PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 4-10: Marvin Hamlisch, Elf, Richard Greenberg and Into the Woods

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10 Aug 2012

Donna Murphy
Donna Murphy
Photo by Joan Marcus

Sondheim in the Park opened this week.

The Public Theater has, on occasion, filled the Delacorte Theater in Central Park not with the Bard, but with a musical. Though, as Hamlet might observe, this has been a custom more honored in the breach, than in the observance.

But if ever a musical deserved its time in the park, it's Into the Woods, which — as with As You Like It before it this summer — largely takes place in a forest. Central Park is as close to a forest as we're gonna get in the concrete jungle of New York.

This fresh take on Into the Woods is based on the 2010 Regent's Park Open Air Theatre London staging, meaning that this summer's Delacorte line-up gave us an American rendition of a British play and a British version of an American musical. A nice symmetry there. The Public Theater enlisted original London co-directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel to re-explore the production for Shakespeare in the Park. The cast drafted included Donna Murphy, Jessie Mueller, Denis O'Hare and Amy Adams, and John Lee Beatty built the treehouse of a set, with countless stairs and ladders.

The busy set, in part, led the New York Times to bemoan, "very little feels natural in this exhaustingly busy production. On the contrary, pretty much every element smacks of artifice. Admittedly, much of the cast isn't up to the demands of an intricate Sondheim score. But even those who are, like Ms. Murphy and Ms. Mueller, find their numbers undermined by the distractions of frantic and unfocused staging." The Post, agreeing, said, "Timothy Sheader’s hyperactive staging is effective for most of the first act, but after intermission it fails to bring the often divergent moods into a coherent whole. The problem is that the production — which originated at London’s Regent’s Park but was recast with Americans — insists so much on busy cartoonishness that it lacks emotional resonance. Without it, you’re left with a mere jumble."

Others, however, liked it very much. "Timothy Sheader, who directed this production with Liam Steel, brings to the material the right mix of sincerity, whimsy and imagination," wrote USA Today. Time Out, one of a number to employ the old "forest for the trees" metaphor, said, "Into the Woods isn't and shouldn't be easy; it's great and imperfect — and well worth a trip. Quibble with the trees here if you wish, but the forest, all told, is beautiful."

The production extended for a week before the reviews came out. As with all other Delacorte productions, it'll do just fine.


Norbert Leo Butz

Two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, who works as often and as hard as any stage actor in New York, will join Katie Holmes in the Broadway premiere of Theresa Rebeck's comedy, Dead Accounts, beginning Nov. 3 at the Music Box Theatre.

Dead Accounts reunites Butz with Catch Me If You Can and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels director Jack O'Brien, who will stage the dark comedy. Butz will portray prodigal son Jack, with Holmes as his sister Lorna.


Lincoln Center Theater and director Bartlett Sher continue their love affair with Clifford Odets.

Tony Shalhoub, Danny Burstein, Jonathan Hadary, Daniel Jenkins and Seth Numrich will star in LCT Broadway revival of Golden Boy, which begins previews Nov. 8 at the Belasco Theatre. The Belasco is where the company and Sher had a critical success with Awake and Sing! a few seasons back.

Numrich, who originated the role of Albert Narraccott in LCT's Broadway production of War Horse will take on the central role of Joe Bonaparte, who trades in an artistic career as a violinist to make big bucks as a boxer.


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