PLAYBILL.COM’S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 18-24: Oh, Lord

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM’S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 18-24: Oh, Lord $24 million can't buy you good reviews. That's what the producers of The Lord of the Rings learned on March 23, when the stage adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy novels—the most expensive piece of theatre in North American history, as well as one of the longest (nearly four hours)—opened in Toronto.
James Loye in The Lord of the Rings.
James Loye in The Lord of the Rings. Photo by Manuel Harlan

British director Matthew Warchus was in charge of this gargantuan enterprise, in which 70 performers attempt to relate the contents of the "Rings" trilogy — hobbits, orcs, elves, wizards, big giant spider and all. Pre-production went on for two years for the "theatrical event," as it is termed by producers Kevin Wallace and Saul Zaentz , in association with David & Ed Mirvish and Michael Kohl .

Critics came from all over the continent, but, judging from their reactions, the producers can't be blamed for thinking they all came from Mordor. The New York Times' Ben Brantley said the show was "largely incomprehensible" and that it fell down in terms of plot and character. Other reviews also faulted the storytelling and were even disappointed in the inventiveness of the spectacle. The show is meant to stay in Toronto for some time. The show was originally announced to bow in London, where it would have been even more expensive to produce. Whether it will make it to other cities now is something only Gandalf knows.

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MCC Theatre spent the last week unveiling the female stars of its production of Neil LaBute's Some Girl(s) one by one, as if they were the finalists on a beauty pageant. They make for an impressive, eclectic and TV-friendly quartet. Maura Tierney hails from "ER." Fran Drescher was the star of "The Nanny." Judy Reyes is a star of "Scrubs." Only Brooke Smith is primarily known for a film: "Silence of the Lambs." They all play the old girlfriends of a man who's about to get engaged. He, appropriately enough, is played by Eric McCormack (of TV's "Will & Grace"). Meanwhile, the original London star of the play, David Schwimmer, revealed he will direct the L.A. debut of the drama.

*** Two Broadway shows returned their investment this week. Bridge & Tunnel, Sarah Jones ' acclaimed Broadway debut solo, announced it had recouped its price tag of just under $1 million. The happy day was March 12 — the original end date of the show which has now extended through July 9.

Also on March 12, Broadway's new Sweeney Todd , directed by John Doyle , got back its initial $3.5 million investment, taking just 19 weeks to do it. That will surely encourage New York producers to bring in Doyle’s Cincinnati staging of Sondheim's Company, which they seem poised to do.

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Producer Scott Rudin, writer David Hare and actress Julianne Moore all worked on the film "The Hours." Now, they'll collaborate on Broadway. Moore will star in Hare's new work, The Vertical Hour (which apparently wasn't one of the hours covered in the movie). It will be directed by Sam Mendes , and produced by Robert Fox , Neal Street Productions and Rudin. Nov. 30 is the opening date.

The play is about "a young American war correspondent turned academic who now teaches Political Studies at Yale. A brief holiday with her boyfriend in the Welsh borders brings her into contact with a kind of Englishman whose culture and beliefs are a surprise and a challenge, both to her and to her relationship."

This will be Moore's Broadway debut and she has chosen her playwright wisely. Hare has a history of designing nice settings for Hollywood's female stars. Nicole Kidman did well by The Blue Room. Judi Dench returned to Broadway in Amy's View. And Cate Blanchett chose Plenty as a West End vehicle a few years back.