars. But others, such as the Times of London and The Evening Standard, lambasted it, calling is stodgy, muddled and predictable. And the man from the New York Times—to whose city the megamusical is expected to transfer this fall—had a merry time throwing darts at the show from his lede to his kicker. "This poor sap of a show feels as eager to be walloped as a clown in a carnival dunking booth," wrote Ben Brantley. "For starters, the title, with its promise of immortality, was just asking for trouble. And its breathless solemnity pervades the show’s every aspect. This production keeps such a straight face, it’s as if the slightest smile might crack it. It never acknowledges that in a musical in which no one could exactly be described as animated, it might be a mistake to introduce your leading lady in the form of an automaton in her image. Or that it’s probably not a good idea to have your hero, in his first solo, sing 'the moments creep, but I can’t bear to sleep' to a melody that moves like a sloth in quicksand." These are the kind of mixed reviews that make a theatregoer wonder, "What sort of show is this?"

Most prognosticators expect needed surgery will be performed on the patient by director Jack O'Brien and others in the coming weeks, and certainly before the behemoth lands on Broadway.

***

In New York, Next Fall, American playwright Geoffrey Nauffts' acclaimed romantic comedy-drama that explores questions of love, sexuality, religion, family and tolerance, had a considerably quieter debut, opening at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre March 11. And quiet seems to have done the trick. The show received a second round of praise, called by critics the sort of thoughtful, smart, moving and contemporary drama that is an increasingly rare beast in today's theatre world, and examines political and cultural issues with a measured and subtle hand. All while being quite a funny play.

Most reviewers also mentioned that this play, by a playwright and featuring actors largely unknown to the theatre-going public, will have a hard row to hoe to become successful in today's ruthless economic climate. ***

Opening Off-Broadway was the latest of the several projects left behind by lyricist Fred Ebb when he died in 2004. The Scottsboro Boys was largely finished when Ebb passed, and what wasn't finished was filled out by Ebb's surviving partner John Kander. The fact-inspired show—about nine black teenagers accused of a crime against white women, a crime they didn't commit, in 1931 Alabama—had good buzz going in, with the New York Post actively praising it as a new classic, and many noting that it bore the sardonic worldview and Brechtian presentation style that were earmarks of such past Kander and Ebb hits as Cabaret and Chicago.

Reviews were positive, calling the show innovative, riveting and transfer-worthy. For director-choreographer Susan Stroman, it was a return to form, many said, and all praised the talented cast. Detractors were in the minority, but they included one significant player: Brantley of the Times, who thought the musical was too careful and played like a "good-works version of Chicago offered up as an act of penance." Whether his disapproval blocks hopes of a Broadway move remains to be seen.

***

The Variety review of Next Fall was written by David Rooney, and it was one of his last.

For the past year or so, the theatre has been losing critics as fast as the the Republican Party has shed moderates. But the kicking to the curb of Variety's smart and informed chief theatre critic David Rooney came as a startling surprise. If any publication in the United States is meant to be devoted to the exhaustive coverage of the arts, it's Variety, the so-called Entertainment Bible. Yet, here the mag is perfectly OK with surveying the theatre through a string of nameless freelancers. It's a damning portrait of how Variety currently views its task. And an unsettling reality for the theatre world, which should surely wonder where it's headed if it no longer merits Variety's full-blown scrutiny.

"I'll be honest, I didn't see this coming, especially since my editors have always been happy with my work," Rooney told Playbill.com. "This was not performance-related. But obviously I underestimated just how far cost-cutting measures would go in such a depressed print-media climate. It's disheartening to think that critical writing has become so increasingly undervalued in arts coverage everywhere, and substituting freelance contributors for unifying editorial supervision is one more sign of this deterioration."

That Rooney was one of the most talented writers (as opposed to opinion-spurters) among the critical corps is further reason to lament.

Evan Rachel Wood

*** Some bad news for Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.

Reeve Carney's Peter Parker will have to find a new girlfriend to call him "Tiger" in the supposedly Broadway-bound musical. Evan Rachel Wood has departed the project due to a scheduling conflict. The producers of Spider-Man, directed by Tony Award winner Julie Taymor, will announce a new production timeline shortly. (The original launch date was to be Feb. 25 at the Hilton Theatre.)

***

The current revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge couldn't find a way to extend its run, but it has found a way to make money anyway. It recouped its initial investment of $2.5 million, according to Variety. The first ten weeks of the 14-week run have brought in about $7.2 million, states the industry paper. The drama, which stars Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, will end April 4 as originally planned.

***

John Malcovich will appear at London's Barbican Centre, playing a serial killer who returns from the dead to launch his autobiography in The Infernal Comedy, on June 17, 2011, it was announced. Described in press materials as "a stage play for a Baroque orchestra, two sopranos and an actor," it is being presented as part of the Barbican's annual "Great Performers" series, that will also see American director Peter Sellars staging György Kurtág's Kafka Fragments, with soprano Dawn Upshaw in the role of a housewife performing daily tasks, and violinist Geoff Nuttall in the role of a street musician, on Nov. 11.

Other plans for the Barbican's new season include the returns of director Peter Brook and Robert Lepage. (Sellars, Brook and Lepage. What? Robert Wilson was busy?) Brook, whose last theatre work at the Barbican was 11 and 12 earlier this year, will stage a new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, in a new adaptation commissioned by the Barbican, that will premiere in March 2011. Lepage, who has previously brought The Dragons' Trilogy, The Anderson Project, The Far Side of the Moon and Lipsynch to the Barbican, will return with The Blue Dragon, a sequel to the six-hour epic The Dragons' Trilogy, which picks up the lives of two of its characters 20 years on. It will be presented at the Barbican in February 2011.

***

Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning comedy God of Carnage will not be playing the provinces.

While God of Carnage had been announced to run Nov. 30-Dec. 12 as part of the Broadway In Chicago season, immediate plans for a tour have been dropped over concerns that the production would not become profitable. Economics of the production necessitated a tour that would run over 26 weeks to turn a profit.

***

Jeff Daniels, an original star of God of Carnage, recently returned to the Broadway version of the show, but playing a different role than before.

Perhaps Daniels inspired stage and screen star Kelsey Grammer, who announced he will eventually play both leading roles in the upcoming Broadway revival of the Tony-winning La Cage aux Folles, which begins previews April 6 at Broadway's Longacre Theatre with an official opening April 18. Grammer will open the show as Georges opposite the Albin of Olivier Award winner Douglas Hodge. Five-time Emmy winner Grammer told the New York Post that six months after the show opens, he will switch to the role of Albin.

If that isn't a nifty way to keep audiences and critics interested in a new revival for a solid year, I don't know what is.

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