Lately, it seems, if a show gets the notices and good enough audience, it will inevitably return to the New York stage in some form or other. Witness the musical In the Heights, applauded Off-Broadway in early 2007 and now on Broadway, or Passing Strange, the subject of attention at the Public Theater last year, and now also on Broadway. Ethan Coen's first play Almost an Evening sold out its run at the Atlantic Theatre Company earlier this season. On March 20, it began a new stay Off-Broadway (with a couple of new cast members) at The Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street. Jenny Schwartz's play God's Ear was a critical hit in May 2007 when it was opened by The New Georges theatre company; beginning April 9, the play will breathe anew at the Vineyard Theatre.
Two more rebirths of this nature were announced this week. The 39 Steps, the gleefully silly stage version of the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller, which received respectable reviews when it opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company in January, but became a massively popular audience favorite, will transfer to a commercial Broadway run — at the Cort Theatre — starting April 29. The Roundabout run ends March 29.
More surprising is the news of the coming return of Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate. The play by the prolific nonagenarian became one of the most critically heralded of his long career when it opened at Primary Stages last fall. Lincoln Center Theater, by arrangement with Primary Stages, will now present the Broadway run, which is scheduled to begin previews Oct. 23 with an official opening Nov. 20 at a theatre to be announced.
The high-caliber Off-Broadway cast — including Elizabeth Ashley, Arthur French, Hallie Foote, Penny Fuller and Gerald McRaney as well as Devon Abner, James DeMarse, Pat Bowie, Virginia Kull, Maggie Lacey, Nicole Lowrance, Jenny Dare Paulin and Keiana Richard — will reprise their roles for Broadway. It will be Horton's first Broadway outing since his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man From Atlanta in 1997. That play and production, if you remember, was meant to be the well-earned finale of his career, but this playwright, Albee-like, keeps resurfacing.
*** Of course, shows also close as well as re-open. Curtains, the musical comedy whodunit from composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, and writers Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes, will play its final performance on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on June 29 at 3 PM. It will have played 511 performances and 26 previews. The venture was a sentimental favorite with many, given that it bowed on Broadway after the deaths of two of its creators, Ebb and Stone. The reviews were middling, some good, some bad, but all liked star David Hyde Pierce, who surprised many with his prowess as a musical comedy leading man, and by winning a Tony Award for his performance. The well-respected player surprised no one, however, with his devotion to the project, staying with it for its entire run.
A revival of the late August Wilson's Fences — the playwright's best known play, which won the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play — is planned for the fall. Carole Shorenstein Hays, the producer who took a chance on the original production of Fences, will repeat her duties. The big surprise of the enterprise is its director: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who will make her Broadway debut as a director. No cast has been announced.
Finally, British actor Paul Scofield died on March 19. Many of Scofield's contemporaries called him the best of his generation — a presence of preternatural depth and maturity, augmented by a weighted stillness, a lined faced that told of bottomless experience, and a rumbling, luxurious voice that could capture the entire meaning of a character in a single, carefully uttered word. Tall and grave, he was a natural at playing kings and princes, as well as other, less royal masters of society. He was also good as making them crumble most humanly.
But if you wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and weren't British, you were largely out of luck. Scofield tackled dozens of classic roles over his six-decade career, included many of the best Shakespeare had to offer, but most of his performances took place in England and London. He was famously private and did not chase fame through a Hollywood career; his film appearances were memorable, but infrequent. He toured the world with his legendary King Lear, directed by Peter Brook, and repeated his most famous performance, as Sir Thomas More, in A Man for All Seasons, on Broadway and on film. But, beyond that, he was content to live out his life in the space between the stages of the West End and his family home in Sussex. He largely retired after his 1996 London stage triumph in John Gabriel Borkman and a string of great film performances, in "Quiz Show," "The Crucible" and "Martin Chuzzlewit." Like any good actor, he knew when to make an exit.