PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 25-31: Well, Well

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 25-31: Well, Well
 
Broadway critics collectively reached for their thinking caps (not required dress at most Broadway openings by any means) for the Times Square debut of Well , Lisa Kron's nimble and heartfelt deconstruction of her relationship to illness, wellness, her mother, her own past and even her identity as an autobiographical solo artist. (The play is called "a solo play with other people.")
Jayne Houdyshell in Well.
Jayne Houdyshell in Well. Photo by Joan Marcus

The first question the reviewers may have asked themselves was "How did this thing get uptown?" Broadway's usual idea of meta-theatre is when Hairspray references Gyspy. In Kron's play, which began at the Public Theater, the fourth wall is broken not only by Kron, but in "unscripted" interruptions by her mother, and, later, by the show's actors, who take a cue from Pirandello and revolt against their author. An onion has fewer layers than this play.

Many wondered if Kron's work would be a good fit on Broadway. But the critics, for the most part, welcomed it as a unique addition to the season. Ben Brantley of The New York Times said it "opens doors of insight and emotion that no other play in New York is unlocking right now." And Jayne Houdyshell, who plays Kron's mother, was embraced as warmly as her character is by Kron's wayward actors. The reviews will be welcome news to the producers, who will need them to press the case for the show, still very much an unknown quantity to the theatregoing public.

***

Nearly sold-out. That's the status of two hot New York shows, one on Broadway, one off. Three Days of Rain, with Julia Roberts, began previews on Broadway March 28, and the tabloids took immediate notice, breathlessly reporting that the star made it through the first performance without bodily injury or causing an international incident. Also, producer David Stone let it be known that the limited run had limited tickets left to offer.

Stuff Happens, David Hare's beat-around-the-Bush historical drama, won't be accepting any more comers pretty soon, as well. The show began its run on the same day as Rain and, though it boasts no famous actors, the characters, who have names like Cheney, Blair and Rice, are all kind of well known. Rain opens on April 19. Stuff opens April 13. ***

The Rat Pack Is Back! Frank, Dean & Sammy. Heaven Help Up! The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas. The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean. Just how many tiresome Rat Pack musicals are out there? And why do they always seem to run into trouble?

The latest Rat Pack story blows out of Chicago, where members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians have been picketing the Royal George, home of The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean (a rare show in this genre to put Joey Bishop in the title; Peter Lawford, meanwhile, is a no-show in most of these entertainments, apparently still unforgiven by Frank and company for that unfortunate Kennedy business). The attraction has an orchestra of 12 musicians, none of them union. The producer's response: “This is a non-union show. End of conversation."

Last fall, Frank, Dean & Sammy had a similarly rocky relationship with labor when it tried to run at the Supper Club in New York. The show, partly written by former pop idol David Cassidy, failed to open as schedule on Dec. 19 following a dispute between the Club and Actors' Equity. Taking its place was another Rat Pack celebration, Frank, Dean & Sammy Live in Concert, which had previously played London, Las Vegas, Branson, MO, and Europe. (Yet another Sinatra-themed show took its place later.) Meanwhile, around the same time, Toronto hosted the North American premiere of The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas at the Canon Theatre. The piece, set in The Sands Hotel in 1960, had previously opened in London. (Haven't they all?)

But let’s not forget Heaven Help Us!,, subtitled The Swingin' New Rat Pack Musical, which played Florida and Denver in 2004. This entry is surely the most fantastical of Rat Pack musicals. The plot features Sammy, Frank and Dean returning to Earth to right a wrong—my guess is a miscalculated bar bill.

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