PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 16-22: "Cool Hand Luke" on Stage, Wit on Broadway, Shanley Completes Doubt Trilogy

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 16-22: "Cool Hand Luke" on Stage, Wit on Broadway, Shanley Completes Doubt Trilogy It took 13 years, but Wit is finally coming to Broadway.

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Manhattan Theatre Club announced it will give Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play its Broadway premiere in January 2012, starring Cynthia Nixon as the drama's poetry professor facing cancer. MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow will direct the play.

Theatre people remember the frustrating history surrounding public school teacher Edson's first and only play, which she wrote in 1991. The play premiered at South Coast Rep and later opened Off-Broadway in a production by MCC Theatre in 1998. It was wildly praised by critics as intelligent and moving. This led to a heap of awards, a healthy Off-Broadway of more than 500 performances and almost a Broadway transfer. Almost.

It was thought by most theatre observers that Wit was a cinch for a Broadway transfer and a Best Play Tony Award. But those chances fell through, reportedly because certain Broadway theatre owners thought a play about a cancer patient would be too depressing to have a wide appeal.

Broadway audiences (in the era of The Year of Magical Thinking) are apparently now ready for a play about cancer. (MTC is a not-for-profit operation with a subscriber base.)

MTC's upcoming world premiere of David Auburn's The Columnist, which had been previously announced for January dates, will now begin previews on April 3 and open April 25 at the Friedman Theatre. ***

Speaking of MTC — well, at least, obliquely — John Patrick Shanley has delivered the third play in his planned "Church and State" trilogy which began with Doubt. The work is called Sleeping Demon, and will run at Atlantic Theatre Company's renovated home next spring. The previous two installments in the series — Doubt and Defiance — were both staged by MTC, and both directed by Doug Hughes, the former being far more successful than that latter.

Sleeping Demon "concerns a Bronx Borough President who is forced, by the mortgage crisis, into a confrontation with a local minister. The question they confront is one that faces us all. What is the relationship between spiritual experience and social action." No word on who the director will be.

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Elizabeth Marvel, Stacy Keach and Thomas Sadoski
photo by Joan Marcus

Casting is now complete for the Broadway debut of Other Desert Cities, Jon Robin Baitz's drama about a wealthy political family attempting to kick sand over its past, which will arrive on Broadway Oct. 12 at the Booth Theatre. Of the original Off-Broadway Lincoln Center Theater cast, Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach and Thomas Sadoski will repeat their work. As previously reported, Linda Lavin, who originated the role of alcoholic aunt Silda Grauman, will not be part of the Broadway cast. Neither will Elizabeth Marvel, who played the family daughter who has written a tell-all memoir. Rachel Griffiths (a cast member of TV's "Brothers & Sisters," which was created by Baitz) will play the Marvel role of Brooke Wyeth, and Judith Light, recently a Tony nominee for Lombardi, will take on the Lavin part. Joe Mantello directs.

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The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which has been getting such buzz in recent weeks, will come to La Jolla Playhouse in California.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock musical of the last days of Jesus, directed by Des McAnuff, will start at La Jolla (where McAnuff used to be artistic director) in November. It replaces the world premiere of the new musical Finding Neverland. The full Stratford cast is expected to travel with Superstar. McAnuff has a good track record of sending shows to Broadway, so, what with Webber's outspoken approval of the production, it's a good supposition that the show may move East.

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Marc Warren.
photo by Gregg Stone

What's with the Brits and stage adaptations of classic American movies? Some years back, the West End had a tremendous commercial success with a stage version of the 1960s film "The Graduate." (It later came to Broadway, where it was not a tremendous commercial success.) Now, another iconic 1960s film, "Cool Hand Luke," is getting the treatment. It was announced this week that Marc Warren will star in Cool Hand Luke, which has been adapted by Emma Reeves from the Donn Pearce novel that inspired the 1967 Paul Newman film. It will begin Sept. 23 at the West End's Aldwych Theatre. Andrew Loudon will direct.

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