PLAYBILL.COM’S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 11-17: Witch Road Back?

News   PLAYBILL.COM’S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 11-17: Witch Road Back?
 
Kristin Chenoweth , recently occupied with decorating the big and small screens and the covers of male-oriented magazines, may soon be returning to the New York stage, where she hasn't sought full-time employment since ending her 2003-04 stint as Glinda in the mega-hit Wicked. What project will bring her back is still to be determined.

Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth Photo by Aubrey Reuben

A spokesperson for the actress said this week that Chenoweth is currently "in discussions" for the Gilbert and Sullivan work Pirates of Penzance, which will play the New York City Opera March 3-31, 2007. The Pirates cast, according to the opera company's official website, will feature Myrna Paris as Ruth and Matt Morgan as Frederic.

Pirates would certainly give the actress—who, along with Audra McDonald, is arguably the biggest stage-bred female draw in the musical theatre—ample opportunity to show of her comic and operatic chops. However, a most tantalizing prospect might be her headlining a new revival of the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical The Apple Tree. Chenoweth starred in an Encores! concert presentation of it in 2005 and, according to her co-star, Malcolm Gets, producers are eager to move the show to Broadway sometime in 2006-07. The show, consisting of three one-act musicals, would give the actress a great chance to show her range, as well as prove what seems to be the burning quest for half of the theatre's musical comediennes: to prove they can measure up to the legend of Barbara Harris.

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Director John Doyle , celebrated in England and New York for his elemental, experimental Sweeney Todd, took his actor-musician concept to Ohio this week, opening his new vision of Stephen Sondheim 's Company at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park. As with Todd , and many of Doyle’s other previous productions, the actors are also the orchestra.

Whether New York can handle two Doyle treatments in quick succession without jaded Gotham critics and audiences yawning and muttering "been there, done that" is a good question, but certainly somebody somewhere is thinking of a move east. The cast features Raul Esparza and Barbara Walsh, Broadway actors who aren't known as Buckeye State regulars. And reviews seemed tailor-made for the cause. The first line of the Cincinnati Enquirer notice read: "I profoundly hope Company transfers to New York." How helpful those Midwestern types are. ***

Ring of Fire , the new musical utilizing the expansive catalog of Johnny Cash, opened on March 11, the only Broadway premiere of the week. The reviews, however, didn’t set the town on fire, and whether the show can draw as many Tennesseans to Manhattan as Jersey Boys has attracted New Jerseyites remains to be seen.

Opening Off-Broadway was Entertaining Mr. Sloane, the Roundabout Theatre Company's mounting of Joe Orton's classic bit of unseemly black comedy. Jan Maxwell and Alec Baldwin led the cast. Some critics found Sloane entertaining enough, though just as many thought is was missing something: edge, menace, what you will.

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Finally, Maureen Stapleton died March 13 at the age of 80, and took with her some glorious traits now only occasionally found in acting stars: honesty, frankness, humility, ribald good humor, practicality, loyalty, and, most importantly, the ability to consistently and utterly satisfy audiences, critics, directors and playwrights. Artists such as Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon depended upon her to bring vitality, vulnerability and depth to their creations—she won one Tony for a Williams work, The Rose Tattoo, and another for a Simon comedy, The Gingerbread Lady—and if she ever failed to come through, it’s hard to find an account of it. Simon called her probably the best actress he had ever worked with. When speaking for herself, she often relied on a self-deprecating and salty sense of humor. In her autobiography, "A Hell of a Life," she recalled acting a scene with Marilyn Monroe at the Actors' Studio, and the audience being impressed with Monroe's work. It was "too bad the public wanted her to be a ditzy blonde," she observed. "See how lucky I was? I never had that problem. People looked at me on stage and said, 'Jesus that broad better be able to act." It was an easy joke to make since, of course, she was more than able.

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