PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 24-30: Oprah's Show Club

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 24-30: Oprah's Show Club There are apparently only two ways for theatre producers to attract publicity for themselves as well as their shows. One is to be Rosie O'Donnell. The other way, it seems, it to be Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey Photo by Jake Chessum

This week Winfrey become arguably the most interesting thing about the coming musical The Color Purple by signing on as one of its backers. The Broadway show will receive $1 million of its $10 million capitalization from Winfrey. In exchange, her name alone will appear above the title on the marquee and—it is safe to assume—act as a sort of big spinning coin, hypnotizing ticketbuyers to march up to the Broadway Theatre box office and empty their purses and wallets (but mainly purses).

Like Rosie, Oprah is a world famous talk show queen and what she says carries currency with millions of viewers. Getting her to climb onboard is the smartest thing the show's other producers (there are about a dozen) and creative team could have done; her imprimatur could single-handedly assure the production's popular and commercial success.

Oprah's involvement also lends a famous name to a venture that could use one. Gary Griffin is a talented director, lauded for his work in Chicago, but unknown outside theatre circles. Composers Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray have even less name recognition. The cast includes the tested veteran LaChanze and the rising newcomer Renée Elise Goldsberry, who will please critics but, again, probably make little impact at the box office. All told, the biggest selling point the show had before Oprah entered the picture was its title, which is shared by a widely recognized literary classic and splashy Steven Spielberg film.

That film, of course, is why Oprah showed any interest at all. She played a supporting role in the flick and earned an Academy Award nomination. Come spring, she might add a Tony nomination to her resume.

*** The Broadway season welcomed two more shows this week. Lisa Kron's Well, well-reviewed Off-Broadway in 2004, is returning to town. In a brave move by its producers, it will live on Broadway. The unorthodox "solo show with other people" will easily be one of the more challenging scripts the Tony Awards nominating committee will have to consider this season. The play ostensibly begins as Kron's earnest examination of her childhood and its effects on her mental and physical well being. She is vexed, however, by the constant interruptions of her mother, who sees everything a bit differently and starts to win over the audience, as well as the troupe of players Kron's hired to enact various scene from her past, who seem to like mom better than their employer. Soon, Kron can't call her play her own any more than she can fully control her life. Leigh Silverman will direct and Jayne Houdyshell will recreate her award-winning performance as Kron's mother.

Also due early next year is Ring of Fire, the new Johnny Cash-inspired musical revue currently playing the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo through Oct. 9. Subtitled The Johnny Cash Musical Show, Ring of Fire is co-conceived by William Meade and directed and co-conceived by Richard Maltby. The show does not feature an actor playing Cash.

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In other Broadway news, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's luck in attracting big stars to his projects continues. Tyne Daly and John Slattery have joined Cynthia Nixon is the upcoming Manhattan Theatre Club production of Rabbit Hole, beginning Jan. 12. Also, Cherry Jones, the 2005 Tony Award winner for her current role in Doubt, will likely move to another Broadway gig this season, opposite Ralph Fiennes and Ian McDiarmid in Brian Friel's Faith Healer. Jonathan Kent directs.

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It was hard luck and more hard luck for Off-Broadway this week. No show earned the full favor of the critical community. The Great American Trailer Park Musical, the new musical with the catchy title, opened at Dodger Stages on Sept. 27 to observations that the idea was good, but the execution a bit slight. At Playwrights Horizons, reviewers concluded that James Lapine's Fran's Bed, a tale of a once-happy mother (Mia Farrow) descending into despair and then a coma, didn't quite hold together. Meanwhile, the tale of another doomed mom, MCC's Colder Than Here, was deemed too cool and uninvolving by half.

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