PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 5-11: Nina, the Find; King Lear Rules Anew; Godspell's Back

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 5-11: Nina, the Find; King Lear Rules Anew; Godspell's Back
 
Nina Arianda is a star. That's the big story this week.
Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy
Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy Photo by Joan Marcus

I mean, she was already a star, has been from the time critics first laid eyes and laurels on her in the 2010 Classic Stage Company premiere of David Ives' two-hander Venus in Fur. Enough of a star to be the main reason Born Yesterday was revived on Broadway last season. But now she's really a star.

Manhattan Theatre Club was smart enough to take CSC's hot property and put it on a bullet train to Broadway. The show, directed by Walter Bobbie, opened on Nov. 8 at the Friedman Theatre. And the reviews for Arianda—well, they're the kind that come around about once a decade, the kind you read about in theatre history books, the kind of anointing accolades you thought just didn't happen anymore in our cynical age.

"The flickering of those stage lights barely registers beside the incandescent Nina Arianda," wrote the Times, dipping its quill in purple ink, "the sensational young actress recreating the role that made her a name to watch when she first starred in the play Off-Broadway." Said the AP, "The last line of the play is "Hail, Aphrodite!" but it might as well be "Hail, Arianda!" "Whoever said lightning doesn't strike twice hasn't seen Nina Arianda reprise her breakout role," reported the Daily News, "Playing Vanda, a seemingly ditzy and desperate actress auditioning for a job, she's so funny, smart and sexy that watching her brings unexpected jolts like an electrical shock." From Newsday, "For almost two nonstop hours, Arianda makes whiplash changes from gawky hopeful to scary siren — with stops at elegant countess, Jerry Lewis, a deadly spider, a skinny duck, a classic comedian, a grand tragedian, an actress in a revenge fantasy and a goddess who knows the power of bare thigh above a high boot."

Further good news for MTC is that the critics also liked Arianda's co-star, Hugh Dancy, in Ives' rehearsal-room-set, sexual dance of power-shifts. And the play? Well, yeah, sure, that was good, too. But, what about that Arianda?!

As a side note, it should be noted that Bobbie is having a good year critically, between the praise for Venus and the high marks he got for his direction of The Submission. ***

Hunter Parrish in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Another production opened on Broadway this week, but it didn't get nearly the bear hug Venus did. The first Broadway revival of Stephen Schwartz's Godspell, the rock musical that relates parables of Jesus, opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre Nov. 7. Overall, the critics thought the chipper cast was giving the good word a little too hard a sell.

The Times said attending the show was "like being trapped in a summer camp rec room with a bunch of kids who have been a little too reckless with the Red Bull." Which is a hard line to spin. Possibly more billboard-ready is Time Out's "Reorchestrated and sound-designed for young, modern ears, this Godspell sounds like a born-again 'Glee,' and several performers have moments to shine."

But the cons outweighed the pros, post-opening night. The Hollywood Reporter said of the Daniel Goldstein-directed production "Prepare ye the way for disappointment. Goldstein approaches it all like a Children's Television Workshop special." The New York Post wrote, "It's great for teens, but adults may find its hyperactivity a bit numbing." On the positive side, the always-look-on-the-bright-side Mark Kennedy of the AP liked the show, saying "It's clear that Godspell has anointed a new group of Broadway stars and we are the richer for it."

***

Sam Waterston in King Lear.
photo by Joan Marcus

The major event this week Off-Broadway was the opening of King Lear, in which Sam Waterston returned to his longtime Shakespearean home, the Public Theater. James Macconald directed an impressive cast including Bill Irwin, Kelli O'Hara, Frank Wood, Michael McKean and Seth Gilliam.

Among Shakespeare's tragedies, King Lear, so disjointed and difficult a work, almost never wins across-the-board raves. And this production was no exception. The reviews were mixed for both Waterston and Macdonald. The Times called the production "gray slush" and Waterston "only a fitful flame, always on the verge of being extinguished for good." USA Today, however, begged for viewer patience. "Waterston's outsized crankiness is just the first step in a beautifully measured performance that makes Lear's fall to frailty painfully accessible. Under James Macdonald's witty, sensitive direction, Waterston crafts a compellingly human king, whose lapses into irrational and often childlike behavior will resonate with anyone who has watched an older relative or admired authority figure confront the neurological ravages of time."

