PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 6-12: Redemption

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 6-12: Redemption
 
Is redemption around the corner for playwright David Hirson?
David Hirson and David Hyde Pierce
David Hirson and David Hyde Pierce Photo by Joan Marcus (Pierce)

Back in 1991, Hirson's modern verse play La Bête somehow got to Broadway, in a big, expressionistic, heavily costumed productions that sent Broadway's collective head a-pondering. It had no stars. The set had a gigantic gold chandelier that pointed straight at the audience. It was in verse, for God's sake! It was about as far from a typical commercial Broadway enterprise as possible. The play had its supporters, and its detractors. Both parties were vocal. But mostly it came off as a side-show attraction. "Look, Joe! Look what they done put in the O'Neill. You won't believe it!" It ran for 25 talked-about performances.

I'll state that I was among the supporters, but I would have put down good money that Broadway would never see that play again.

I would have lost my money. The Beast is back. ("La Bête" means The Beast.) And he's got some big guns behind him. David Hyde Pierce, Joanna Lumley and Mark Rylance will appear in a West End revival of La Bête under the direction of Matthew Warchus, which is scheduled to premiere in London in the spring, ahead of a Broadway transfer in the fall.

With those talents, the play could actually (gasp!) become a hit the second time around. Tony winner Hyde Pierce is a very appealing stage presence (Curtains, for example), and has his "Frasier" fans. Rylance endeared himself to Broadway audiences with his fantastic, Tony-winning comic turn in Boeing-Boeing. But Warchus is the key here. He's not only a hit-maker, but he makes hits out of unlikely properties, like the 40-year-old French sex farce Boeing-Boeing. It's a fair bet that most of the target audience for the Hirson play will have seen either that, or Warchus' productions of God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests.

The Hirson play, which won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy, is set in 17th-century France. It pits Elomire, the head of the royal court-sponsored theatre troupe, against the foppish, frivolous street entertainer Valere, whom the troupe's patron, Prince Conti, wishes to tour abroard. ***

Another sort of redemption is in store for playwright Jon Robin Baitz, who is a lot better known than Hirson, but has never seen one of his plays go to Broadway — until now. His Love and Mercy will come to The Great White Way next season. Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel will produce the new play, which, according to press notes, "takes place over the course of a Christmas Eve in Palm Springs. [Its] central characters are a one-time matinee idol turned politician, his screenwriter wife and their novelist daughter." The play "explores the limits of parental love and filial duty, our myth-making culture, and the claim we have on our own biography when it involves the invasion of privacy of others."

Casting and creative team have yet to be announced.

But that's not all. Baitz, who is best known to the public for creating the sudsy hit ABC series "Brothers & Sisters," is also at work on a new play about eccentric Hollywood player Robert Evans. The biographical project, which is aiming for a Broadway bow sometime within the next year, will be directed by Richard Eyre. Baitz is basing the play on both Evans' 1994 memoir "The Kid Stays in the Picture" and his unpublished second memoir, "The Fat Lady Sang." Anyone who knows anything about the oft-married, ex-actor, former producer and full-time legend Evans knows that he must be pleased as punch that his improbable life will be depicted on a Broadway stage.

So, nice news for Baitz. He has been a regular target of critical praise and high expectations since he burst onto the scene in the late 1980s with The Film Society. But, unlike contemporaries Richard Greenberg, Donald Margulies and Theresa Rebeck, and despite many fine plays, he has never made the leap to New York's biggest showcase. A few years back, there were steady rumors that The Paris Letter would be his ticket to Broadway, but the play eventually opened Off-Broadway.

***

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Love Never Dies star Sierra Boggess
photo by John D. McHugh

Fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber who have waited patiently for the coming of his Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies have to wait a little longer. The musical was to have begun performances at the West End's Adelphi Theatre Feb. 20, but will now start Feb. 22 instead. In a letter to the affected ticket holders, it was stated, "This complex show is half way through its technical production period, as we write this letter, and it is clear that we need the two extra days' work which will take us to Monday February 22nd. We are not, at this time, behind schedule and everything is looking extremely promising. Planning ahead however, it is clear we would only be able to present an exhausted company on stage at the end of next week and, possibly, a show still not in a technically safe and secure state. Rather than spring this on you at the last minute, we have taken an early decision to cancel."

Speaking of Phantom the current U.S. national tour, which recently played its 7,000th performance, will end its long run in November, producers Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Theatre Company, Inc. announced Feb. 5. Known as "the Music Box company," the production will shutter in November 2010 at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.

The closure leaves two official productions of the Harold Prince-directed smash playing in North America: Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular (love that title!) and the original 1988 Broadway staging at the Majestic Theatre, the longest running show in Broadway history.

***

It was only a matter of time before Chicago cast a member of the hit TV show "Gossip Girl," I suppose. Matthew Settle, who currently stars as Rufus on the CW Network show, which takes place in New York, will make his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in the Tony-winning revival at the Ambassador Theatre. Settle will play a ten-week limited engagement as the slick lawyer beginning March 29. He will stay with the long-running production through June 6.

***

It's official. Times Square is now Heartland America's back patio — permanently.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has green-lighted construction of a permanent plaza to replace the temporary pedestrian mall created in Times Square in summer 2009.

The plaza, which is festooned with lawn chairs, has been popular with tourists wishing to cool their heels. But some newspaper columnists, taxi drivers and vocal citizens have complained that the pedestrian mall puts the needs of tourists over New Yorkers, is unsightly, and is not reflective of or appropriate to the character of the city's busiest crossroads.

One positive aspect all seem to agree on: Injuries to motorists and passengers in the project area are down 63 percent, pedestrian injuries are down 35 percent and 80 percent fewer pedestrians are walking in the roadway in Times Square.

So when do we get to grill burgers and play volleyball in Times Square?

Today’s Most Popular News: