PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 21-27: The Glass Menagerie Opens, City Center Has a Love Affair With Sondheim and The Great Comet Hits Midtown
By Robert Simonson
This season's Tennessee Williams entry came early. On Sept. 26, Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Zachary Quinto opened as Broadway's latest Wingfield family in a new production of the 1945 drama The Glass Menagerie at the Booth Theatre. John Tiffany directed and Bob Crowley — the only set designer out there whose name is trumpeted in press releases alongside the director's — fashioned the scenic elements.
The Glass Menagerie returns to Broadway following an engagement at the American Repertory Theater last winter. Critics praised the production and, as has been the case with many ART productions of late, the show was quickly routed to New York.
Did the New York critics like it as much as the Boston one? Yes, they did.
"How can something be this delicate and this strong, so elusive and yet so tenacious?" enthused The New York Times, which called it "the most revealing revival of a cornerstone classic for many a year to come," and described Jones' performance as Amanda as "career-defining" — remarkable words about an actress who has already enjoyed as least two career-defining roles in The Heiress and Doubt. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "It's difficult to imagine a more potent remedy for [Williams] fatigue than John Tiffany's transfixing production of The Glass Menagerie, which accesses the extraordinary intimacy of this landmark 1944 play in ways that give the impression you're seeing it for the first time."
Variety said, "Tennessee Williams' world of poetry and prose is presented gracefully, even wondrously, in this distinctive production." Offered New York magazine: "This is a grand and true illusion, not just to be lauded and gawked at — though you will, and that's appropriate — but studied. Watch the hands. Be led and misled by them. Remember it differently this time."
Everyone had strong praise for Jones. "Cherry Jones, one of the great American stage actors, understands that playing a character in a memory play does not mean work informed by the ephemeral," remarked The Chicago Tribune. "Her Amanda is a great, gutsy woman from a time lousy for her gender. In this fine performance, you discern that her attempts at survival and modest progress are laid low by her own awareness of life's fragility for women, such as her daughter, without visible means of support. Keenan-Bolger spends much of the two hours of stage traffic trying to find some small victories to overcome her own despair; it is another beautiful performance."
Who would have thought, as we listened to the spunky, California-based, all-girl group The Go-Go's belt out "We Got the Beat" in early '80s that we'd still be talking and thinking about them three decades later?
Lifestyle guru, cookbook author and occasional film actress Gwyneth Paltrow was all of 10 when that number-one hit came out, and she was 13 when the group broke up. Nonetheless, the music seems to have stayed with her. She has announced plans to produce a new Broadway musical based on the music of the The Go-Go's. Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q, Bring It On: The Musical) has been tapped to write the book.
If Paltrow is not a strange enough producer for you, consider her partner: Donovan Leitch, an actor best known as the son of Donovan, the ethereal "Sunshine Superman" of '60s folk-pop. Though the show will use The Go-Go's music, it will not be about The Go-Go's rise and fall. That would be impossible, because the jukebox musical will be set in the 1600s. Why the 1600s? The producers' lips, for the moment, are sealed.
Bernadette Peters will reassume her role as a premiere Sondheim interpreter when she heads the cast of A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair, a collaboration between Stephen Sondheim and jazz musician-composer Wynton Marsalis for New York City Center.
The program will feature more than two-dozen Sondheim compositions, each piece newly re-imagined by Marsalis.
Directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Parker Esse, this Encores! Special Event will play the famed Manhattan venue Nov. 13-17.
A Bed and a Chair is advertised as a show that "celebrates love in New York and love of New York. Native Manhattanite Sondheim and adopted citizen Marsalis (originally from New Orleans) will compare musical notes on their shared passion for our city."
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which is, uh, the new Carole King musical, began performances Sept. 24 at San Francisco's Curran Theatre. The production is scheduled to arrive on Broadway later this season.
Jessie Mueller, whose stock has been rising steadily in the New York Theatre since she starred in the otherwise ill-fated revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, stars as the famous titular singer-songwriter. The show is based on King's life and music and features a book by Douglas McGrath. Marc Bruni stages the production. Other characters are played by Jake Epstein (Gerry Goffin, King's songwriting partner and husband), and Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector (as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, another prominent husband-and-wife songwriting team of the 1960s).
Dave Malloy's critically praised musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is back.
The unusual production, described as "nightclub-meets-musical," is based on a section of Tolstoy's "War and Peace." It took place under a big red tent, within a custom-built pop-up supper club called Kazino, in the middle of the Meatpacking District and won some of the best reviews of the year. Now the producers have taken their tent and pitched it in an empty lot on W. 45th Street and Eighth Avenue for a 14-week run.
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