Others took a middle road. Hollywood Reporter wrote, "While he parses the language with probing clarity, the corrosive stranglehold of power on Waterston’s enfeebled monarch could be tighter. But it’s a slow-burning interpretation that eventually reaches peaks of despair." And the Daily News said Waterston, "manages now to keep his dignity despite the unilluminating hodgepodge he’s at the center of in director james Macdonals's revival. At best, the revival is accessible. At worst, it lacks a strong point of view, compelling ideas and impact."

***

Julie Taymor
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

There aren't many good weeks in the blighted life of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. But this one was particularly un-good.

It began with the news that Julie Taymor, the show's erstwhile director, had filed a lawsuit against the producers of the musical. The lawsuit claims that the producers not only violated the Tony-winning Lion King's creative rights but also have yet to compensate her for her work on the musical, which is currently playing to capacity crowds at the Foxwoods Theatre. Attorney Charles Spada, who filed the suit, said in a statement that "the producers' actions have left her no choice but to resort to legal recourse to protect her rights."

Taymor's not the only litigious one. Investors are also unhappy. Patricia Lambrecht, who agreed to put up $2.5 million in collateral so that the producers of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark could license what is now called the Foxwoods Theatre, has also filed a lawsuit. In order to begin construction in the Broadway house, producers needed to sign a Theater License Agreement, which states that the theatre would be returned to good condition following the run of the musical. Lambrecht's collateral, according to reports, was a guarantee that "even if the show never opened, the theater would be paid for restoration costs."

Lambrecht's deal included a facility fee of $368,750; that fee was increased to $985,000 once the production began experiencing numerous delays. Lambrecht says, to date, she's only received payment of $360,000 from producers and is currently owed $625,000 as well as seven months of interest.

And no bad week at the Foxwoods is complete without an injury. Matthew James Thomas, who performs the title role at the Wednesday and Saturday matinees, was hurt backstage during the matinee performance Nov. 9. Thomas' injury occurred toward the beginning of the musical's second act, as he was transitioning from one scene to another. The singing actor was taken to the hospital, where he received stitches, and the production was stopped for approximately 10 minutes.

Reeve Carney, who created the title role and plays six performances a week, happened to be in the theatre at the time of the mishap. He stepped into the role for the remainder of the show. Which leads to the question: What self-preserving Spider-Man actor hangs out at the Foxwoods when he doesn't have to?

***

A commercial producer is seeking to give a New York City life to the Jeff Award-winning production of Bruce Graham's The Outgoing Tide, which stars not one, but two Tony-winning Steppenwolf Theatre Company actors, John Mahoney and Rondi Reed.

The drama is about an aging patriarch's life-changing decision as he faces illness. It had its world premiere May 12-June 26 as a commission by Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL, and got positive notices.

***

Norbert Leo Butz

The ever-on-a-roll career of Norbert Leo Butz keeps on rolling. The two-time Tony-winner has been cast as the lead of a new Off-Broadway production of Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive. He will star opposite Elizabeth Reaser at Second Stage Theatre. Kate Whoriskey directs. Previews will begin Jan. 24, 2012.

***

Had Marc Camoletti's Boeing Boeing not been an unexpected hit on Broadway a few seasons ago, it would seem crazy to do a new Broadway production of Camoletti's old bedroom farce Don't Dress for Dinner (the worst/best farce title next to Run For Your Wives). But Boeing was a hit, and what was once crazy is now canny. So here comes Dinner!

The latter is actually a kind of sequel to Boeing, and features the further farcical adventures of that play's characters Robert and Bernard. John Tillinger will direct the revival, to run at the Roundabout Theatre in spring 2012. The play is somewhat test-driven, in that it made for a popular 2008-09 Chicago staging at the Royal George Theatre. That outing starred Jeffrey Donovan of TV's "Burn Notice" as Robert and Mark Harelik as Bernard, with Patricia Kalember, Spencer Kayden, Jamie Morgan and Chris Sullivan.

Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes said the comedy would bring some lightness to a Roundabout season that has a lot of shadows — i.e., Man and Boy, Sons of the Prophet, Suicide, Incorporated, The Road to Mecca and Look Back in Anger. The man has a point.

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