To Be or Not To Be Sheds Its Mortal Coil Nov. 16

By Kenneth Jones
16 Nov 2008

Steve Kazee, Jan Maxwell and Kristine Nielsen
Steve Kazee, Jan Maxwell and Kristine Nielsen
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Manhattan Theatre Club production of To Be or Not to Be, Nick Whitby's new stage version of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 film comedy about Polish theatre troupers trying to outsmart the Nazis, ends its Broadway run as scheduled Nov. 16 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

MTC had been offering single tickets through Nov. 23, but has chosen not to continue through that extra week. Critics did not embrace the new comedy. Last-minute recasting prompted a change in the opening night date. At close, To Be or Not To Be will have played 32 previews and 40 regular performances.

This was the first production at the newly named Friedman, which used to be called the Biltmore.

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Previews of the comedy began Sept. 16 with an official opening Oct. 14. Tony Award nominee Jan Maxwell (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Coram Boy) and David Rasche (MTC's Last Dance, Five by Tenn, Moonlight and Magnolias) assume the roles of showbiz husband-and-wife Maria and Joseph Tura, originated by Carole Lombard and Jack Benny in the picture of the same name.



The dark comedy was later remade in a color picture that starred Mel Brooks and Ann Bancroft (they were called the Bronskis in the 1983 film, which was also called "To Be or Not To Be").

According to MTC, "At the Polski Theatre in 1939 Warsaw, Josef (Rasche) and Maria Tura (Maxwell) are about to open yet another smash with their theatrical troupe. As the German invasion gets underway, the theatre is closed by the censors, forcing the troupe to face desperate times. But when a handsome young bomber pilot enlists their help to catch a spy, what is a group of actors to do? This hilarious black comedy is an ingenious commentary on the World War II era and an inspired tribute to the timeless joys of the theatre."

The production, which was originally scheduled to begin previews on Sept. 11, and then Sept. 13, began previews 7 PM Sept. 16. There were two principal cast changes since rehearsals began, necessitating extra rehearsal time.

To Be or Not To Be, directed by Tony Award nominee Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone, Monty Python's Spamalot), also features Peter Benson, Robert Dorfman, Steve Kazee, Peter Maloney, Maxwell, Michael McCarty, Kristine Nielsen, Brandon Perler, Rasche, Rocco Sisto, Jimmy Smagula and Marina Squerciati.

Whitby's plays, seen in England, include Bolivia, The Devil's Dancing Hour, Dirty Dishes and To the Green Fields Beyond.

The creative team for To Be or Not To Be includes Anna Louizos (scenic design), Gregg Barnes (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Darron L. West (sound design), Wendall and Zach (projection design) and Josh Marquette (hair design).

The 1942 film's writing credits are Melchior Lengyel (story), Edwin Justus Mayer (screenplay) and Ernst Lubitsch (uncredited for the story). Lubitsch also directed and produced. Lubitsch is known for his light comedies "Heaven Can Wait," "The Shop Around the Corner," "Ninotchka," "That Uncertain Feeling" and more. Critics often refer to "the Lubitsch touch" a light, charming, comic and ultimately human approach to his characters.

The Friedman, formerly the Biltmore, is located at 261 West 47th Street. This is MTC's Broadway home. The not-for-profit also presents Off-Broadway at New York City Center Stage I and II.

For more information visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.