PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 5-11: Coal Miner's Daughter and Chaplin on Broadway

By Robert Simonson
May 11, 2012

Two left coast stars of very different generations and personalities are coming to Broadway.



Zooey Deschanel, the "New Girl" star known for her bangs and woodland-nymph-like eccentricity — and also for having a more-than-decent singing voice and musical ability — will play country music legend Loretta Lynn in a Broadway stage adaptation of the book and film Coal Miner's Daughter. The announcement was made, for optimum hokum effect, from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium during Opry Country Classics. (In 1979 at the Grand Ole Opry, Lynn invited a young Sissy Spacek onstage to announce that she had chosen the actress to portray her in the film "Coal Miner's Daughter." Spacek went on to win the Academy Award for her performance.)

Coal Miner's Daughter will be brought to the stage by Fox Theatricals and Scott Sanders Productions. The creative team and dates for the production will be announced in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the New York Post reported that Tom Hanks will star in Lucky Guy, Nora Ephron's account of the life of colorful and controversial tabloid reporter Mike McAlary, who died in 1998 and the age of 41. (Hanks, born in 1956, is much older than "lucky" McAlary ever lived to be.) George C. Wolfe will direct the play, which will test the idea whether plays with journalist protagonists can succeed with New York critics. (Recent examples, such as Sweet Smell of Success, Mr. and Mrs. Fitch and The Columnist have not fared too well.)

McAlary seems to be catnip for writers. Randy Quaid played a reporter based on him in the Ron Howard film "The Paper." And there's already been at least one play about his life: The Wood, by Dan Klores, which played Manhattan's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in 2011.

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Warren Carlyle
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In other Broadway bio-play news, Chaplin, a new Broadway musical based on the life of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, will arrive on Broadway Aug. 21 at the Barrymore Theatre, featuring direction and choreography by Warren Carlyle.

Unlike Coal Miner's Daugher, this project is following the old-fashioned publicity route, revealing its creative crew before it announces a star. Chaplin has a score by Christopher Curtis and book by Curtis and Thomas Meehan, who's been around so long he may have actually known Chaplin.

Initially announced for Broadway as Becoming Chaplin, the show's title has been streamlined. The musical was presented under the name Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin in its first full production at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2010. Rob McClure had the Little Tramp role there.

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That Tony nomination for Best Musical did Leap of Faith no good. The new Broadway show about a con-man preacher who blows into a depressed, drought-plagued Kansas town, will close on May 13, weeks before the winner of that category is announced. The Alan Menken-Glenn Slater-Warren Leight show followed negative pre-opening buzz with a clutch of poor-to-middling reviews, a public relations deficit it was never able to overcome. (Menken can draw some solace in that he still has two other musicals running on Broadway — Newsies and Sister Act.)

Topher Grace
Photo by Joan Marcus

New York may not have yet found room on Broadway or Off for Lisa D'Amour's hit Chicago play Detroit, which originally premiered in a production at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2011. But London has made a place for it.

The tale of suburban strife began performances at London's National Theatre May 8, prior to an official opening May 15. Austin Pendleton, who also directed it at Steppenwolf, directs a company that comprises Will Adamsdale, Clare Dunne, Stuart McQuarrie, Justine Mitchell and Christian Rodska.

The play will have its NYC debut at Playwrights Horizons later in 2012, in a production not piloted by Pendleton.

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Second Stage Theatre opened its production of Paul Weitz's Lonely, I'm Not, starring Topher Grace, on May 7. Trip Cullman directed the comedy, which is Weitz's fourth for Second Stage.

Like the Weitz plays that came before it, critics found Lonely on the slight side, but not without charm. Many commented on the cinematic qualities of the writing, and nearly all liked the winning performances of Grace and Olivia Thirlby. The production extended shortly after opening.

Not everyone was won over, though. The Hollywood Reporter offered this body slam: "Paul Weitz's Lonely, I'm Not joins the growing ranks of stunningly mediocre works that land major New York productions by virtue of their celebrity playwrights — actors or film directors whose names look good on the subscriber brochures of non-profit theatre companies, and who bring cachet to the casting process."

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Nick Jonas
photo by Joan Marcus

The Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — which served as a vehicle for two young male heartthrobs, at the altar of which young tweens swoon: Daniel Radcliffe and Nick Jonas — will close up shop on May 20, the producers announced this week. By its end, the production will have played 30 previews and 473 regular performances.

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There have to be some rewards for enduring life as a cast member of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark — besides the regular paycheck and sellout crowds, I mean.

The Tony Awards nominated not a single Spider-Man performer for a prize. But Patrick Page, who plays the story's villain, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin — and who was singled out by most reviewers as a bright spot in the ill-fated (and popular) production — got some recognition this week. He was named one of the winners of the annual Richard Seff Awards presented by the Actors' Equity Foundation. The awards honor a veteran female and male character actor for the best performance in a supporting role in a Broadway or Off-Broadway production. Laila Robins was the other recipient, for her work in Signature Theatre Company's The Lady From Dubuque.