PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 20-26: Sudden Changes

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 20-26: Sudden Changes There was some bustle in the Berkshires this week. Last Friday, the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival was Roger Rees, just as it has been for the past three years. This week it's Nicholas Martin.
Roger Rees
Roger Rees Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Word that Rees might be out first surfaced in Variety on Monday, even though neither Rees and Williamstown board president Matt Harris were talking. Harris finally did speak up on Thursday to announced the arrival of Martin, who is in his final season at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, and apparently is not the sort to let grass grow under his feet. Martin has a long history with the festival, having directed many productions there, during Rees' term and before.

Martin will begin his new job at the Massachusetts venue Nov. 1, while continuing to serve as artistic director of Huntington through spring 2008, which means a lot of trips down Route 90.

The reasons for the change in leadership were not illuminated, except for Harris' comment that "Roger [Rees] came in at a time of transition for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and did a great job setting a foundation of innovation for the future."

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Another Roger — Roger Bart — made an exit in New York, though under very different circumstances. The star of the big new musical Young Frankenstein, was sidelined by a lower back problem, missing this week's performances. His understudy, Matthew LaBanca, went on in his place. Bart is expected to return, possibly this weekend. ***

The ongoing contract dispute between League of American Theatres and Producers and Local One, the Stagehands Union, simultaneously heated up and cooled down this week. True, on Oct. 21 the members of Local One authorized its leaders to implement a strike should one be necessary. And yes, on Oct. 22, the League issued an 11-page document outlining the terms of their proposed contract, portions of which they began implementing. But then, after these two aggressive moves, the waters grew strangely calm. There was no strike. Instead, the head of the stagehands union asked members to continue working under the disputed provisions.

In a statement, president of Local One, James Claffey Jr., encouraged compliance, in order to "give the League time to invite [the union] back to the table and make an 'honorable deal.'" Claffey had told members at the Oct. 21 strike vote, "No work in December without a deal." Who wants to bet things drag on like this until Nov. 30?

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A Bronx Tale, which marks the Broadway debut of stage and screen star Chazz Palminteri, officially opened on Broadway Oct. 25. The one-man show is the same one that the actor performed in Los Angeles and Off-Broadway in the late '80s that inspired the 1993 film of the identical name. Critics thought it a tour de force, with Palminteri bringing warmth and affection to the characters, and exhibiting considerable storytelling skills. The show earned the best set of reviews for any Broadway show yet this season.

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A couple movie stars are coming to town, one to play a pillar of American justice, the other to play pillar of, uh, tabloid television.

Laurence Fishburne, who won a Tony Award for his performance in Two Trains Running, will return to Broadway this spring in the one-man show Thurgood based on the life of the Civil Rights great and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Previews will begin at the Booth Theatre March 30, 2008. James Earl Jones starred in the 2006 premiere at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel will play the title role in Jerry Springer — The Opera in Concert, which will play Carnegie Hall Jan. 29 and 30, 2008. The show, once the biggest hit in London, has long struggled to find a way to New York. Jason Moore will direct the concerts, which will be produced by David J. Foster, Jared Geller and Avalon Promotions. The producers have said that should the Carnegie Hall concerts be successful they will consider bringing the controversial work to Broadway.

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The Roundabout Theatre Company's production of J.T. Rogers' The Overwhelming, about an American family mired in Rwanda in early 1994, opened Oct. 23 to mixed reviews. Some found the drama riveting and moving, while others felt it did not measure up to its subject.

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In other Off-Broadway news, Tony and Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes Ruehl will star in the world premiere of Edward Albee's Occupant, directed by Pam MacKinnon, May 6-June 29, 2008, in a production by Signature Theatre Company. The Signature is where the show first premiered in 2002. The production was seen by few, as star Anne Bancroft played only a handful of performances, due to illness. It never officially opened, meaning Ruehl will, technically, appear in the official premiere.

Owiso Odera, Linda Powell and Tisola Logan in Roundabout's production of J.T. Rogers' <i>The Overwhelming</i>.
Owiso Odera, Linda Powell and Tisola Logan in Roundabout's production of J.T. Rogers' The Overwhelming. Photo by Joan Marcus
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