PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 16-22: Angels in NYC, Follies in DC, Joseph Stein Mourned

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 16-22: Angels in NYC, Follies in DC, Joseph Stein Mourned
 
Do the Signature Theatre Company and Tony Kushner really care what the reviews are for Angels in America, the first-ever New York City revival of the iconic, seven-hour work, which opened this week? Probably not. The production's gotten heavenly press, the run's been extended by more than two months, and every ticket was sold long ago. It's a success, by most measures.

Frank Wood
Frank Wood Photo by Joan Marcus

But the critics will have their say, even when it concerns a personage like Kushner, who, we've all been told again and again, is the non-musical theatre's great genius. It came as no surprise that most reviewers reaffirmed the play's status as great and a classic. One reviewer called Angels a diamond that couldn't be tarnished no matter what. Another said the revival was "perfect." There were, in fact, no bad reviews. But there were notices with reservations, commenting that the production was uneven, that it didn't have the impact of the original (the Times called it "cozy"). And a brave few even claimed the work has (gasp!) flaws. Nonetheless, almost every critic shared one reaction: happiness at the play being back in our midst.

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There were also a couple openings this week on a little old street called Broadway. One was Rain, a Beatles tribute concert, which the critical corps begrudgingly admitted was a Broadway show and dutifully covered. They grimly reported that the "musical" was another step in the Million Dollar Quartet direction of producers presenting concerts by music-star impersonators as dramatic fare. "Would you pay $120 to see a Beatles cover band?" asked one. Another called it a "highly animated version of a Madame Tussaud's installation." The conclusion: for Beatles fanatics and nostalgic Baby Boomers only.

These same scribblers weren't exactly jumping up and down for Driving Miss Daisy, the Alfred Uhry chestnut which is now getting its Broadway debut. The tale of a white, Jewish, southern matron and her longtime black chauffeur was, and still is, a small work, they said, sentimental and corny for all its admitted appeal. It is simple, perhaps too simple. And best suited for Off-Broadway. However, some thought the play, its size notwithstanding, was perfectly calibrated. But the soul of this production was its legendary stars, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, who, said the reviews, are so practiced at their craft that they effortlessly fascinated the audience. For them, the production was worth the ticket price.

I'm guessing the producers knew that when they put the venture together. ***

There has been much talk this year about how Broadway shows are dependent on big stars, and how hard those stars are to replace when they inevitably leave. Well, The Addams Family is going to give it the old college try anyway. The critically unloved show has been a popular hit with Nathan Lane in it. Now we shall see if it remains one with Roger Rees, when he steps in Gomez's shoes next spring. Remaining will be Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia, making the show now catnip for diehard fans of "Cheers" reruns.

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Leap of Faith has decided to take a leap of faith and put itself on Broadway. The musical — which recently completed its world-premiere engagement at the Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre co-starring Raul Esparza and Brooke Shields, is aiming for a Broadway debut in fall 2011.

Leap of Faith features a score by Alan Menken, a book by Janus Cercone with Glenn Slater and lyrics by Slater. The fall plan assures that it won't be Menken vs. Menken for Best Score at the 2011 Tonys (his Sister Act the Musical opens this coming spring).

 

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Additional casting has been announced for the Kennedy Center's upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

Joining the previously announced Sally of Bernadette Peters — who has suddenly been very active after a number of years of professional dormancy — will be Florence Lacey as Sandra Crane, Linda Lavin as Hattie Walker, Jan Maxwell (who won fine reviews in the Off-Broadway revival of Wings this week) as Phyllis Rogers Stone, Elaine Paige as Carlotta Campion, Terri White as Stella Deems, and, Holy Man!, Susan Watson — Kim of the original Bye Bye Birdie and Nannette of the revival of No, No, Nannette! — as Emily Whitman. Where's she been?

The production has been extended two weeks and will now run May 7-June 19, 2011, in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer will direct the classic musical, with choreography by Warren Carlyle.

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The Public Theater has aligned with Minneapolis' Ten Thousand Things Theater to bring Measure for Measure to the underserved communities and facilities of New York City in December as part of the newly launched Mobile Unit.

Ten Thousand Things Theater, which presents theatre at correctional facilities, homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers, senior centers, low-income housing and community centers, will offer a two-week NYC-area tour of the Shakespeare classic prior to a limited, six-day run at Judson Memorial Church in the East Village.

From Nov. 22-Dec. 4 Measure for Measure will be offered at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, Susan's Place, the Bayview Correctional Facility, the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults, the Fortune Society and the Central High School/Boys & Girls Club of Newark. Additional stops will be announced shortly.

The new venture seems like an audacious step forward until you consider that New York Shakespeare Festival did exactly this sort of thing founder Joe Papp in the early 1960s, when the company was just getting started. So, actually, this is just the Public getting back to its roots. One imagines that this time around they won't have to battle inner-city games for the right to present free Shakespeare, as Papp was often forced to do.

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Finally, the theatre lost its last great, old-school bookwriter when Joseph Stein died this week at the amazing age of 98. Stein worked with nearly everybody and created the vital connective tissue between songs in such musicals as Zorba, Rags, Plain and Fancy, Mr. Wonderful, Take Me Along, Juno and Irene. But he will always be remembered as the man who reaffirmed the talent of Sholem Aleichem by making flesh and blood the Jewish community of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof

Like that metaphorical fiddler, Stein managed to scatch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck for more than 60 years. Trained as a social worker, he lucked his way into show business through a chance encounter with Zero Mostel. He moved from nightclubs, to television (as a member of Sid Caesar's famous bullpen of writers) to, finally, the stage. He scored a comedy hit adapted pal Carl Reiner's life story into Enter Laughing. After winning a Tony Award for Fiddler — arguably one of the dozen or so best libretti, and certainly one of the best known, in the history of the musical theatre — he never wanted for work. He could produce a joke or a tear with ease. Sometimes at the same time.

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