PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Glengarry Glen Ross; Hey, Who Killed the Klieg Lights?

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09 Dec 2012

Bobby Cannavale as Ricky Roma in <I>Glengarry Glen Ross.</I>
Bobby Cannavale as Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Scott Landis

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of Glengarry Glen Ross starring Al Pacino and directed by Daniel Sullivan.

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"Well, do you see any photographers?" said Jeffrey Richards' mink-stoled senior-publicist, Irene Gandy, her arm sweeping expansively across the street front of the Schoenfeld where their revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross opened Dec. 8.

Now that she mentioned it, the area did seem bizarrely pure of paparazzi. "The opening night party for this was Nov. 11," she informed me for the first time. "It was for friends and family only." And fotogs, too, apparently. "This is the press opening."

The press I spied in attendance consisted of a Playbill editor I spotted from across a packed-to-capacity theatre and, when I happened to pass in front of a mirror, me.

This is really Richards' re-revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, having produced a very successful and star-splattered version eight years ago, directed with a powerhouse punch by Joe Mantello. Richards only publicized the original 1984 Broadway edition, which Gregory Mosher directed to a Tony nomination and a Pulitzer Prize.

Essentially, it's an ensemble piece set in the shark-eat-shark world of Chicago real-estate salesman in 1983 (when the play world-premiered at London's National Theatre, making this the 30th anniversary production). Mamet clerked in such an office in the '70s, setting up salesmen's appointments (and noting their imperfections, apparently).

 

Al Pacino as Shelly Levene.
photo by Scott Landis

Among a show of all hands, one hand is raised higher in the writing and the acting than the others — that of the blisteringly profane, hammer-hard, top-dog alpha salesman, Richard ("Ricky") Roma. The role has never been performed on Broadway without winning a Featured Actor Tony for the actor playing him (Joe Mantegna in 1984 and Liev Schreiber in 2005), both times catching considerable competitive heat in that category from the actor playing Shelly Levene, the washed-up remains of a one-time Roma (Robert Prosky in 1984 and Alan Alda in 2005).

True to form, Roma won Al Pacino a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in the 1992 film version — but not the actual award. However, that performance is said to have cinched his Best Actor Oscar win that same year for "Scent of a Woman." It didn't hurt, and it may have helped him over an impasse. He and Geraldine Page — both of them Actors Studio giants — required an unprecedented eight nominations before they won; Peter O'Toole's eight nominations went unrewarded, though he did earn an honorary Oscar for his lifetime achievements.

The rub is that the film's Shelly Levene, Jack Lemmon, won a couple of Best Actor honors — from the National Board of Review and at the Venice Film Festival.

 

One doesn't know how well that sat with Pacino, but here he is back in Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, playing Shelly as a star turn directly to the audience, often seemingly oblivious to the other actors on stage. Critics may carp, but the audience plainly reveled in the one-on-one. Since previews began Oct. 16, Glengarry Glen Ross has been topping the list of Broadway's top-grossing straight plays (i.e., non-musicals), and no one appears to have forgotten why they are at the Schoenfeld.


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At intermission, the (long!) line to the men's room intertwined with the line to the bar, and I bumped into Mimi Lieber, director Daniel Sullivan's wife (and, when he needs one, choreographer). I asked her if there was any way to speak to some of the cast afterward, and she said she'd check with her husband and shoot me a thumbs up or thumbs down before the curtain went up. It was thumbs up. Inevitably, at play's end, there was the All-Hail-Al standing ovation — plus some well-deserved hosannas for the red-hot Roma of the night, Bobby Cannavale, a star whose time has come (on March 22, he starts heading up his own ensemble in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Clifford Odets' The Big Knife — and he'll actually play a Star).

Director Sullivan was waiting for me at the back of the theatre near the exit, plainly pleased with the proceedings but underplaying his pleasure, as is his nature.

"It was a play I always wanted to do so it was fun to work on," he admitted, omitting the probable point that Pacino requested him for director after their Tony-nominated collaboration last year on Broadway's 50th version of The Merchant of Venice. It was Sullivan's inspired idea to add to the play a wordless scene in which the humiliated Shylock goes to his punishment — not unlike Shelly's exit here.

