PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 12-18: National Pride

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 12-18: National Pride Nicholas Hytner, the artistic director of the National Theatre in London, used a press conference to make two kinds of news this week.
Nicholas Hytner
Nicholas Hytner Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The first batch of news was of a conventional nature: coming attractions. Hytner announced a host of enticing productions which are due in 2008 and involve such top drawer talent as David Hare, Jeremy Irons, Simon Russell Beale, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Juliet Binoche, Tom Stoppard, Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Fiennes.

Hytner confirmed that Redgrave will reprise her Broadway performance in The Year of Magical Thinking (beginning April 30) on the National's Lyttelton stage. That will be followed in June by Michael Frayn's Afterlife, a new play about Max Reinhardt; a summer revival of Pinter's A Slight Ache starring Beale; and in September a new work co-directed and starring both Binoche and choreographer Akram Khan.

Beginning March 19, Irons will play the lead in Never So Good, Howard Brenton's play about British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Stoppard and Andre Previn's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour will be revived in August, and as previously reported, Fiennes takes on the title role of Oedipus in a new version by Frank McGuiness. Hare's new play, Gethsemane, will premiere early in 2009 with Howard Davies directing.

Hytner said, "2008 will be the most ambitious year since I became the National's director," and it certainly seemed that way.

And then came the hard news. Hytner used the press conference to join the chorus of dissent that has been howling in protest over recent funding cuts imposed by Arts Council England (ACE), the arts development agency. The cuts have stunned the arts world. According to reports, 193 arts groups will endure severe losses over the next three years, including the lauded Bush Theatre and the Northcott theatre in Exeter. Angry theatre folk gathered at the Young Vic theatre last week to remonstrate against the situation. Hytner also revealed that he had lobbied on behalf of three organizations whose funding had been cut extensively or completely — the National Student Drama Festival, the Bush Theatre and Northcott Theatre. Exeter City Council is considering making a legal challenge to the decision.

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There were two openings on Broadway. In The 39 Steps, the British-born, four-man adaptation of the Hitchcock thriller, presented here by the Roundabout Theatre Company, critics found much to delight in. They praised the production's elemental sense of invention and theatricality, calling it breezy and diverting.

Many also found November airily entertaining, though the darkly farcical political comedy by David Mamet has almost nothing in common with the Hitchcock send-up. With Nathan Lane as an absurdly corrupt first-term President doomed to go down to ignominious defeat in the coming election, Mamet stirs up a politically incorrect, satirical soup in which almost everything goes wrong and every bad impulse is pursued with gusto. Some critics found the free-for-all good fun, while others thought it thin, veering toward television comedy.

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Rent will no longer be renting the Nederlander Theatre. After 12 years, the producers of phenomenon, whose success jump-started the stalled rock musical genre, decided to call it a day. The Jonathan Larson musical will play its final performance June 1, it was announced this week. The musical, which is the seventh-longest-running show in Broadway history, will have played 16 previews and 5,012 regular performances. Larson, who died during the final dress rehearsal of the show when it was Off-Broadway, never got to enjoy his creation's astounding achievement, or to see how his New York City had changed since the days when the musical's story of a group of young artists struggling with AIDS, art and homelessness in East Village in the early 1990s, drew upon contemporary realities.

The Nederlander, a neglected theatre before Rent moved in, was completely transformed by designers into a bohemian haven to match the one on stage. It will likely need another redo before its next tenant moves in.

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Two new musicals based on movies are heading to town. Shrek The Musical, based on the William Steig book and the DreamWorks film, will arrive on Broadway in November 2008 following an out-of-town tryout, it was announced. Shrek will make its world premiere at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The musical will play the Seattle venue Aug. 14-Sept. 21. The production will then head to Broadway for a November debut at a theatre to be announced.

The musical features book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori. Avenue Q's Jason Moore will direct.

Meanwhile, the musical Cry-Baby will debut on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre starting March 15. The show had a La Jolla Playhouse world premiere in November 2007. James Snyder will star in the title role opposite Tony Award winner Harriet Harris; both created their roles at the La Jolla Playhouse. Mark Brokaw stages and Rob Ashford choreographs. Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan — who penned the libretto for the last Waters based musical, Hairspray — provide the book for the musical, which features songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger. Waters himself receives a creative consultant credit.

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Finally, to be filed under "You Knew It Was Going to Happen": the Broadway engagement of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County has been extended to April 13 at the Imperial Theatre. Just wait and see what happens when its wins the Pulitzer Prize, which it very probably will. You'll see August in August.

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