PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 28-Aug. 3: Bring It On, Mike Tyson, Diner and Christopher Plummer

By Robert Simonson
August 3, 2012

Broadway openings in August? As recently as 20 years ago, they would have been unheard of. But no longer. We've got air-conditioning, don't we? And there's not a lot of competition for press and audiences during the dog days, is there? So why not open in August?



In the past couple seasons there have been more than the usual Broadway contingent of plays and musicals about sports. (The usual number of such specimens being: zero.) There's been Lombardi, Lysistrata Jones and Magic/Bird. None have done terribly well. Nonetheless, this month brings two more efforts: Bring It On: The Musical, the new show inspired by the popular film franchise about rival cheerleading teams, which opened Aug. 1 at the St. James Theatre; and Undisputed Truth a one-man show about Mike Tyson, starring Mike Tyson, which opened Aug. 2 at the Longacre Theatre.

The critical reaction to the former was summed up by Variety, which said, "Neither roses nor brickbats are likely to be thrown at Bring It On, but you'll see plenty of cheerleaders tossed up high." Indeed, director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler's work was the most highly praised aspect of the production. "It's when the cast members drop the bonding and the mean-girl bitching to take part in Mr. Blankenbuehler's exciting cheerleading routines, arranging themselves into dazzling human starbursts," wrote the New York Times, "that Bring It On really brings something fresh to the ever-expanding roster of shows aimed at the teenage demographic." The Hollywood Reporter said, "the sheer athleticism of the event numbers — with whirling cheerleaders catapulted into the air and then caught in gasp-inducing basket tosses — provides enough genuine thrills to compensate for the stop-start storytelling. When the girls are airborne, the show soars."

Mike Tyson and Spike Lee
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Otherwise, the show — with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt and lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green — was thought to have "the feel of a daffy lark embarked upon as a summer-vacation goof" (the Times); and to be "harmless entertainment" (Newsday).

Undisputed Truth is the kind of oddball Broadway show that makes theatre critics ask themselves, "Is this theatre?" and "Do I really have to review this just because it's on a Broadway stage?" Thus, the unusual number the second- and third-string drama reviewers that were sent to the Longacre. The critics were, by and large, kind. The Daily News declared, "Like his life, the show is entertaining, fascinating and messy. At the center of it all is a 46-year-old from Brooklyn with enough triumphs and tribulations to fuel a few memoirs." Newsday said, "The show, directed by Spike Lee, is at times crude, at times emotional and mostly funny. His delivery is on target, although often laced with profanity."

The Times wrote, "That incongruous, almost childlike Tyson charm pokes through occasionally and makes you momentarily forget how ham-handed and manipulative the show is. Sure, we should save our accolades for the many people who have transcended difficult beginnings without abusing drugs, racking up a rape conviction and biting off a piece of another guy's ear. But by the end of Undisputed Truth you may at least be willing to grant that it would be swell if Mr. Tyson has finally found a nondestructive way to exist in the world."

Michael Andrew in The Nutty Professor.
Photo by Rick Malkin

The world premiere of The Nutty Professor, the new Rupert Holmes-Marvin Hamlisch musical based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis film comedy, opened in Nashville July 31 following previews from July 24. Lewis, who also directed, has said the production will graduate to Broadway.

Michael Andrew plays the title character, a dorky, maladroit scientist named Julius Kelp who concocts a potion that transforms him into a smooth, but loathsome lothario named Buddy Love. The film is arguably Lewis' best known and most respected.

Reviews included one by the Tennessean, which said "this charming musical may just have found the formula for future success on Broadway….Add in a polished score from none other than Marvin Hamlisch and clever book/lyrics by Rupert Holmes, and you may find yourself wondering why it's taken so long for this Professor to find its way out of the laboratory." The paper added, "Michael Andrew dives into the title role — make that roles — with tremendous energy and versatility. His spin on Julius Kelp is appropriately goofy, but there's something also quite endearing." 

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At the Stratford Festival in Canada, Christopher Plummer explored his love of language and books in a new solo show, A Word or Two, with Des McAnuff directing. The evening at the festival's Avon Theatre touches on Milne, the Bible, Shaw, Wilde, Coleridge, Marlowe, Auden, Nabokov, Rostand, MacLeish, Shakespeare, Byron, Nash and Leacock.

Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two.
photo by David Hou

The Chicago Tribune praised it as "a deft mix of structure-enhancing musicality and simple restraint and themed around Plummer's life-long obsession with words. In the more conventional early sections drawing from Plummer's early life in Toronto and Montreal, it suggests the kind of solo show that many workaholic older actors like to have in their trunks and that can be easily trotted out in fallow months." However, the paper added, "None of this, of course, would have the same power were not Plummer so formidable a performer,… The show is both strikingly intimate and, well, slightly stiff and dignified. It is Christopher Plummer, after all."

The Toronto Star, however, didn't have any reservations: "You don't review a show like Christopher Plummer's A Word or Two. You simply bow gratefully, say 'Thank you, Mr. Plummer,' and urge everyone reading this to buy tickets as rapidly as possible. Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to spend 90 minutes in the company of the finest actor of his time, hearing a dazzling store of literary gems while gaining an insight into the man? Well, that is what’s in store for you in this silky smooth, yet deceptively moving piece."

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A couple potentially Broadway-bound shows hit a bump in the road this week. The New York producers of the musical Honeymoon in Vegas have decided not to open the show in Toronto this fall because of "scheduling issues." A spring 2013 Broadway bow, featuring Tony Danza as Tommy Korman, had previously been planned. The show features music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Andrew Bergman.

More surprisingly, the scheduled fall San Francisco bow of the new musical Diner is expected to be cancelled. Kathleen Marshall will direct and choreograph the production, which features a book by filmmaker Barry Levinson, who directed and wrote the screenplay for the original film, and music and lyrics by pop star Sheryl Crow. A spring 2013 Broadway bow is still the plan.