Elephant Man Unpacks New Trunk on Broadway Beginning March 26

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26 Mar 2002

Billy Crudup, director Sean Mathias, Kate Burton and Rupert Graves.
Billy Crudup, director Sean Mathias, Kate Burton and Rupert Graves.
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Billy Crudup will begin making his case for not being an animal on March 26, when the new Sean Mathias revival of Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man. Lending a sympathetic ear will be Kate Burton as Mrs. Kendal and Rupert Graves as Dr. Treves.

Billy Crudup will begin making his case for not being an animal on March 26, when the new Sean Mathias revival of Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man. Lending a sympathetic ear will be Kate Burton as Mrs. Kendal and Rupert Graves as Dr. Treves.

Burton ended her well-received stint as Hedda Gabler in January, while Rupert Graves was last seen on Broadway in Patrick Marber's Closer. Crudup starred in last summer's Central Park rendering of Measure for Measure.

Mathias, director of Broadway's starry revival of Dance of Death, will direct The Elephant Man.

The play, set in 1880s London, tells of a hideously-deformed circus freak abused by his keepers and rescued by a scientist, who treats him civilly but makes him something of a faddish curiosity among the intelligentsia.



Crudup and Mathias told Playbill On-Line that the new Broadway production will take shape during the six-week rehearsal process.

"It's going to grow out of the ensemble work that we do together," said Mathias. "The production isn't really formed at all. It's going to happen in the rehearsal room. That's the way I'm going to work with it."

Asked if Crudup would be called upon to contort his body to communicate the misshapen physicality of John Merrick, as Philip Anglim and his successors had done in the original Broadway production, Mathias said he was unsure. "I don't know if it's going to be like it was," he said, "but [Crudup]'s definitely going to do it without prosthetics and with his own physical expression." Crudup agreed that the outer reality of his performance was yet to be decided upon: "To be honest, I don't know yet. I've tried to prepare myself physically, working with somebody over the last couple of months to become as flexible and strong as I can, so we can make those choices. I just don't know if we'll do any of it."

After Mathias was offered The Elephant Man, he immediately thought of approaching Crudup about the challenging central role of Merrick, a hideously-deformed circus attraction abused by his keepers and rescued by a scientist, who treats him civilly but makes him something of a faddish curiosity among the intelligentsia of Victorian England. "We'd met a couple of times socially, and as soon as I was given it I thought, well, that's a great part for Billy. We started talking about it about a year ago."

"There were two things that I found really inspiring about it," said Crudup. "One, the character of Merrick was such an optimistic character, he was full of life and vitality....More than that was the ability the play has to become something completely fresh and new. The way that it's structured and fragmented—it's not you typical Act One, Act Two, Act Three, with two or three scenes in each—it's almost as though it's a photo album of this specific journey of Treves and Merrick coming together and then moving apart. "

The production was originally scheduled for a London debut, but, as with many another plan, that all changed after Sept. 11. "It was going to be London," said Mathias. "And then after Sept. 11, the London producers got very nervous and Billy said, `Well, let's do it in New York.' So I went back to the producers that owned the rights and said, `Why don't we do it in New York.' They went to Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams, the American counterparts, and they said, `Well, that's very excited—that is, if you can put it together.' And we put to together literally between Nov. 1 and Dec. 23."

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The show will officially open at Broadway's Royale Theatre on April 14.

Designers for the production include Santo Loquasto (set and costumes), James Ingalls (lighting) and David Shapiro (sound). Famed serialist composer Philip Glass (The Photographer, Einstein on the Beach) will create original music for the intermissionless staging, which is produced by David Aukin for Act Productions, Waxman/Williams Entertainment, Bob Boyett, Steve Martin & Joan Stein, and Manhattan Theatre Club, according to spokespersons at the Boneau/Bryan Brown press office.

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After a successful Off-Broadway run, The Elephant Man transferred to Broadway April 19, 1979 at the Booth Theatre. Jack Hofsiss directed the drama, which starred Kevin Conway as Dr. Treves, Philip Anglim as John Merrick, and Carole Shelley as Mrs. Kendal. The play, Hofsiss and Shelley all won Tony Awards, with the drama also picking up a New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Among actors who took over the lead were pop star David Bowie and "Star Wars" star Mark Hamill.

David Lynch, post-"Eraserhead" but pre-"Twin Peaks," directed the 1980 movie version of "The Elephant Man," with Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and John Hurt starring. Since then, the show has been subject to parody, including The Elephant Man: The Musical, which has made numerous Off-Off-Broadway appearances; and a segment in the Mel Smith movie comedy "The Tall Guy," in which Jeff Goldblum plays an actor who appears in a musical based on "The Elephant Man," complete with a row of tap dancers wearing elephant heads. Beyond that, the dialogue line, "I am not an animal, I am a human being" has become something of an oft paraphrased comic punchline.