Even with the announcement of its premature closing, the revival of La Bête will have run longer than its original 1991 Broadway production, which lasted only 40 performances. The vibrant, 90-minute comedy returned to Broadway this fall after a London run at the Comedy Theatre this past June. When it closes it will have played 23 previews and 101 regular performances on Broadway.
Tony and Olivier Award-winning director Matthew Warchus (God of Carnage, Boeing-Boeing, The Norman Conquests) helmed the production that began Broadway previews Sept. 23 and officially opened Oct. 14 at the Music Box Theatre.
Warchus infused the 17th-century-set verse comedy with music and stage magic, including striking scenic tableaus, the ominous mist of an approaching storm and a grand entrance for Lumley, replete with gilded confetti.
“La Bête was always planned as a limited run on Broadway and we've now decided to end a 16-week engagement on Jan. 9, 2011, so as to avoid the historically challenging weeks that follow. " producers said in a Nov. 15 statement. "We know the next eight weeks will be as enjoyable and exciting as our first eight weeks."
Tony Award winner Rylance (Boeing-Boeing, Jerusalem) stars as the obliviously base street clown Volere, opposite Tony winner Pierce (Curtains, Spamalot) as the uncompromising highbrow playwright Elomire (an anagram for Molière) and BAFTA winner Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous"), who is making her Broadway debut as the imperious princess who forces the two men to align in a beastly intersection between art and populism. The transatlantic cast also includes Stephen Ouimette, Lisa Joyce, Greta Lee, Robert Lonsdale, Michael Milligan, Liza Sadovy, Sally Wingert, Deanne Lorette and Steve Routman. For the new staging, the role of Prince Conti (originated on Broadway in 1991 by Dylan Baker) has been changed to Princess Conti, with Lumley in the part.
La Bête is produced by Scott Landis & Sonia Friedman Productions, Roger Berlind, Robert G. Bartner/Norman Tulchin, Bob Boyett/Tim Levy, Roy Furman, Max Cooper, Dan Frishwasser, Bud Martin, Philip Morgaman/Frankie J. Grande, and Stephanie P. McClelland/Hagemann-Rosenthal in association with 1001 Nights and Richard Winkler.
The production has set design by Mark Thompson, lighting design by Hugh Vanstone, music by Claire van Kampen and sound design by Simon Baker.
La Bête marks the Broadway return of the Warchus-Rylance collaboration. The two were last represented in the Tony-winning revival of Boeing-Boeing and are frequent collaborators in the U.K.
Rylance spoke to Playbill.com about the collaboration on opening night: "[Warchus is] very, very good at the staging, and he's very good at bringing something down to the essential ingredients. He's a very thoughtful person. He's a classical musician, you know. He's a very good guitarist, and so he has a great sense of the music, of the rhythm of the piece and has a marvelous team who work with him always on the technical side, so his lighting and his sound and his conception of the design [are always honored]. He doesn't say a lot. He's a lovely director; he doesn't come in with any plan, really. He sees what unfolds with the cast that he's chosen and then shapes it very late on, so I'm able to be completely chaotic. And I must have thrown out just as many ideas as I use. … So that's a very nice way to work. He's a proper gardener, you know. He doesn't just impose a scheme on the landscape. He really looks at the landscape and sees what's there and then brings out and shapes it so that the audience can [appreciate it]. That's what he does. He really keeps an innocence, which is what you need from a director. You need them to be really thinking about the audience — what do they need to understand the story or the joke or what's moving about it here."
According to producers, "La Bête is a comic tour de force about Elomire (Pierce), a high-minded classical dramatist who loves only the theater, and Valere (Rylance), a low-brow street clown who loves only himself. When the fickle princess (Lumley) decides she's grown weary of Elomire's royal theatre troupe, he and Valere are left fighting for survival as art squares off with ego in a literary showdown for the ages."
La Bête made its Broadway premiere in 1991, playing 15 previews and 25 regular performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. The original cast featured Dylan Baker, Michael Cumpsty and Tom McGowan. The play received acclaim when it arrived in London in 1992, earning the Olivier Award for Best Comedy.
Tickets for the Broadway run are available by phoning (212) 239-6200 or by visiting Telecharge. The Music Box Theatre is located at 239 West 45th Street.
View highlights from the show: