PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 9-15: Saint Nicholas

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 9-15: Saint Nicholas Precious little is happening in Theatre City, U.S.A., so let's turn our attentions across the pond, where Nicholas Hytner announced that—yes, they twisted his arm—he'll allow himself to be the most powerful man in English theatre and will stay on as the Royal National Theatre's artistic director for five more years after his current contract runs out in 2008.
Nicholas Hytner
Nicholas Hytner Photo by Aubrey Reuben

I doubt anyone's complaining. Hytner's has had the Midas touch from the get-go, directed or fostering hits like His Dark Materials, based on the Philip Pullman novels, Alan Bennett 's The History Boys, a revival of Jumpers, Jerry Springer – The Opera, Michael Frayn’s Democracy and David Hare's Stuff Happens.

This week, Hytner opens his latest, a new production of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist starring London theatre lights Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale in the first time the two award-winning actors have shared a stage. Beale could stand in as the National's poster boy under Hytner's reign. Along with the Jonson, he's headlined Jumpers and Brecht's The Life of Galileo.

Hytner also offered a glimpse of future productions at the National this week. Highlights include a new play by David Hare (no subject offered at present—ooh, mysterious), Jonathan Kent directing Ralph Fiennes in a 2008 production of Oedipus, and a 2007 revival of Beckett's Happy Days helmed by Deborah Warner and starring her long-time collaborator Fiona Shaw as Winnie.

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The West End production of Wicked geared up on Sept. 7 at London's Apollo Victoria Theatre, working toward an opening night of Sept. 27. New York smashes often lose their bloom when transplanted in English ground—the London The Producers recently announced it would close after just two years—so, as insurance, the producers have brought over Idina Menzel to reprise her Tony-winning turn as the misunderstood, green-faced witch Elphaba. Australian actress Helen Dallimore makes her West End debut as Glinda. One Broadway show that has managed to make more than a go of it in Piccadilly is Chicago, which shows no more signs of slowing down than does its New York counterpart. The producers Barry and Fran Weissler, with their usual sense of casting ingenuity/perversity, recently announced that pop star Ashlee Simpson will make her London stage debut when she plays Roxie Hart at the Cambridge Theatre. Now, just hire Jessica to play Velma and that I'd watch.

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To finish, the one bit of meaty Broadway news to surface this week. After having been rumored to star in a half-dozen upcoming productions, it's heartening to report that Kristin Chenoweth has really, truly committed to something. The former Glinda will return to the New York stage in November for the Roundabout Theatre Company 's production of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's triple-decker musical The Apple Tree. Chenoweth starred in the City Center Encores! production of The Apple Tree in 2005, playing all the roles (the piece is divided into three one-act musicals) that won Barbara Harris a Tony Award back in 1967. Her co-stars included Malcolm Gets and Michael Cerveris. The revival will play Studio 54. Directed by Gary Griffin, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, previews are scheduled to begin Nov. 28 with an official opening Dec. 14.