PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 4-10: Marvin Hamlisch, Elf, Richard Greenberg and Into the Woods

By Robert Simonson
August 10, 2012

Sondheim in the Park opened this week.



The Public Theater has, on occasion, filled the Delacorte Theater in Central Park not with the Bard, but with a musical. Though, as Hamlet might observe, this has been a custom more honored in the breach, than in the observance.

But if ever a musical deserved its time in the park, it's Into the Woods, which — as with As You Like It before it this summer — largely takes place in a forest. Central Park is as close to a forest as we're gonna get in the concrete jungle of New York.

This fresh take on Into the Woods is based on the 2010 Regent's Park Open Air Theatre London staging, meaning that this summer's Delacorte line-up gave us an American rendition of a British play and a British version of an American musical. A nice symmetry there. The Public Theater enlisted original London co-directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel to re-explore the production for Shakespeare in the Park. The cast drafted included Donna Murphy, Jessie Mueller, Denis O'Hare and Amy Adams, and John Lee Beatty built the treehouse of a set, with countless stairs and ladders.

The busy set, in part, led the New York Times to bemoan, "very little feels natural in this exhaustingly busy production. On the contrary, pretty much every element smacks of artifice. Admittedly, much of the cast isn't up to the demands of an intricate Sondheim score. But even those who are, like Ms. Murphy and Ms. Mueller, find their numbers undermined by the distractions of frantic and unfocused staging." The Post, agreeing, said, "Timothy Sheader’s hyperactive staging is effective for most of the first act, but after intermission it fails to bring the often divergent moods into a coherent whole. The problem is that the production — which originated at London’s Regent’s Park but was recast with Americans — insists so much on busy cartoonishness that it lacks emotional resonance. Without it, you’re left with a mere jumble."

Others, however, liked it very much. "Timothy Sheader, who directed this production with Liam Steel, brings to the material the right mix of sincerity, whimsy and imagination," wrote USA Today. Time Out, one of a number to employ the old "forest for the trees" metaphor, said, "Into the Woods isn't and shouldn't be easy; it's great and imperfect — and well worth a trip. Quibble with the trees here if you wish, but the forest, all told, is beautiful."

The production extended for a week before the reviews came out. As with all other Delacorte productions, it'll do just fine.

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Norbert Leo Butz

Two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, who works as often and as hard as any stage actor in New York, will join Katie Holmes in the Broadway premiere of Theresa Rebeck's comedy, Dead Accounts, beginning Nov. 3 at the Music Box Theatre.

Dead Accounts reunites Butz with Catch Me If You Can and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels director Jack O'Brien, who will stage the dark comedy. Butz will portray prodigal son Jack, with Holmes as his sister Lorna.

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Lincoln Center Theater and director Bartlett Sher continue their love affair with Clifford Odets.

Tony Shalhoub, Danny Burstein, Jonathan Hadary, Daniel Jenkins and Seth Numrich will star in LCT Broadway revival of Golden Boy, which begins previews Nov. 8 at the Belasco Theatre. The Belasco is where the company and Sher had a critical success with Awake and Sing! a few seasons back.

Numrich, who originated the role of Albert Narraccott in LCT's Broadway production of War Horse will take on the central role of Joe Bonaparte, who trades in an artistic career as a violinist to make big bucks as a boxer.

Judith Light
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Playwright Richard Greenberg — who followed a couple of Broadway seasons in the mid-2000s, when it seemed he was everywhere, spending the last three seasons polishing an equally impressive disappearing act — will return to the Broadway stage in spring 2013 with The Assembled Parties, opening at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

The play, to be directed by Lynne Meadow, is about the Bascovs, an Upper West Side Jewish family, 1980-2000. Julie Bascov is a movie star. She and her sister-in-law Faye bring their families together for their traditional holiday dinner. However, an unexpected house guest arrives. Consternation follows.

The show will star new Tony winner Judith Light, who's becoming quite the stage A-lister, and Jessica Hecht. It will begin previews March 19, 2013.

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This holiday season will feature dueling Christmas shows.

A Christmas Story, based on the popular yuletide film, is already set to arrive at the Lunt-Fontanne on Nov. 19. Now, we hear that Elf The Musical, founded on another holiday flick, will return for a limited run at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre beginning Nov. 9. Elf graced the Great White Way in 2010.

God bless them both, every one.

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Marvin Hamlisch

Finally, composer Marvin Hamlisch died this week at the age of 68.

Hamlisch worked until the end. His latest show, The Nutty Professor, recently opened in Tennessee. Should it come to Broadway, it will follow such Hamlisch efforts over the past three decades as Smile, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success. None of them, however, outshone the songwriter's Broadway debut, A Chorus LIne, the groundbreaking show that secured forever Hamlisch's place in the musical theatre pantheon. He outlived the show's other four creators by decades, and was one of only two who saw the original close on Broadway in 1990 after 15 years. The musical's reputation has not dimmed since that day. As the show's most famous tune said, it was, and is, a singular sensation.