PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 30-Aug. 5: Joe Mantello: Star Handler

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 30-Aug. 5: Joe Mantello: Star Handler
 
For trepidatious movie and TV stars, Broadway can be a scary place (mean critics, no trailers, puny five-figure salaries, actual people in the audience). So those who decide to brave it typically crave a strong hand to hold their shaking digits. These days, it appears that confidence-instilling figure is Joe Mantello.
Joe Mantello
Joe Mantello

This past season, Mantello corralled a gaggle of film, television and stage stars—including Alda Alda, Liev Schreiber, Gordon Clapp, Jeffrey Tambor, Frederick Weller and Tom Wopat—into a cohesive ensemble in Glengarry Glen Ross. And this fall, he will command the starriest of star duos Broadway has to offer—Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick—in a new revival of The Odd Couple.

But proof positive that Mantello's got what Hollywood needs when it holidays on the East Coast came with the news that Julia Roberts—who has long sat atop filmdom's A-list of actresses—had selected the man to guide her through her virgin Broadway run. That will be Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain this coming spring. The production came together over after a reading held in late June in Los Angeles. Chances are Roberts had never heard of Mantello before then (do Tinseltown luminaries know who any of the theatre biggies are?). But the director's habit of collecting awards (Tonys for Assassins and Take Me Out) and his association with the pop phenom Wicked must have put her nerves at rest. As for the choice of play, it couldn't have hurt that Greenberg also recently collected a Tony of his own for Take Me Out, or that that particular play was directed by Mantello himself.

It's a given that the Roberts play will set off a ticket-buying frenzy akin to the one that recently accompanied The Odd Couple. If—and I'm really going out on a limb here—both shows recoup their investments, Mantello will at the end of the 2005-06 season find himself in an enviable class by himself: the director whose Broadway shows (Wicked, Glengarry, and now the Lane-Broderick and Roberts projects) consistently make money. Now, there's something Hollywood can believe in.

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Broadway announced two farewells and two arrivals this week. The Pillowman, Martin McDonagh's hit London play, which won a bushelful of good reviews on Broadway, will close on Sept. 18, it was announced. The run will end with the conclusion of the current company's contracts. Taking its place at the Booth Theatre will be Seascape, the only Pulitzer Prize-winning play to feature lizards as major characters, and one of the few Edward Albee plays not to have been revived in New York in recent years. The Lincoln Center Theater production will begin previews Oct. 28 and open Nov. 21 at the Booth. The play, directed by Mark Lamos, will feature George Grizzard, Elizabeth Marvel, Frances Sternhagen and Frederick Weller.

Another unlikely newcomer is Souvenir, which will open at the Lyceum Theatre Nov. 10. The show previously played the York Theatre Company and then the Berkshire Theatre Festival—two places not exactly known for Broadway transfers. The musical stars Judy Kaye as Florence Foster Jenkins, an eccentric society woman who believed she was a great soprano, although the opposite was patently apparent. The show will be the first Broadway star vehicle in some time for trouper Kaye, who first made her mark in 1978 in On the Twentieth Century.

Leaving, meanwhile, is the David Leveaux Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, currently starring Harvey Fierstein. It will play its final performance at the Minskoff Theatre Jan. 8, 2006. But, before that date rolls around, the news-making production will generate a little more press with the fall arrival of Rosie O'Donnell as its final Golde. And you thought the casting of frog-voiced Fierstein as Tevye generated chatter!

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