The trend continued this week. At a press reception held at the West End club Century, it was announced that three continents of theatre would be linked in a new creative exchange that includes Sydney Theatre Company, New York's LAByrinth Theatre Company and the West End's Trafalgar Studios. It's the British Empire all over again!
The first manifestation of this new partnership is Riflemind, which opened at Trafalgar Studios. (We were wondering what LAByrinth artistic director Philip Seymour Hoffman was doing directing that.) Andrew Upton's play was first produced last year at Sydney Theatre Company, where Upton is co-artistic director with his wife, some actress named Cate Blanchett.
At the press conference, attended by Upton, Blanchett and Hoffman, Howard Panter, joint chief executive and creative director of the Ambassadors Theatre Group (which runs Trafalgar), said the partnership will be "not monogamous, but a special relationship, in which we will tell each other what we are doing." Hm. Sounds sexy.
A Tale of Two Cities, the unloved child of the fall Broadway season, opened on Sept. 18 and, predictably, got no love from the critics. The new musical by Jill Santoriello (well, sorta new — she's been working on it for decades) was called lumpen, mediocre and a throwback to the operatic mega-musicals of the 1980s. Many an uninspired critic riffed on the famous "Best of times, worst of times" line from the Dickens novel. That is, when they weren't riffing on the "Far, far better thing" line. (Honestly, guys, I know you aren't paid a lot, but surely you can dredge up something wittier than that.) The show's one distinguishing aspect, most agreed, was the performance of James Barbour as Sydney Carton. Also opening this week was Beast, the new Michael Weller piece at New York Theatre Workshop. Jo Bonney staged the "fever dream in six scenes" about two maimed Iraq War veterans, one of whom may be a member of the walking dead, who wander the nation in search of a sense of purpose, and end up confronting George W. Bush himself at his ranch in Crawford, TX. Critics said the premise was adventurous, but that the promising play didn't quite live up to its promise. Others said it was memorable enough that its flaws could be forgiven.
CSC debuted its new production of Shakespeare's The Tempest, directed by Brian Kulick and starring Mandy Patinkin as Prospero. Reviews were largely favorable, applauding Patinkin's dominating performance, though criticizing the production's inconsistent tone and some mundane staging.
In Chicago, the Goodman Theatre's world premiere musical, Turn of the Century was set to begin previews Sept. 19. This show would be significant enough if it only starred Rachel York and Jeff Daniels (who apparently can sing), or if it were only the next work from Jersey Boys writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. But it's also directed by the reclusive and hard-to-hire Broadway legend Tommy Tune. So it's going to get as much scrutiny as would any Broadway show.
According to Goodman notes, Turn of the Century "tells the story of a modern cabaret duo Dixie Wilson (York) — an aspiring chanteuse who can't catch a break with a gig or a guy — and Billy (Daniels), her sexy cocktail pianist ["sexy cocktail pianist"?] who knows the songs and loves the ladies. …At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 1999, the century turns, but in the wrong direction: the duo is catapulted back in time, before the hit songs of the 20th century have been created." Sounds like material Tune, and old song-and-dance man well versed in past eras of American entertainment, could sink his teeth into.
Tune, Brickman and Elice hand-picked each musical number in the show, most of which are existing music from the American songbook from 1899-1999. A songlist has not been announced — which offers an element of musical suspense you might not otherwise find in a show that deals in songs that were all written a long time ago.
News from overseas. Helen Mirren will return to the National's Lyttelton Theatre in June 2009 to star in a new production of Racine's 1677 play about a stepmom sexually attracted to her much-younger stepson, Phaedra — a Mirren role if there even was one. Phaedra will be directed National artistic director Nicholas Hytner, who this week revealed further plans for 2009.
Also on the National roster will be England People Very Nice, a new play by Richard Bean; Marianne Elliott's production of All's Well That Ends Well; the National directorial debut of Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage with Buchner's Danton's Death; and Brecht's Mother Courage, directed by Deborah Warner and starring Fiona Shaw in the title role.
Also on the schedule are productions of Wole Soyinka's Devil and the King's Horseman, directed by Rufus Norris; Marlowe's Dido Queen of Carthage, directed by James Macdonald; and JB Priestley's Time and the Conways, directed by Rupert Goold.
Buchner, Brecht, Marlowe. Just your average, run-of-the-mill London season, where the canon is performed, not read in graduate school classrooms.