PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 19-25: Another Opening... Or Six

By Robert Simonson
25 Apr 2014

Michelle Williams
Photo by Joan Marcus
The notices, which were gentle and respectful in tone (everyone likes Harvey), said the script was rewarding in part, but failed to ultimately follow through.

"Fierstein vividly captures a group of these brave pioneers with their girdles on, and a trim ensemble helmed by Joe Mantello lends them character," said Variety. "But the plot is messy, the action static, and attempts to probe the psychosexual dynamic of transvestism are tentative and superficial."

"Joe Mantello's impeccable production and a cast of outstanding actors make this an engrossing portrait of a marginalized group, but the strong set-up isn't matched by focused follow-through," opined Hollywood Reporter, which thought the play was "a workshop or two away from being fully realized." The Times agreed, saying, "The air often feels filled with the dry dust of chalk erasers being batted together by a painstakingly instructive schoolteacher. This is a shame. For its first half-hour or so, when Casa Valentina is more show than tell, it promises to be Mr. Fierstein's most engagingly insightful play to date."

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The week of openings ending with the production that, everyone knew, contained the fewest surprises: Cabaret. The same Cabaret — save a few new performers — that graced Studio 54 from 1998 to 2004. The Roundabout Theatre Company brought back the entire crew, including star Alan Cumming, directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall and the whole design team. It opened April 24 at — where else? — Studio 54.

Critics didn't seem to mind revisiting the project much. As Hollywood Reporter said, "there's simply no wrong time to revisit Sam Mendes' and Rob Marshall's thrilling production." The main question was whether they liked the new Sally Bowles, played by Michelle Williams. AP did, saying "she does an excellent job, playing both scared and daffy superbly and singing with real heart." The Times liked her less, writing that Williams "doesn't look all that happy to be there. I'm assuming that's more a matter of character interpretation than of personal discomfort, but it does put sort of a damper on the festivities." Daily News fell in the middle: "Though Michelle Williams is credible but not memorable in her Broadway debut as songstress Sally Bowles, her performance can't mar the Roundabout's redo (re-revival?)."

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Finally, James Earl Jones, who is 83, appears to be tireless.

The grand old actor will return to Broadway yet again this August in a revival of the Kaufman and Hart comedy You Can't Take It With You. Jones took a near two-decade break from Broadway after winning a Tony Award for Fences in 1987. But in the past decade, he's done four Broadway shows: On Golden Pond, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Driving Miss Daisy and The Best Man.

Scott Ellis will helm the production. Previews begin Sept. 28 at a Shubert Theatre to be announced.