PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 2-8: Broadway Season Heats Up With Side Show, Fun Home and Helen Mirren

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08 Aug 2014

Larry David
Larry David

A sleepy summer week in theatreland was made suddenly exciting by a slew of unexpected announcements.

Perhaps the most unexpected of these surprises as that Mr. Misanthrope himself Larry David, the co-creator of "Seinfeld," and the creator and star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," had decided to make his Broadway debut as an actor and playwright with the offputtingly titled — and, thus, very Larry David-titled — new play Fish in the Dark, which will open at a Shubert theatre to be announced March 5, 2015.

David has drafted a sure hand as his director, Anna D. Shapiro, who won a 2008 Tony Award for directing a whole family of discomfiting Larry David types (unhappy, dysfunctional, no tact, etc.) in Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. Scott Rudin — who's always around where there's a big-deal play to be backed — is the producer.

Inspired by the death of a friend's father, David's play features approximately 15 characters. Whether than means 15 actors (a huge number for a Broadway play) remains to be seen. Additional casting will be announced at a later time.

David told the Times that he will play "somebody very similar to Larry David." (Was there ever any doubt?)

David added, "I thought it would be pretty cool to write a play someday. I didn't think it'd be pretty cool to be in it. It's not like I would go to the theater and look up on stage and say, 'I could be in that.' I didn't thinking of myself playing the character, but of course I write characters very close to me."

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Emily Padgett and Erin Davie
Photo by Kevin Berne

In the most quixotic producing effort since Holler If Ya Hear Me, a group of producers have decided to bring everyone's favorite conjoined-twins musical, the 1997 Tony-nominated Side Show, back to Broadway.

The "re-imagined" production, which was seen at La Jolla Playhouse and, more recently, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will arrive on Broadway Oct. 28 at the St. James Theatre, currently the home of Bullets Over Broadway.

It will be directed by Bill Condon, who will be making his Broadway directorial debut. This century's Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley — who played Violet and Daisy Hilton in the original, and have done quite well for themselves ever since — will be Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, who starred in both the La Jolla and Kennedy Center engagements.

Side Show has a score by Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Bill Russell and additional book material by Condon.

The musical is inspired by the true story of the Hilton twins, who were legends in their time and the highest-paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. The original Broadway production of Side Show ran for 91 performances and received four Tony nominations, including a shared nomination for co-stars Ripley and Skinner, the only time in Tony history where two people were co-nominated for the Best Actress award.

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Playing someone famous for just being one person will be Helen Mirren, who will return to Broadway in February 2014 as Queen Elizabeth II in a limited engagement of The Audience, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Helen Mirren
Photo by Johan Persson
The Broadway production of Peter Morgan's play will follow a record-breaking run at London's Gielgud Theatre in 2013. Mirren won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance. Stephen Daldry will again direct.

Mirren's an old hand at playing the Queen by now — and at winning awards for it. She starred in the 2006 film "The Queen," which was also written by Morgan. Mirren won an Oscar that time. (Maybe if "The Queen" becomes a TV series, Mirren could win a Emmy for playing Liz.)

It was previously reported that playwright Morgan is expected to update portions of the script for American audiences. Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair may be among the new characters to appear when The Audience arrives on Broadway. If so, it will be the fourth time the Blair-obsessed Morgan has written the politician into one of his plays or movies.

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Fun Home, the award-winning Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron musical based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, that played an acclaimed run at the Public Theater earlier this season, is finally heading to Broadway. It is scheduled to begin performances April 4, 2015, at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre.

The musical will be directed by Sam Gold, who helmed the show Off-Broadway. Casting for the musical's Broadway debut has not been announced.

Fun Home won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Musical. The original Off-Broadway cast featured Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas and Alexandra Socha as author-narrator Bechdel at various stages of her life. It also featured Michael Cerveris as her father and Judy Kuhn as her mother.

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John Lithgow
Photo by Joan Marcus

The big opening of the week was The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of King Lear, starring John Lithgow. Daniel Sullivan directed a cast that also included Annette Bening, Jessica Collins, Jessica Hecht, Steven Boyer, Clarke Peters and Jay O. Sanders.

The critics liked Lithgow, finding him fully committed to the part and as expert in performance as is the actor's usual standard. However, the found a production and cast that surrounded him largely flat and free of inspiration, "a middle-of-the-road Lear," as one critics put it, "traditionally costumed and enacted." Many reviewers, however, admitted to Lear fatigue, having seen a good many productions of the play over the past year.

Still, Sullivan's straightforward approach was, to some, a plus. Wrote Time Out New York, "the Public Theater has delivered, pound for pound, the most coherent, heart-wrenching and gut-punching Lear I've ever seen. Led by a magisterial yet vulnerable John Lithgow, this exceptional production addresses and finesses so many trouble spots in a problematic classic, it's like seeing it afresh."