PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 25-Oct. 1: Grandage, Cromer, Pitmen & Encounter

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 25-Oct. 1: Grandage, Cromer, Pitmen & Encounter Another wildly successful era in the history of London's Donmar Warehouse will soon come to an end. Michael Grandage, who began his reign as artistic director in November 2002, will step down from that position in late 2011 after nine years.

Michael Grandage
Michael Grandage Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When he was appointed, it was hardly imagined that Grandage's reign would match the achievement of the superstar who preceded him, Sam Mendes, the golden boy of 1990s British theatre. But, astoundingly enough, he equaled, even exceeded Mendes' accomplishments. Grandage sent high quality productions over the pond on an annual basis, including Frost/Nixon, Mary Stuart, Hamlet and Red. Productions transferred to the West End as well, and in 2009 he led the company into the West End for a year-long season of work at the Wyndham's Theatre, which played to 98 percent capacity. In 2009 the Donmar's work played across four continents. And he gave the American musical Parade a new lease on life through a new staging.

No wonder he's tired and wants to move on.

"I have spent nearly 15 years running organizations in the subsidized sector in Sheffield and London and the experience has been completely thrilling from start to finish," said Grandage. "I am now keen to have a career that moves away from being in charge of a building in order to develop my work as a director in other ways."

Grandage's next production for the Donmar is King Lear followed by a new production of Schiller's Luisa Miller in 2011. After that, he begins to take outside jobs. He makes his debut at the Met with a new production of Don Giovanni. In 2012 he is set to direct a production of Evita on Broadway.

God help the poor slob who becomes Donmar's third artistic director and has to contend with the legacies of both Mendes and Grandage. ***

Ben Stiller
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Ben Stiller didn't have to look very far to find the vehicle for his return to Broadway. He just picked up a copy of the last play he did on Broadway.

Stiller and Edie Falco will head the cast of a Broadway revival of John Guare's House of Blue Leaves, according to Variety. Stiller played the role of Ronnie Shaughnessy in the acclaimed 1986 Lincoln Center production of the dark comedy about American dreamers in Sunnyside, Queens. He will now play the role of Artie Shaughnessy, with Falco as his wife Bananas. Much-in-demand director David Cromer will direct.

Scott Rudin will produce the revival, which will play the Walter Kerr Theatre in the spring.

A lot of things are coming Cromer's way these days. The Chicago director, who broke into the New York scene in a big way with his acclaimed Off-Broadway productions of Orson's Shadow, Adding Machine and Our Town, was among 2010 recipients of the so-called MacArthur "Genius" Grant announced this week. What's a modest, self-effacing guy from the Midwest going to do with half a mil and the label of genius?

***

Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters, about British miners who became celebrated artists in the 1930s and '40s, officially made its American premiere this week — with its original U.K. cast — opening on Broadway Sept. 30 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Some critics found it a fine, feel-good, insightful piece of work. Others, while respecting it, damned it slightly with faint praise, calling it heart-warming and educational. Still, overall, the reception was positive.

Warmer praise was reserved for the other Broadway opening (also British-born) this week, the Broadway premiere of Brief Encounter, the Kneehigh Theatre's highly theatrical and widely acclaimed adaptation of Noel Coward's stage and film romance, on Sept. 28 at Studio 54. The good reviews were hardly a surprise. The production — adapted and directed by Emma Rice, who includes puppets, songs, incidental music, dance, and film projections in the mix — has already proved a critical hit in the U.K., across the U.S. and in Brooklyn. Critics again praised its blend of music-hall, romance and comedy, theatrical artifice and emotional honesty.

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Catch Me If You Can, the forever-Broadway-bound musical from the hit-makers behind Hairspray, finally has a Broadway home. It will play the Neil Simon Theatre, its producers announced. The new musical, directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, will officially open April 10, 2011. Same director, same choreographer, same theatre as Hairspray. What could go wrong?

But here's a bit of tasty irony. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom sequel Love Never Dies, was previously announced to play the Neil Simon, with none other O'Brien and Mitchell announced to stage the Broadway production. O'Brien and Mitchell have reportedly withdrawn from the project. They didn't have to change their mailing address, though. It came as no surprise on the morning of Oct. 1, two days after the Catch Me confirmation, that a spokesperson for Love Never Dies said that the ALW sequel (panned in London, but expected to be revised for the future) "will not be opening on Broadway this spring."

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Either Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong is doing a great favor for the producers of American Idiot, the stage adaptation of Green's Day's seminal album, or he truly is the theatre geek he seems to be.

Starting Sept. 28, Armstrong jumped into the role of St. Jimmy in the Broadway production, effortlessly sending both Green Day and musical theater fans into hysteria. Just goes to show that, sure, you can headline stadiums around the world, but for some there's only one Broadway. 

Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Esper, John Gallagher Jr. and Stark Sands
Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Esper, John Gallagher Jr. and Stark Sands
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