PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 28-March 6: Guys and Dolls, Reinvented

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 28-March 6: Guys and Dolls, Reinvented A new production of the Frank Loesser-scored 1950 musical Guys and Dolls, a musical fable of Broadway based on stories by Damon Runyon, opened March 1 at the freshly refurbished Nederlander Theatre, as a snowstorm began blowing into Manhattan.
Guys and Dolls' Lauren Graham
Guys and Dolls' Lauren Graham Photo by Andy Ryan

Director Des McAnuff's production was not embraced by critics, but the package is novel: scenes in the classic musical are heightened, visually, with the use of a giant video screen which show idealized high-def images such as moonlight on Havana waters, the Flatiron Building and the edge of Madison Square Park, heavenly sun-drenched clouds (during "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat") and a Hudson River Pier, complete with a ship coming in.

McAnuff changed the '50s period to Runyon's Depression era (with some lyric changes; "television set" is now "pink bassinet"), and added Runyon himself as a framing device, sitting at his typewriter and peeking in on the characters from time to time.

Ensemble member Raymond Del Barrio played "Damon," as he's billed, and danced his way through other numbers. The four famous lead roles were played by Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham (as Nathan and Adelaide, who are top-billed and get the last bow) and Craig Bierko and Kate Jennings Grant (as Sky and Sarah).

Graham, of TV's "Gilmore Girls," has a big fan following, and at one press preview they screamed with glee — from the balcony — at her entrance.

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Horton Foote

Horton Foote, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who chronicled the rituals, hopes and disappointments of middle-class Texas folk in many plays, teleplays and movies, died March 4 in Hartford, CT, after a brief illness. He was 92. Foote, most recently represented on Broadway with the acclaimed Dividing the Estate, was in Hartford temporarily to work on finishing touches for Hartford Stage's planned 2009 presentation of his nine-play Orphans Home Cycle (a co-production with Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre, which will present the plays in 2010).

John Steinbeck had his Salinas Valley, Tennessee Williams had the steamy South, and Texas native Foote was famous for his Lone Star State milieu — in and around the fictional Harrison, TX, a stand-in for Wharton, TX, the place he was born in 1916. In his Texas plays, covering about a hundred years of time, he charted the simple lives of folk who often had direct links to an agrarian life. Think The Trip to Bountiful, Courtship or Valentine's Day. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Young Man From Atlanta, which was also nominated for a Best Play Tony Award.

His last produced play, Dividing the Estate, written in the 1980s but revised recently, was also set in Harrison, on the property of a once prosperous farm. The Tony Awards Administration Committee deemed recently that the play will be eligible as a new work rather than as a revival in the 2008-09 Tony Awards.

"I've written plays not set in Texas," he once said, "but I've never had them done. I didn't like them. I didn't feel they were my métier so to speak."

His most famous work, The Trip to Bountiful — which began as a 1953 TV play (with Lillian Gish) and is also known as a stage play (recently Off-Broadway and in Chicago, featuring Lois Smith) and a 1985 feature film (starring Geraldine Page) — is beloved for its central, timeless idea of looking back at the home of your youth, and finding that it no longer exists.

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A tiny play that Foote might have admired, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, by D.H. Lawrence, opened in a New York City premiere production by Off-Broadway's Mint Theater Company, which holds lost treasures up to the light. The achingly spare 1910 tale of a wife stuck in a loveless marriage to a brutish coal miner (and wooed by a good man, who offers her and her children escape) is getting some of the best reviews of the Off-Broadway season. Stuart Howard directed; the production has been extended to April 5.

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Evan Smith's The Savannah Disputation, a comedy about an evangelical missionary (Kellie Overbey) who seeks to convert her Catholic neighbors (aging sisters played by Marylouise Burke and Dana Ivey), opened March 3 in a New York premiere by Playwrights Horizons. Critics raved about the bad behavior of a "good" Catholic ladies, but called the play light, despite its attempt to be a thoughtful conversation about the arrogance of telling someone that what they believe is wrong. Walter Bobbie directed.

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Lisa Loomer's Distracted opened Off-Broadway March 4 in a Roundabout Theatre Company production starring Cynthia Nixon. The tale of a mother seeking answers about her son's health (he's apparently got A.D.D. — attention deficit disorder) could have been dark movie-of-the-week material, but critics were surprised how snappy and funny the work was. Mark Brokaw directed. An extension was announced this week; it will play to May 17.

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Malcolm Gets and Will Chase in The Story of My Life
photo by Aaron Epstein

PS Classics and the producers of the short-lived Broadway musical The Story of My Life, the two-actor musical about the contours of a lifelong friendship, announced March 5 that a cast album will be recorded March 13 for a June release. The disc should serve as a calling card for potential future productions of the musical that had audiences in tears in a Goodspeed Musicals tryout in Connecticut, and had critics frustrated in New York City. What a difference a state line makes. The score is by Neil Bartram, who is working on several new projects with book writer Brian Hill. Will Chase and Malcolm Gets are the players. ***

It was revealed this week that Golden Age is the name of the new Terrence McNally play that goes backstage at the creation of a famed opera by Bellini. It will get its world premiere by Philadelphia Theatre Company in early 2010 prior to moving to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which is packaging three of McNally's opera-oriented plays under the umbrella of "Nights at the Opera" in spring 2010. The trio of Tony Award winner McNally's Golden Age, Master Class and The Lisbon Traviata (running concurrently in different spaces at the Kennedy Center) is quite a coup for the playwright.

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The current tour and upcoming April Broadway engagement of Robin Williams' new one-man show, Weapons of Self-Destruction, will be postponed so the comedian can undergo surgery for an aortic valve replacement, the comic announced March 5.

The tour is expected to resume in the fall. It's not clear when the Broadway run might transpire. Previously purchased tickets will be honored once the new dates are scheduled or ticketholders can contact their place of purchase for refunds, according to robinwilliams.com.

"I'm so touched by everyone's support and well wishes," Williams said in a March 5 statement. "This tour has been amazing fun and I can't wait to get back out on the road after a little tune-up."

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com.)

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