PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 24-30: Pacino on Broadway

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 24-30: Pacino on Broadway Al Pacino on Broadway. It happens just about every time Al wants it to happen. And it happens because Al is in the play — not because of anything having to with the play itself.
Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice
Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice Photo by Joan Marcus

Because, let's face it, the man doesn't exactly pick the most commercial properties in the world as his vehicles. You don't get Neil Simon or Guys and Dolls. You get Chinese Coffee. You get Hughie. You get a fancified staged reading of Oscar Wilde's Salome, for God's sake! With that history, The Merchant of Venice must look like a Yasmina Reza play to investors.

Pacino got good notices overall for his Shylock when the Shakespeare work that critics never tire of calling a "problem play" ran in Central Park. The lucky stiffs who got in at the Delacorte got to judge the actor's work for free. The folks lining up for the transfer to Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre won't be as lucky. (Do I hear premium seating being roped off?) The limited engagement begins Oct. 19. The Public Theater, Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel will present a limited 78-performance Broadway engagement of Merchant, which will continue through Jan. 9, 2011. Pacino is the only cast member announced to reprise his performance.

The Public, by the way, seems to be at Joseph Papp levels of Broadway business lately. In addition to the recently closed Hair, it will see in the coming months Broadway stagings of its Merchant and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Merchant is also the first Shakespeare the New York Shakespeare Festival has sent to Broadway since The Tempest 15 years ago.

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Holley Farmer and John Selya in Come Fly Away
photo by Joan Marcus

Twyla Tharp has not been able to repeat the resounding success of her Billy Joel dance musical Movin' Out, which ran for three years on Broadway. Her follow-up, the Dylan-infused The Times They Are A-Changin' closed quickly in 2006 and got decimated by critics. Come Fly Away, which used the music of Frank Sinatra, was more admired, but it did not clinch a necessary Tony Award nomination for Best Musical, and never caught fire. It will close Sept. 5 at the Marriot Marquis Theatre after 187 regular performances. A national tour is planned. Downtown, the acclaimed Greenwich Village production of Our Town will close after a much longer run — a year and a half — and a big flash of publicity surrounding Helen Hunt's stint as the Stage Manager. It was announced that the production will end its run at the Barrow Street Theatre on Sept. 12, but not before Michael McKean and director David Cromer respectively step back into the role of the Stage Manager. This staging became the longest-running production of the play in its 72-year history, with a record-breaking 337th performance on Dec. 16, 2009. Did it make money after playing so long? That was not announced.

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Complete casting has been announced for the national tour of Dolly Parton's Broadway musical 9 to 5, which opens Sept. 21 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville.

The cast will be headed by three-time Dee Hoty (Footloose, The Will Rogers Follies) as Violet, Mamie Parris (See Rock City) as Judy and Diana DeGarmo (Hair, Hairspray) as Doralee Rhodes.

The Broadway staging of 9 to 5 played 148 performances and 24 previews.

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Times continue to be tough Off-Broadway. Due to a $167,000 deficit, Off-Broadway's Cherry Lane Theatre, under the artistic direction of Angelina Fiordellisi, will not produce works on its 179-seat mainstage for a year's time beginning in September.

Cherry Lane Alternative — the resident theatre company established by Fiordellisi in 1997 — will, however, continue to produce the Mentor Project at Cherry Lane's 60-seat Studio Theatre.

Also, Cherry Lane Alternative will no longer serve as the rental and managing agent for the theatre's two stages to other theatre companies and commercial productions, relinquishing those responsibilities to the newly established Cherry Lane Theatre Company.

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Theresa Rebeck
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The inexhaustibly productive playwright Theresa Rebeck is currently readying her latest work, The Novelist, for production at the Dorset Theatre Festival way up in Dorset, VT, where it will begin performances Aug. 18. Dorset is a long way from New York, where an earlier version of the play ran ten years ago. As Rebeck writes as a celebrity blogger on Playbill's own PlayBlog, "The play has had a weird history. It’s a new play built on an old play, a play of mine which had a misfired production ten years ago. The less said about that the better; it just happens sometimes to a play that really should have a life. After I tried for years to figure out how to give the play its much-deserved second chance."

Ten years ago would be 2000, when Rebeck's The Butterfly Collection—about a novelist—ran at a Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway, and was panned by the New York Times' Bruce Weber as being anti-men. It's a review that Rebeck has never forgotten, and has written and talked about many times since as being unfair. (One day Rebeck will write a play about the infamous review, with Weber as a character, mark my words.)

For the title role in the new production, Rebeck got a writer who has become better known in recent years as an actor, Michael Cristofer, author of The Shadow Box. (Cristofer must get a special asterisk next to his name as the only Pulizter Prize-winning playwright to regularly appear on the stage.) Also in the cast are the just-plain-actors Kathryn Grody, Stephen Barker Turner, Liam Craig, Mary Bacon and Jennifer Ikeda.

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