PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 27-Oct. 3: A Good Chekhov

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 27-Oct. 3: A Good Chekhov Critics like to tell American theatregoers that Chekhov is good for them, like medicine. But then, when reviewing an individual production of the Russian writer, they usually go on to say that this particular dose of medicine will taste terrible.
Peter Sarsgaard and Kristin Scott Thomas
Peter Sarsgaard and Kristin Scott Thomas Photo by Joan Marcus

But then, when reviewing an individual production of the Russian writer, they usually go on to say that this particular dose of medicine will taste terrible. What a surprise and a relief then, when New York reviewers this week found a Chekhov that is both good for us, and tastes good, too! The production in question, of The Seagull, came from the Royal Court in London, where it was lavishly praised in 2007. It is headed by Kristin Scott Thomas, who repeats her London performance as the vain actress Arkadina, and Peter Saarsgard, an American addition, as Arkadina's writer-lover Trigorin. Critics praised the Ian Rickson-directed piece as striking just the right balance between the play's mingled elements of comedy and tragedy. They also commended it as a true triumph of ensemble, as opposed to a star vehicle for the actress playing Arkadina, which can often be the case.

The exultant reviews should inspire some activity at the box office for the limited run, which ends in Dec. 21. Who knows? Broadway may get that rarest of gifts for Christmas this year: a Chekhov that recoups!

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Speaking of recouping, the 2008 Tony Award winner for Best Revival of a Play, Boeing-Boeing, recouped its initial $2.65 million investment. If the great reviews and steady audiences haven't yet proven that farces once again have a life on Broadway, this news will surely do it. Bring on that revival of Run for Your Wife!

*** Recouping a long, long time ago — before anyone had heard of Sarah Palin, before any of Britney Spears' marriages — was Hairspray, the musical version of the John Waters musical.

News came this week that the Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman musical will likely close in January, after six and a half years. The show resuscitated the career of Harvey Fierstein, and the actor will show his gratitude by returning to the role of Edna Turnblad between mid-November and mid-January to give the show a fitting sendoff. His return may provoke a further Rent-like extension.

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Ben Brantley of the New York Times was a happy camper this week. Not only did he call The Seagull "the finest and most fully involving production of Chekhov that I have ever known," he praised Tarell Alvin McCraney, the young author of the new Wig Out! at the Vineyard Theatre as "astonishing." The play is about two rival drag houses, which, in case you're wondering, are households peopled by "families" of drag queens. They challenge each other's supremacy through "balls," where they cat-walk and vamp and wear the hell out of some outlandish costumes. All reviewers praised the vibrant production by Tina Landau, and most found the play original and lively, while a few observed that the drama could use some extra substance. A two-week extension was announced soon afterward.

Fifty Words' Elizabeth Marvel and Norbert Leo Butz
photo by Joan Marcus

Brantley also had some good things to say about MCC's production of Fifty Words, the second new Michael Weller play produced this fall, though he had more of those words for stars Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Marvel as a married couple caught in knock-down, drag-out fight, than he did for the script itself. Others felt the same, praising the sheer dynamite of the performances, while being respectful at best about the text. ***

Finally, there were some changes made in the cast of Shrek the Musical as it made its way from Seattle to Broadway. Daniel Breaker, lately of Passing Strange, was tapped to assume the role of Donkey. (Talk about a change of pace.) He replaces Chester Gregory, who originated the role on the West Coast. Additionally, the role of the Dragon will be re-defined in the show. As first conceived, the voice of the dragon was performed by a principal vocalist, supported by a chorus of eight performers. There's no principal now, only a chorus, and the actress who played that principal, Kecia Lewis-Evans, "has decided by mutual consent not to continue with the production on Broadway as part of the chorus."

Opening at the Broadway Theatre is still set for Dec. 14.

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