PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 8-14: Hitting the Heights

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 8-14: Hitting the Heights
 
Another week, another unorthodox musical embraced by Broadway critics.

In the Heights
In the Heights Photo by Joan Marcus

A couple weeks ago, it was Stew's coming-of-age rock concert Passing Strange. This week it's In the Heights, the musical tale of life on the northern tip of Manhattan by Broadway newcomers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. The "Heights" of the title is Washington Heights, a Latino neighborhood, and the show fittingly pulsates with south-of-the-border rhythms. Miranda himself plays the central character Usnavi, a Dominican who runs a corner bodega.

As with Passing Strange, critics who liked it OK Off-Broadway liked it even more on Broadway. They acknowledged that the plotline was slim and a bit scattered, and that the show's vibe was much closer to the mainstream than the edge that the creators might think. But, all that aside, they admitted that the musical was just too damn infectious and the characters too likeable for it not to amount to a rousing good time. As Variety said, "the musical's plucky marriage of youthful freshness and lovingly old-fashioned craft is hard to resist."

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Alan Cumming in The Seagull
photo by Joan Marcus

Off-Broadway, a high-profile production of Chekhov's The Seagull opened at Classic Stage Company. Directed by Viacheslav Dolgachev, it starred Dianne Wiest at Arkadina and Alan Cumming at Trigorin. Some critics dismissed it outright, others said its comic tone was true to the author's intent. As is often the case with Chekhov in America, many said the culprit was the too disparate approaches to the material of the varied actors. Whatever they said, something appeared to be amiss. ***

A musical version of the film Mask has been talked about for a decade or so. Now its composers, the hugely successful pop-hit writing duo of Barry Mann (music) and Cynthia Weil (lyrics), finally saw the show on its feet. The real-life story of a disfigured boy, his tough mom and the biker community that embraces them, began performances March 12 at Pasadena Playhouse. Allen E. Read, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, plays teen Rocky in the Richard Maltby Jr.-directed show, which has a book by the picture's screenwriter Anna Hamilton Phelan. Opening is March 21.

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Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford has packed the 2008-09 season with old PH favorites. Nicky Silver, Theresa Rebeck, Craig Lucas and Adam Rapp, all of whom have been produced at the Off-Broadway nonprofit in the past, will arrive with new works.

The world premiere of Three Changes by Silver, directed by Tony Award nominee Wilson Milam (The Lieutenant of Inishmore), will launch the season in August on the PH Mainstage. Rapp will direct the world premiere of his new play, Kindness. Our House by Rebeck will play the Mainstage in winter/spring 2009. Bartlett Sher will stage the New York City premiere of Lucas' Prayer for My Enemy.

The Lucas play had its world premiere by Long Wharf Theatre, and was to have had its Gotham box at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels space, according to an article in Variety. But it was pulled by Lucas and his agent when they objected to the hefty 40 percent subsidiary rights — for 10 years — that the nonprofit was asking. The dispute shed a light on a little-known aspect of the playwright-nonprofit theatre business relationship.

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