PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 12-18: Broadway Remembers Stage Legend Elaine Stritch

The American stage has its icons, its legendary performers, its stars. But only a few actors transcend those categories to become something of a living symbol or personification of the theatre.

Elaine Stritch
Elaine Stritch (Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

Elaine Stritch, who died July 17 at the age of 89, was one of those figures. She didn't have the most awards, didn't have the longest list of credits and wasn't the most versatile performer the boards had ever seen. But she was a theatre creature through and through. An unforgettable character both on stage and off, she scrambled and tap-danced her way through a seven-decade career, almost skidding off the rails several times. But she never got boring and, in the final accounting, was as famous for her candid, brash personality as for her forays in the stage and cabaret worlds.

Stritch came to fame on the Broadway stage when women were still called dames and everyone imbibed socially. She was comfortable with both the moniker and the habit. On stage, she could be counted on for solid performances, but also a knowing, biting sarcasm, a wicked sense of comic timing and a certain swagger. Off stage, she was known for giving any man a run for his money, whether at drinking, swearing, or speaking her mind.

She created roles in famous shows by William Inge ( Bus Stop), Rodgers and Hart ( Pal Joey), Noel Coward ( Sail Away) and Stephen Sondheim ( Company). But she was arguably best known for the role that finally won her a Tony — herself — in the one-woman confessional show Elaine Stritch At Liberty, a late-career smash Off-Broadway and on.

She would play that role to a "t" the rest of her life, generating reams of good copy for journalists and serving as a kind of industry reminder what a life in the theatre meant, for better and worse. This was the case even after 2013, when Stritch decided to hang it up move back to Michigan to be near her family. She gave a series of farewell appearances at the Cafe Carlyle. Despite this seeming exit from the limelight, the press continued to cover her every move, and she apparently relished the attention. She may have been one of the last stage creatures worth interviewing, even in retirement.

*** Following its November-December 2014 world premiere in Paris, the new musical An American in Paris will move to Broadway, beginning previews at Broadway's Palace Theatre March 13, 2015.

The new musical, which is inspired by the Oscar-winning film of the same name, features a score by the late George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin and a book by the still-breathing Craig Lucas. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the cast will include Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan (the Gene Kelly role), Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin (Leslie Caron), Veanne Cox as Madame Baurel, Jill Paice as Milo Davenport, Brandon Uranowitz as Adam Hochberg and Max Von Essen as Henri Baurel.

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An American in Paris will be a very different tenant, musically, from the one the Palace will lose this week.

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside and Joshua Boone
photo by Joan Marcus

The Tupac Shakur-scored rap musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, a non-biographical new work directed by Kenny Leon about life on the city streets, will end its Broadway run July 20 at the Palace Theatre, producers announced July 14.

The announcement came just a week after those same producers announced their intention to keep the struggling show going with an infusion of cash.

"My hope is that a production of this calibre, powerful in its story telling, filled with great performances and exciting contemporary dance and music will eventually receive the recognition it deserves. It saddens me that due to the financial burdens of Broadway, I was unable to sustain this production longer in order to give it time to bloom on Broadway," said producer Eric L. Gold said in a statement.

The closing caused lots of hand-wringing around the Broadway community about whether it would discourage other artistically ambitious shows from braving Broadway in the future. But Charles Isherwood opined in a New York Times think piece that, "In the end, it wasn’t the concept but the quality that was the problem."

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It's easy to forget that, in the original movie "Rocky," the boxer Balboa doesn't win the fight at the end. But he does go the distance.

The new musical Rocky did not manage to win, or go the distance on Broadway. The show, which has long struggled to find an audience despite some admiring reviews, will end its run after 216 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre. Producers announced July 15 that the production, which opened to lukewarm reviews in March, will play its final performance Aug. 17.

Andy Karl
photo by Matthew Murphy

At one time, Rocky seemed like a possible slam dunk. (Sorry, wrong sports metaphor.) It arrived in New York this past winter following a 2012 German-language production, which continues to run in Hamburg. Given its name-brand value, and a veteran team that included Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) and Thomas Meehan (book), plus hot-shot young director Alex Timbers, the project had potential to burn. The expansive production ($15 million) incorporated an actual boxing ring that descends onto the stage and slides out over the orchestra seating of the Winter Garden for the musical's final scene.

That last scene captivated the critics' imaginations, but little else did. And, apparently, the allure of the "Rocky" franchise had dimmed in the decades since the film's debut. Houses never reached capacity, and a lack of Tony nominations didn't help.

Producers are exploring possible tours, sit-down productions and international stagings of the musical.

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Is New York ready for a musical in may prefer to watch through parted fingers? The stage musical adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho, written by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik and playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, will have its New York premiere at Second Stage Theatre in early 2015.

The musical thriller, set during the height of the 1980's era of Wall Street greed, premiered at London's Almeida Theatre last fall, where it played an extended, sold-out run.

Rupert Goold ( Macbeth, King Lear, Enron), who directed the critically-acclaimed London premiere, will return to stage the Off-Broadway engagement that will begin previews in February 2015 towards a March opening.

The writers have returned to work on the musical along with director Goold since the London premiere. A handful of new songs as well as book revisions and "more blood" are promised.

I wonder if Rodgers and Hammerstein ever promised future audiences more blood.

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The Shubert Organization, which owns 17 of the 40 Broadway theatres, is in a buying mood.

The theatre giant is positioning to purchase the Off-Broadway New World Stages complex, according to the New York Times. New World Stages, whose space was once a movie complex, has five theatres of various sizes and has been in operation since 2004. It has in recent years become the preferred home for Broadway shows that wish to continue their commercial runs, but on a small scale. It served as a home to Avenue Q, Peter and the Starcatcher and Million Dollar Quartet. The complex is currently home to Heathers, The Gazillion Bubble Show, iLuminate, Stalking the Bogeyman and Avenue Q.

Stage Entertainment, a leading European producer that brought Rocky and Sister Act to Broadway, is the current owner of New World Stages.

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Bryan Cranston
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Finally, HBO has announced plans for a film adaptation of Robert Schenkkan's Tony Award-winning political drama All The Way, with actor Bryan Cranston set to repeat his Tony-winning performance as Lyndon B. Johnson on screen.

Schenkkan will pen the screenplay for the HBO film that will be produced by Amblin Television, Tale Told Productions and Moon Shot Entertainment.