PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 12-18: Roundabout Enjoys a New Company and The Winslow Boy Wows Audiences
By Robert Simonson
It was a week of surprises. But none was perhaps more surprising — or more talked about — than the news that the Roundabout Theatre Company was considering producing a new revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company.
Nothing particularly thunderous about that news, per se. Sondheim revivals come along at a pretty steady clip in New York — except that in this rendition, the central character of the vacillating, searching single Bobby would be gay.
A little history: Company is the story of a man who juggles various girlfriends but, despite the fact that all his friends are married, can't seem to commit. Over the years since it debuted in 1970, there has been a persistent contingent of Sondheim friends and scholars who have suggested that the reason Bobby can't tie himself to any one woman may be because he's a closeted gay man. Just as consistently, Sondheim and bookwriter George Furth (now deceased) have dismissed the idea out of hand.
Now, however, the composer has had a change of heart. He was brought around to the idea by John Tiffany, the director who's currently a hot property due to his success with Once and The Glass Menagerie. In Tiffany's new view, Bobby is a gay man with multiple boyfriends.
"It’s still a musical about commitment," Sondheim told The New York Times, which broke the story, "but marriage is seen as something very different in 2013 than it was in 1970. We don’t deal with gay marriage as such, but this version lets us explore the issues of commitment in a fresh way."
That won't be the only change. The salty Joanne, created by Elaine Stritch in the original production, would become a man and be played by Alan Cumming in the Roundabout reading. Daniel Evans, a Tony nominee for the 2008 Roundabout revival of Sunday in the Park With George would be Bobby. Other actors involved include Bobby Steggert and Michael Urie.
Almost as stunning was the announcement this week that a Will Eno play was coming to Broadway. Broadway!
It's hard to explain the work of playwright Eno to someone who hasn't seen it. It's a little like the more-experimental plays of Edward Albee, only less commercial.
So, as to plot. Well, Eno plays don't really have plots, really; they're more like enacted ideas. Joneses is about about two suburban couples who share much more than a surname. The show is expected in early 2014. No theatre has been named.
That Roundabout Theatre revival of the old Terence Rattigan play about the kid who steals the five-shilling postal note — yeah, that's going to be the critical hit of the season!
That's probably what most Broadway cynics were thinking when the nonprofit programmed the rather unexciting choice of The Winslow Boy for the fall. But the cynics had to eat their words! The Lindsay Posner-directed production of the 1940s drama opened to admiring reviews.
The Times called the revival splendid. "While it would give away the game to divulge whether the Winslow family’s patience is finally rewarded," the paper wrote, "I can firmly state that the audience’s ultimately is." Variety crowed, "Like some forgotten treasure found in the attic, the Old Vic's radiant revival…practically glows in the dark." AP cheered, "The Roundabout Theatre Company has wisely imported much of the show from The Old Vic Theatre in London, including a handsome set and costumes by Peter McKintosh as well as Lindsay Posner's crisp direction, which finds real humor in a play where jeopardy, though localized, is very present."
Roger Rees, who plays the stubbornly principled, but misguided, family head, meanwhile, received some of his best reviews in a long while. "Roger Rees is excellent as the Winslow patriarch," said AP, "a man whose body is beginning to betray him but whose dry humor and compassion stays intact." The Times opined that he "gives an impeccably judged performance in the central role of Arthur, a man who appears to wear his ethical rectitude lightly, until it is challenged when his son is expelled from the naval academy where he has been studying."
Broadway gets plenty of transfers from London. From Paris, not so much.
But one's on the way from the City of Light. A new world-premiere stage adaptation of An American In Paris, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, will arrive on Broadway in 2015 following a late 2014 premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet (that old tryout house!), producers announced.
Three years ago, Jenny Gersten got her dream job, taking over as the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. And now she is leaving her dream job to accept a bigger dream job.
Gersten shared the news in an Oct. 15 email that she will depart Williamstown at the end of this year to take on a rather non-theatrical post: executive director of the New York City non-profit Friends of the High Line. The 2014 summer at Williamstown will be the final season Gersten plans. She will remain involved to help oversee the execution of the season.
Gersten previously served as associate producer at Williamstown from 1996-2004. She was first female artistic director in the festival's long history. At the helm, she turned the company into something of a New York transfer machine. In recent years, Williamstown has guided two major musicals to New York City following their developmental productions at the festival: Far From Heaven was staged at Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway last spring, and The Bridges of Madison County will have its Broadway premiere in early 2014.
In more artistic-director-shuffle news from across the Pond, Rufus Norris has pulled down the plum job of director of London's National Theatre. He will succeed Nicholas Hytner in April 2015.
Norris, who has been an associate at the National since 2011, was most recently represented there by his production of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner at the Olivier Theatre earlier this summer; he began the year by directing the world premiere of Tanya Ronder's Table in the Shed. He is best known on these shores for the unsuccessful Broadway production of the successful London show Festen.
Norris, who was born in 1965 and spent his childhood in Africa and Malaysia, trained at RADA and was an actor for several years before turning to directing.
Finally, submitted without comment: Disney's Tony-winning musical The Lion King, which arrived on Broadway in October 1997, will break a record this week when it becomes the first Broadway musical to hit the $1 billion mark at the box office.
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