Swank's Miracle Worker Makes Pre-Bway Debut in North Carolina March 14

News   Swank's Miracle Worker Makes Pre-Bway Debut in North Carolina March 14 Theatre's famous battle between a feisty teacher and a belligerent student named Helen Keller begins March 14 in North Carolina with the first preview of the Broadway-bound revival of The Miracle Worker.

Hilary Swank as teacher Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker.
Hilary Swank as teacher Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. (Photo by Andrew Eccles)

Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank plays teacher Annie Sullivan in what will be the actress' Broadway debut, when the show moves to New York April 8. For now, Swank and young actress Skye McCole Bartusiak duke it out at Charlotte Repertory Theatre, trying to bring light, love and communication to the dark, confused world of deaf and blind Helen Keller.

Performances continue to March 30 at the 434-seat Booth Playhouse, Charlotte Rep's home within the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The local press night is March 19.

Swank, who will not play Wednesday matinees in New York due to the strenuous nature of the role, will play all performances in North Carolina, per the tryout's LORT contract. There is no performance March 23, the night of the Academy Awards, and the March 25 performance has been canceled to allow Swank to appear at the premiere of her new film, "The Core." Swank won the Best Actress Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry."

Bartusiak was seen in the films, "The Cider House Rules" and "The Affair of the Necklace" with Hilary Swank and was featured on Fox Television's acclaimed series "24." The two actresses will wrestle, scream, cry and, famously, make a breakthrough in the play about the lost Helen connecting with the confusing world around her. The challenging script features pages of stage directions about Annie and Helen's lessons. The work is as much about choreography as it is acting.

The company also includes Stephen Markle, Mireille Enos, Jeffrey Carlson, Alexander Mitchell, Roberta Maxwell, Chandra Wilson and Courtney Simmons. This new revival of the inspirational drama by William Gibson is produced by Barry and Fran Weissler, Jennifer Manocherian and Harriet Newman Leve.

Marianne Elliott, an artistic director at London's Royal Exchange who recently helmed the Donmar Warehouse's staging of The Little Foxes, directs The Miracle Worker.

Performances begin April 8 at the Music Box Theatre toward an opening of April 24.

Designers are Lez Brotherston (set and costumes), remembered for arresting images in Swam Lake; Paul Gallo (lights) and Scott Myers (sound).

The Charlotte run is "terrific" for the resident NC not-for profit, Rep producing artistic director Michael Bush previously told Playbill On-Line. "It's part of what I wanted to do when I decided to come down to Charlotte," said former New Yorker Bush, currently in his first full season in Charlotte. "I wanted to raise the Rep to a national profile. I'm glad to say that's happened so quickly."

The Miracle Worker, which still shocks a modern audiences for the physicality and violence from the actresses playing Helen and Annie, won six Tony Awards, including one for Best Play in 1959. Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke were the original stars, and repeated their roles on film. Duke lost a tooth in one battle with Bancroft.

"It's very violent," Bush said, "and in talking to Marianne, I don't think we're going to shy away from it."

Single tickets for the Charlotte Rep run are now on sale. For information about Charlotte Repertory Theatre, call (704) 372-1000 or visit www.charlotterep.org.

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The strenuous role of Annie Sullivan, the teacher who wrestles with the mind and body of the wild, young Helen Keller, is covered by Jennifer Regan, who will play Wednesday matinees in New York.

It's not uncommon for actors in strenuous roles to protect themselves from wear and tear by playing a reduced week — the title role of Evita had alternates playing matinees on Broadway and tour, and the three pairs of principals in Broadway's current La Bohème rotate their performances, playing no more than three shows a pair each week.

Actresses who have played the role of feisty Irish teacher Annie Sullivan have said the show is a workout. Cynthia Dale, who performed it at the Stratford Festival in Canada in 1998 said in interviews that she was grateful she played the show in rep with other works, rather than eight times a week.

Tickets for the William Gibson drama about teacher Annie Sullivan and her hostile, blind and deaf student, Helen Keller, are available via telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200.

The box office at the Music Box, 239 W. 45th Street, will open on March 17.

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Bancroft and Duke both won Oscars for their performances. Duke later played Annie in a TV film of the work, with Melissa Gilbert as Helen. A theatrical sequel, Monday After the Miracle, showed Helen and Annie as adults, dealing with very different issues.

In addition to her work in "Boys Don't Cry," Hilary Swank appeared in television's "Beverly Hills, 90210" and in the films "The Way We Are" (1997), "The Audition" and "The Gift" (2000), "The Affair of the Necklace" (2001) and in "Insomnia" (2002) opposite Al Pacino. She will be seen in "The Core," set for release in March 2003.

Gibson's Miracle Worker was originally presented as a TV drama for "Playhouse 90." His plays include Two for the Seesaw, A Cry of Players, Golda, The Butterfingers Angel, Handy Dandy and Goodly Creatures. He is the author of a novel, "The Cobweb," as well as the musical version of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy. His books include "The Seesaw Log," "A Mass for the Dead," "A Season in Heaven" and a volume of poetry entitled "Winter Crook." His latest book is "Shakespeare's Game," a critical study.

The Broadway performance schedule is 8 PM Tuesdays Saturdays, 2 PM Wednesdays and Saturdays and 3 PM Sundays. The Music Box is at 239 W. 45th Street. Its recent tenants were Amour and Fortune's Fool.