PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. Nov. 2-8: After Midnight Earns Raves, Midsummer Opens at TFANA and Two Shows Announce Closings

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08 Nov 2013

Fantasia
Fantasia
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

After Midnight, the jazz revue which celebrates Duke Ellington's years at the famed Harlem nightclub the Cotton Club — using his original arrangements and performed by a world-class big band of 17 musicians hand-picked by vaunted jazzman Wynton Marsalis, and set against a narrative of Langston Hughes poetry — opened this week at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The production was "conceived" by Jack Viertel  and played two previous engagements at New York City Center.

The show entered the 2013-14 Broadway sweepstakes with little fanfare, but it awoke Nov. 4 to find a set a reviews that turned it into a commercial contender.

The New York Times stated that "the focus remains squarely on music and its interpretation, by those amazing musicians, under the snappy baton of the conductor Daryl Waters, and the performers who sing, slide, scat, cartwheel and generally raise a ruckus in front of them." AP found the "candy sampler of some two dozen musical numbers that showcase dance, jazz or singing" to leave one "feeling lighter than air."

Hollywood Reporter enthused, "The paramount requirement for any revue celebrating the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s is stated right there in the Duke Ellington standard, 'It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).' And After Midnight has it in abundance… Ninety minutes of exuberantly entertaining song and dance, this is a show that renders it impossible to keep your toes from tapping." New York magazine called it "an unmitigated pleasure."

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Off-Broadway, Theatre for a New Audience opened a revival of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Julie Taymor. The occasion would have been dramatic enough if only for being the inaugural production in TFANA's new Brooklyn home, but it also served as Taymor's first major New York directing credit since the public-relations spectacle that was Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.

Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf
Photo by Joan Marcus
As far as the critics were concerned, the show was both a suitable ice-breaker for the new theatre and a return to form for Taymor.

The New York Times said, "this production is a happy consummation for a company that, under its founding artistic director Jeffrey Horowitz, has devoted more than three decades to conjuring epic landscapes in small spaces." The Hollywood Reporter warned that "Many of the tricks here will be familiar to those who have followed Taymor's career — the billowing fabric, the masks, the shadow play and mime, the influences of Balinese and Japanese theater traditions," but added "what stunningly descriptive visuals they are, weaving the story in bold, vivid strokes." Variety cheered, "This is a high-concept show, beautifully designed and erected on the scaffolding of a conviction that Shakespeare's play is all a dream — that all of life, in fact, is a dream."

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Elsewhere Off-Broadway, at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, was the world premiere of Domesticated, the first new play by Bruce Norris since he slayed the theatre world with his award-winning Clybourne Park. The drama starred Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum as a political couple embroiled in turmoil.

Critics were generally impressed, though many considered the work not as satisfying or successful as Clybourne Park. All, however, praised Goldblum and Metcalf.

"Make no mistake," said New York magazine, "This latest provocation from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park is more than a gloss on Eliot and Silda Spitzer, the most obvious of many possible models for his Bill and Judy Pulver. Norris is in it for something much bigger than a takedown of political hypocrisy...What happens to Bill and Judy — Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf, in brilliant, unimpeachable performances — is both hilarious and awful...Certainly the director, Anna D. Shapiro, has staged the play with enormous punch."

Hollywood Reporter opined that "while not as incisive or ingeniously structured as the earlier work, this is a tart, provocative comedy of the most corrosive kind, driven by scathingly funny dialogue. Anna D. Shapiro's super-streamlined production for Lincoln Center Theater boasts a terrific cast, with a superbly matched Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf facing off as the warring husband and wife under a sticky spotlight."

John Douglas Thompson and Sebastian Arcelus
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The New York Times was less sanguine, commenting, "Mr. Norris hasn't created characters as much as antithetical positions, which in turn are stripped down to a set of inalterable physical impulses. If we tune out as they rant on and on, it isn't because we're afraid to listen to the truth; it's because they keep saying the same thing."

Newsday, meanwhile, turned in the unique observation of the day, saying, "Metcalf's Judy, a compassionate and opportunistic socialite in beige folds of silk, surely has the saddest, most expressive dimples in the theater."

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Two Broadway shows called it a day this week.

The producers of A Time to Kill, the first Broadway play adapted from the work of legal thriller writer John Grisham, announced the drama, which left critics cold, will play its final performance at the John Golden Theatre Nov. 17.

And First Date, the new musical about, yes, a first date, said it would play its final Broadway performance Jan. 5, 2014, at the Longacre. It will have played 34 previews and 174 regular performances at the time of closing.

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Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Gigi, the film musical that was later adapted for the Broadway stage, will play a pre-Broadway engagement in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in January 2015, it was announced.

Directed by Eric Schaeffer in a re-envisioned adaptation by British playwright Heidi Thomas, the musical is aiming for a Broadway bow later that year. 

Though the show won a Tony Award in 1973 for its score, the musical is still best remembered as the 1958 film starring Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan. The story — about a young girl who is being trained as a courtesan — hasn't aged well, but the warmly remembered score includes "The Night They Invented Champagne," "I Remember It Well" and that borderline creepy classic "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."

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Terence Archie, Dakin Matthews and Danny Mastrogiorgio have been added to the cast of the Broadway premiere of Rocky, the new musical based on the famous film about a boxing underdog, which will begin previews in February 2014 at the Winter Garden Theatre.

Archie originated the role of heavyweight champ Apollo Creed in the world-premiere production of Rocky in Hamburg, Germany. He will leave the Hamburg production (where he sang in German) Nov. 24 to repeat his work on Broadway. Matthews will play Rocky's trainer, Mickey, portrayed by Burgess Meredith in the film. And Mastrogiorgio is Rocky's girlfriend Adrian's ne'er-do-well brother, Paulie.

As previously reported, Andy Karl and Margo Seibert will star as Rocky Balboa and Adrian, respectively.

Featuring a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and a book by Thomas Meehan, Rocky will be directed by Alex Timbers.