PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 16-22: Brits on the Move

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 16-22: Brits on the Move
 
Much of the big news this week was British.
The London cast of The Pitmen Painters
The London cast of The Pitmen Painters Photo by Keith Pattison

The Laurence Olivier Awards are going populist — again. The Society of London Theatres, who manage the awards, previously offered the Audience Award for Most Popular Show in 2002, when it was won by the less-than-new The Phantom of the Opera.

Now it is re-instituting an Audience Award. This will enable the general theatregoing public to first nominate the shortlist for and then vote the winner of their favorite long-running London show. The award is for shows which opened prior to Jan. 1, 2009, and ran throughout the year. There are 20 eligible productions: Blood Brothers, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia!, La Cage Aux Folles, War Horse, Les Misérables, The 39 Steps, Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage, The Woman in Black, The Mousetrap, Avenue Q, Grease, Stomp, Billy Elliot - The Musical, The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, The Lion King, Chicago and We Will Rock You. Gosh — think Phantom has a chance again?

The Olivier Awards ceremony is on March 21.

***

Tony Award winner Lee Hall is doing quite well these days. The Billy Elliot librettist's The Pitmen Painters, his award-winning play about British miners who became celebrated artists in the 1930s, will make its American premiere — with its original U.K. cast — on Broadway in September. Manhattan Theatre Club, by special arrangement with Bob Boyett (who is, no doubt, hoping for another hyper-British, critical sockaroo The History Boys-like success), will produce the Live Theatre Newcastle/National Theatre of Great Britain co-production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, MTC's Broadway home. Max Roberts (artistic director and founding member of Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne) will again direct the original company. The cast, who have been with the production since it premiered at Live Theatre in 2007, will include Christopher Connel, Michael Hodgson, Ian Kelly, Brian Lonsdale, Lisa McGrillis, Deka Walmsley, David Whitaker and Phillippa Wilson.

***

Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame, has been coaxed back to the stage. He will return to directing for the theatre with a new version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the National Theatre in 2010.

National artistic director Nicholas Hytner apparently approached Boyle eight years ago. At Boyle's suggestion, writer Nick Dear was commissioned to adapt the novel, but it was only after the "Slumdog" Oscar success that Boyle called Hytner and said he was ready. Boyle's take apparently addresses "the way we have messed around with our environment; the ethics of genetic engineering." Why did it take so long for Boyle to take on a new theatre project? He was "distracted for 15 years by the movies." It happens.

***

Confirming previous rumors, the British-born comedy caper The 39 Steps,, a four-actor take on the Alfred Hitchcock thriller or the same name, which ended its Broadway run Jan. 10 after 771 performances at three venues, will resurface Off-Broadway in March.

Following runs at the Helen Hayes (its most recent home), the Cort and the American Airlines, the acclaimed production will begin previews at New World Stages March 25. Casting will be announced at a later date.

***

Finally, a bit of American news, about, um, a revival of a British play.

Victor Garber in Present Laughter
photo by Joan Marcus

The new Broadway production of Noël Coward's 1942 comedy Present Laughter, starring Victor Garber as vain, egotistical, aging star Garry Essendine, opened on Jan. 21 at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre. Critics largely cheered it — good news for the Roundabout, which desperately needed a hit. As with any production of Present Laughter, the play pretty much rests on the star's shoulders, and reviews said Garber's shoulders were strong and sturdy, and the actor was well in his element in the part. ***

Wait, stop — here's some truly American theatre news.

Larry Pine will star as former president Richard Nixon opposite Peter Strauss as Ben Bradlee, Roberta Maxwell as Katharine Graham and Larry Bryggman as John Mitchell in Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers Off-Broadway. John Rubinstein directs the new work by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons at New York Theatre Workshop. Pine joins a select group of past theatrical Nixons, such as Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), George S. Irving (An Evening With Richard Nixon and...) and Gerry Bammon (Nixon's Nixon).

Nixon. Nothing more American that that, right?

Today’s Most Popular News: