PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 13-19: Fela! Goes East

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 13-19: Fela! Goes East
 
Here's an interesting repertory schedule.
Fela! star Sahr Ngaujah
Fela! star Sahr Ngaujah Photo by Monique Carboni

Fela!, the Broadway show based on the life of the groundbreaking African composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, will receive its British premiere at London's National Theatre, beginning a run Nov. 6 ahead of a scheduled official opening Nov. 16, with Sahr Ngaujah recreating his Broadway performance in the title role. The production will play in repertory with Nicholas Hytner's new production of Hamlet (!), starring Rory Kinnear in the title role.

How's that for variety?

A stint at the National is about as ritzy an British invite as an American production can get, and a nice feather in the cap of Bill T. Jones, who won a 2007 Tony Award for his Spring Awakening choreography, and who both directed and choreographed Fela! The show features a book by Jones and Jim Lewis and utilizes Kuti's own music. Fela! originally played a limited engagement in fall 2008 at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts, before transferring to Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 2009, where it began performances Oct. 19 prior to an official opening Nov. 23 and where it is still running.

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Yale Repertory Theatre has an intriguing entry in its new season. The Adam Bock and Todd Almond musical We Have Always Lived in the Castle will receive its world premiere as part of the New Haven theatre's 2010-11 season. Bock is the author of spooky, Orwellian plays like The Receptionist. Anne Kauffman will direct.

Press notes for the new musical read: "Acquitted of a horrible crime six years ago, Constance Blackwood lives with her devoted younger sister Merricat and their uncle Julian in what was once the home of the richest — and most envied — family in a small New England town. Constance tends to the house and garden while Merricat invents magical charms to protect the surviving Blackwoods from the townspeople’s prying eyes and vicious gossip. But talismans may not be powerful enough to keep the sisters together when their handsome cousin Charles comes to visit."

Sounds kinda Grey Gardens-y.

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Down at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, meanwhile, has booked Tynan, Richard Nelson's new adaptation of the diaries of Kenneth Tynan, the only theatre critic of the last 50 years that theatre people seem to think was cool or worth dramatizing and lionizing. (Don't hold your breath for a one-man show called Brantley or Simon.) The play will run at the Kirk Theatre in L.A. later with spring, with Malcolm McDowell in the title role. Philip Goodwin, who bears a resemblance to the thin, angular, long-faced Tynan, will play the part in DC. Back in 2007, a New York reading of the play starred Corin Redgrave, whose father, Michael, was often raked over the coals by the waspish Tynan. One can only imagine that Nelson means to bring the play back to New York eventually.

Previously, Tynan was a character in Austin Pendleton's hit play Orson's Shadow. Several actors, including Tracy Letts, played the part during the run.

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Give this to Mel Brooks: he never stops trying.

Mel Brooks

The man, who climbed Everest with his mega-hit The Producers, and hit bottom with his critical bomb Young Frankenstein, will never retire from Show Business. Brooks is already two songs into Blazing Saddles, the musical, he told the Canadian Press. And he's writing a third new number. (Does Brooks have no new ideas for shows?) The 1974 film comedy, which spoofs the Hollywood Western genre as it tells of a black sheriff in an Old West town, was an enormous hit for Brooks. It already includes one famous comic number, "I'm Tired," sung by Madeline Kahn as a Marlene Dietrich-style saloon performer (a la "Destry Rides Again") named Lili Von Shtup. If Brooks' track record is any measure, he will be incorporating that song into any Saddles musical.

The 83-year-old composer-lyricist-librettist told The Canadian Press that if the show materializes, "I wouldn't rush to New York with it because the [New York] Times would say: 'Oh dear, oh dear, another movie converted and transmogrified into a musical.'" Brooks said it could be completely written within the next year. No production plan or creative team has been announced for the still-gestating Blazing Saddles musical.

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On Broadway, Valerie Harper opened as theatredom's eternal sacred monster, Tallulah Bankhead, in Looped. The Matthew Lombardo play looks at the notorious actress as she is called into a sound studio in 1965 to re-record (or "loop") one line of dialogue for what would be her last film — the bomb known as "Die! Die! My Darling."

Critics found the play tiresome, by-the-numbers, and clunky, but thought Harper's performance good enough to provide an entertaining, if unsubtle and unsurprising evening. The reviews sort of sounded like those that greeted Lombardo's Tea at Five, his treatment of Katharine Hepburn starring Kate Mulgrew. (Now, a play where Hepburn and Bankhead had to share a room for 90 minutes — that I'd see.)

Off-Broadway, meanwhile, critics sized up The Book of Grace, Suzan-Lori Parks' latest work, about a rocky family reunion in South Texas. All in all, reviews said the play was a less exciting, less successful and more forced exercise in Parksian symbolism and American allegory from the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Topdog/Underdog, and not up to the writer's usual standard.

Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead in <i>Looped</i> on Broadway.
Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead in Looped on Broadway. Photo by Carol Rosegg
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