Scheduling was Sullivan's biggest headache with this particular production: "It was difficult in terms of there being a lot of interruptions in the rehearsal process," he admitted. "Al had to go away a few times, Bobby was shooting 'Boardwalk Empire' so we had to work around a lot of different schedules to try to put it together."

So why was it that Pacino wanted a second shot at Glengarry Glen Ross? "He was just reading the play again, and he thought, 'Oh, this is a role I could play.' And, also, I think he liked the idea of doing 'Ricky' Roma and then going on and playing this."

The actor has made a habit of "revisiting" plays (Hughie, Salome, Richard III, Chinese Coffee). Again, why? "It's just something he gets obsessed by. He's an obsessed creature, and he continues to want to explore. That's part of his whole process."

Sullivan wasn't sure where the cast was reconvening, but, if I waited around, he would find out. Because they had to close the theatre for the night, I wound up waiting around just inside the stage door, which is now manned by Broadway's only actively acting doorman, William McCauley. His recent doorman credits: One Servant, Two Guvnors and, fleetingly this season, The Performers.

John C. McGinley and Richard Schiff
Photo by Scott Landis

Among the backstage visitors was Elliot Martin, who produced the first Glengarry Glen Ross and several American Buffalo (including Pacino's and the original). He was in awe of Big Al's performance. "Oh, God, he was just incredible. I know it was an entirely different tone than what he took when he played Richard Roma. Entirely."

Zach Braff, who was there supporting his co-stars from stage (Cannavale from Trust) and small screen (John C. McGinley from "Scrubs"), was singing a similar Pacino song: "I can't believe it. His Richard Roma is burned in my brain, and now he comes up with this. A living legend! He's extraordinary. They're all extraordinary."

McGinley puts on quite a fire-and-light show of rage himself. When complimented, he quickly concurred. "I was radioactive!" he said, as he went for the stage door.

Yet another bombastic display — it goes with the territory, evidently — comes from Richard Schiff in an impressive Broadway debut. "I had a blast," said the man who actually had quite a few of them during the course of the play. It all seemed to come quite easily to this seasoned veteran of "The West Wing," and he loved the media switch: "I loved the process, working with these guys and Al. I've worked with Al before [the 2002 Jon Robin Baitz-scripted flick, "People I Know"], but never in rehearsal for five weeks and then on stage every night. It has been fantastic!"

Cannavale added, "Love it. Great play," as he rushed out into the real word. It was four more words than Pacino had for the lurking press. A throng awaited both.

As the buttoned-down office manager, David Harbour is hammered on all evening by the help. "It's sorta humiliating, I have to say," he said of his nightly hour-and-a-half on the rack. "I have to go in front of a mirror and say, 'I'm a good person' after every show."

He added, "What I like revealing about this guy is that he has a heart. I feel in this production he has some humanity to him. He's just trying to do his job the best he can, and he is surrounded and undermined by a bunch of narcissists."

His agonies begin the second the curtain rises — a Chinese restaurant scene with a pleading, pathetic Pacino trying to get some good leads from his boss. "Al likes to find new stuff all the time, and that's exactly right. It's fun, and it keeps you on your toes. It's been a great experience — Al, Bobby, everybody. It's like a rock concert."

The ever-employed Jeremy Shamos makes his mark as the easy mark that Roma tricks into a deal: "I think my character brings a different energy to the play," he beamed proudly. "A lack of testosterone is important in a play, sometimes."

Like Cannavale, Shamos has a spring date back on Broadway. "I'm doing Richard Greenberg's new play at Manhattan Theatre Club, The Assembled Parties, with the wonderful Judith Light and the wonderful Jessica Hecht." It opens April 17.

I gave up trying to find the party site and retired to my own personal Schwab's — the West Bank Café, at 42nd and 9th — where the aforementioned parties had already assembled. Owner Steve Olsen arranged the glassed-in room at the back for them.

Pacino had cased the place earlier in the week and deemed it perfect. It's the definitive hangout for the Off-Broadway crowd. Who'd expect the uptown set there?

The opening-night celebs didn't go much beyond Faye Dunaway and Joe Franklin.

Watch a press conference featuring the stars of Glengarry Glen Ross.