PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 1-7: The Anarchist, Golden Boy, Foxwoods for Sale

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07 Dec 2012

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone
Photo by Joan Marcus

The New York Times called it "arguably the fastest failure of a major writer's new play on Broadway since the early-1980s duds of the Pulitzer winners Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and especially Edward Albee.

David Mamet's The Anarchist was the subject at hand. The latest play by the oft-produced writer — directed by himself and starring Patti LuPone as a prison inmate and Debra Winger as her warden (actually, a composite agent of potential parole) — opened on Dec. 2 to harsh reviews. Two days later, the producers announced the show would close on Dec. 16. It was originally scheduled to play a 14-week run through Feb. 17, 2013.

One can hardly blame them, given the tenor of the notices. The Times called it a "heavily embroidered slip of a play" where "the relationship here feels less like one of jailbird and turnkey than that of a graduate student defending her thesis and a humorless visiting examiner." Hollywood Reporter called it a "wearying lecture." AP said it "starts in second gear and never really speeds up or slows down, just becomes wave after wave of staccato dialogue that is more pleasant on the page than spoken." Even at just 70 intermissionless minutes, said Bloomberg News, it "is a challenge to sentience."

It was a remarkable flop, given the starry cast and the powerhouse playwright. But, then, recently Broadway seasons have been like that: one Mamet revival, which is usually a hit (Speed-the-Plow, this fall's Glengarry Glen Ross, as well as the 2005 revival); and one new Mamet play which is a crap shoot (November missed, while Race recouped). As most of the productions are produced by Mamet's faithful producer, Jeffrey Richards, one imagines (one hopes) it all evens out on the balance sheet.

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There were other closing notices this week, Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, a musical by writer Kathie Lee Gifford about the Jazz Age evangelist, will close on Broadway Dec. 9. It had been struggling at the box office in recent weeks.

And producers of Broadway's Chaplin announced that the new musical about the life of silent film star Charlie Chaplin will play its final performance Jan. 6, 2013, at the Barrymore Theatre. There are plans for a tour, they say.

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Anthony Crivello and Seth Numrich
photo by Paul Kolnik

There will be no closing date in the foreseeable future for Golden Boy, the latest Odets revival from Lincoln Center Theater and director Bartlett Sher, which opened Dec. 6 to thunderous acclaim, much of it for Sher, though the Lincoln-Center-large cast (20!) was also praised.

"The skills [Sher] evinced in that rewarding revival [Awake and Sing!]," wrote the Times, "are on view here, too: a knack for making Odets' vernacular language feel like fresh mint instead of stale corn, and a gift for cutting to the emotional quick of a conventionally structured melodrama." Offered the AP: "Sher has embraced the realism of this dark world — the sweat, gore and rushes of blood to the head. There are passionate kisses but always a lingering threat of violence. The place reeks of leather and failure."

"Director Barlett Sher," stated Entertainment Weekly, "who has helmed superb productions of American classics ranging from South Pacific to Joe Turner's Come And Gone, has once again compiled a first-rate cast and captured the excitement and emotional resonance that make such works timeless." And from Time Out NY: "In a fall already steeped in excellent revivals… Golden Boy is the champion. Director Bartlett Sher, a superb 19-member ensemble and an ace design crew lift a neglected American classic and send it roaring back into the ring."

Another superlative came from Newsday, who said, "The point of this Lincoln Center Theater production is the rare opportunity to see a pivotal American period piece staged deeply into the period…with a huge, expert cast that only a nonprofit can afford to showcase with such luxurious dedication today on Broadway."

Golden Boy is golden. Don't look for an extension. Look for an open run.

Lee Pace and Will Rogers
Photo by Joan Marcus

Golden Age, meanwhile, is not golden.

Manhattan Theatre Club presented the New York City premiere of Terrence McNally's period play about the world of 19th-century Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini — part of the writer's so-called "opera trilogy."

Critics found the script didn't pay off on the promising premise. The plot "has all the makings of a belly-busting backstage farce," wrote Entertainment Weekly. "Unfortunately, McNally hasn't written one." "McNally has not infused the proceedings with either the sparkling wit or emotional resonance necessary to sustain the play’s two-and-a-half hour running time," wrote Hollywood Reporter. "To say that the latest [of the trilogy] is the least of the three is an understatement," said the Times, "…as a drama it is flaccid and shallow." 

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Over in London, The Bodyguard, a new musical based on the 1992 Warner Bros. Whitney Houston film of the same name, officially opened at the West End's Adelphi Theatre Dec. 5, with Broadway's long-ago Aida star Heather Headley in the Houston role of a pop diva.

The jukebox musical features a multitude of the late Houston's greatest hits including, including "I Will Always Love You."

Critics loved the show, but loved Headley more. Critic Mark Shenton in The Stage called Headley "an utterly compelling star" who combines "an authentic glamour and blazingly soulful vocals but also humanises her, too." Evening Standard newspaper critic Henry Hitchings, meanwhile, said she was "mesmerizing," and the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer praised her "sassy stage presence," adding, "when it comes to selling a song, hitting the high notes and ornamenting a number with vocal swoops and trills, struck me as being at least as fine a singer as Houston in her heyday, if not even better."

As for the show Headley stars in, the Independent stated, "The Bodyguard manages to fall simultaneously into two pretty suspect categories — the screen-to-stage adaptation and the jukebox musical. But the show is an altogether more pleasurable experience than that doubly dubious distinction might make it sound." Spencer was more flattering, call the show "far more enjoyable than the movie." 

Talk has already begun of a Broadway transfer. With Headley in the lead, of course.

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Inside the Foxwoods auditorium

Broadway's Foxwoods Theatre is for sale, Playbill.com learned this week. This barn of a house on 42nd Street (Broadway's largest, at 1,932 seats) was fashioned out of two existing theatres, the Lyric and the Apollo, by Garth Drabinksy, the now-disgraced Canadian producer. In 1998, it opened as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Livent declared bankruptcy and the theatre was sold off to the media company, SFX, which was later subsumed by Clear Channel. It was renamed the Hilton Theatre in 2005, which made some people think more of celebutante Paris Hilton than hotels. Then, in 2010, it became the Foxwoods, which made people think of gambling in the suburbs. (As you can see, the building has never had a decent name.)

Now, the Foxwoods is for sale. Owner Live Nation Entertainment, which wants to concentrate its business focus on live music performances, is looking for a buyer for the four-story theatre. With the sale, of course, comes the opportunity for a new owner to change the name — perhaps to something less corporate? The Oscar Hammerstein? The Jerome Kern? Only asking.

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Finally, The Broadway League came out with its 15th annual demographics report, "The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2011-2012," which is based on data gleaned from audience questionnaires distributed throughout the 2011-12 Broadway season.

The gist: more tourists, and more women.

The new study reveals that tourists accounted for 63.4 percent of all Broadway tickets, up from 61.7 percent in the 2010-11 season. International tourists accounted for 18.4 percent of all admissions to Broadway shows in New York City.

Of all theatregoers, 67 percent were female.