PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 13-19: Angela Lansbury Will Tour, Jessie Mueller Will Not; Plus Some Love Letters for Love Letters

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 13-19: Angela Lansbury Will Tour, Jessie Mueller Will Not; Plus Some Love Letters for Love Letters
 
Some of the most exciting news this week came from the road. (What is this, the 1960s?)

Angela Lansbury in <i>Blithe Spirit</i>
Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit Photo by Robert J. Saferstein

Following a Tony-winning Broadway run and a critically acclaimed London engagement, five-time Tony winner Angela Lansbury, who is 88, has decided to show all the weak-kneed stage newbies—with their body mikes and seven-show weeks and limited runs—how it's done, and actually go out on the road with a show! 

She will return to the role of Madame Arcati in a North American tour of the classic Noel Coward comedy Blithe Spirit. Directed by Michael Blakemore, the revival will begin performances Dec. 9 at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles with an official opening on Dec. 14.

Following the closing of the LA engagement on Jan. 18, 2015, the tour will continue to SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco Jan. 20-Feb. 1 and Mirvish Productions’ Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto Feb. 10-March 15. The tour will conclude in Washington, D.C., March 17-29 at the National Theatre, where Lansbury made her first pre-Broadway stage debut nearly 58 years ago to the day.

"It is a joy to once again step into the role of Madame Arcati, and bring Noel Coward's classic comedy Blithe Spirit to wonderful audiences here in North America who have supported me for over seven decades," Lansbury said in a statement.

*** In direct contrast, it was learned this week that Tony Award-winning actress Jessie Mueller, who recently extended her contract with the Broadway production of Beautiful into March 2015, will not repeat her performance as Carole King when the musical hits the road next fall.

The Toronto Star has previously reported that Canadian actress Chilina Kennedy would join the Broadway cast of Beautiful in early 2015, while Mueller, the show's original star, was expected to headline the national tour. Many critics called Mueller the best thing about Beautiful when it opened. How important is the actress to the show's success? The tour will tell.

In the meantime, the producers of the Broadway version have nothing to worry about. They've made back their money. In was announced this week that the show recouped its $13 million investment. The musical has been playing to full houses for some time now. One would assume that Mueller's extra six months in the show will only be further financial icing on the cake.

***

Duncan Sheik
Duncan Sheik

Order more blood.

American Psycho, the gruesome new Duncan Sheik musical (based on the gruesome Bret Easton Ellis novel), which originated in London and was due to arrive in New York in at Second Stage, will not be having its American premiere at that Off-Broadway nonprofit anymore.

Instead, it looks like the show, which counts a nail gun and a hatchet among its needed props, may have a fall 2015 Broadway premiere instead, according to the New York Times.

The rumored reason for the show's removal from Second Stage's season was attributed to Act 4 Entertainment, a production company known best for film development, pulling the rights. The New York Times e-mail-interviewed David Johnson, Act 4's founder, for in-depth information on a potential direct-to-Broadway move.

In Johnson's interview with the Times, he confirmed that Broadway producers Jeffrey Richards and Jeffrey Frankel were "in negotiations...to become fellow lead producers for a Broadway run next fall. Mr. Johnson said he believed the show was in strong enough shape to go right to Broadway without testing it first with audiences and critics at Second Stage."

The New York Post, meanwhile, speculated that producers decided a straight-to-Broadway approach made more financial sense than paying the hefty "enhancement money" fee asked by Second Stage, which the Post said was $1.5 million.

***

Broadway had an opening this week, a quiet one over at the Atkinson, where Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow are the first pair of pen-pal lovers to star in the new Broadway revival of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters. Every month the cast will change in the Gregory Mosher-directed production.

"I had a suspicion that Mr. Gurney's play, first seen in New York in 1989 and trotted out regularly since then at regional and amateur theaters the world over, might by now feel as dated as the means by which its characters trade their thoughts. I also thought I detected a little cynicism in bringing what is essentially a staged reading to Broadway, sprucing it up with big names, and charging roughly $140 for a top-price ticket," wrote the New York Times, voicing what were likely the the feelings of many critics when going into the set-free two hander. "But before long, my qualms began to erode under the sweet, sad spell of Mr. Gurney's deceptively simple and quietly moving play."

The Hollywood Reporter agreed, saying, "A.R. Gurney's deceptively simple 1988 epistolary two-hander, Love Letters, is that rare work whose emotional richness requires no embellishment in order to become a full-bodied theatrical experience."

However, the AP didn't share that sentiment. "What's the minimum requirement for putting on a play?" began the rather angry notice. "Is it performers? Sets? Memorization? Surely, at a minimum, it's acting, right? More than a quarter-century after Love Letters premiered, A.R. Gurney's charming ditty of a play has landed on Broadway with virtually none of the characteristics of what you might expect in a play. While the script is clever, the thinness of the spectacle -- which the author himself insisted upon -- is sadly deflating...You almost feel sorry for Dennehy and Farrow, who are both trapped in a twilight between full-on acting and reading."

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