PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 9-15: Tony Roundup, Susan Stroman and Woody Allen, Mamet-Mania!

By Robert Simonson
June 15, 2012

The 2012 Tony Awards on June 10 represented a good night for comeback kids.



Clybourne Park, the dark comedy about race and real estate which almost didn't make it to Broadway when playwright Bruce Norris and producer Scott Rudin had an off-stage dust-up, won for Best Play.

And the Diane Paulus revival of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, which was almost derailed in Boston when composer Stephen Sondheim attacked the liberties Paulus and her colleagues were taking with the script, won for Best Revival of a Musical (over Sondheim's own Follies).

Once, the Dublin-set musical that uses actor-musicians to tell its love story, was named Best Musical, and walked away with seven other awards as well, including: Steve Kazee as Best Actor in a Musical; John Tiffany for Best Direction of a Musical; and Enda Walsh for Best Book of a Musical.

Death of a Salesman took home the trophies for Best Revival of a Play and Best Direction of a Play (Mike Nichols).

Audra McDonald won her fifth Tony, for her performance in Porgy and Bess. It was her first Tony in the Best Actress category. Her previous four wins were in the Featured categories. James Corden, the British star who plays a servant of two masters in the Broadway engagement of the London farce One Man, Two Guvnors, won for Best Actor in a Play. Nina Arianda, who was fresh out of NYU when she landed the Off-Broadway job of Vanda in David Ives' sexy dark comedy Venus in Fur in 2010-11, won as Best Actress in a Play.

Alan Menken, whose stage scores include Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act, King David and Leap of Faith (not to mention having scored several famous animated Disney films, later adapted to Broadway), won his first-ever Tony Award for Best Score, for Newsies, with lyricist Jack Feldman.

Christian Borle took home the 2012 Featured Actor in a Play Tony for his purposely hammy work in Peter and the Starcatcher, which claimed a total of five Tonys.

Nice Work If You Can Get It brought Tonys to two stage veterans: Judy Kaye, who won for Featured Actress in a Musical, and Michael McGrath for Featured Actor in a Musical.

What did the folks at home think of the extravaganza, which was hosted by Neal Patrick Harris at the Beacon Theatre? Not much. The CBS broadcast of the 66th Annual Tony Awards, according to preliminary numbers, was the lowest-rated Tony telecast ever.

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Linda Lavin as Rita Lyons
photo by Carol Rosegg

The Tony ceremony always leaves its victims. Linda Lavin, the star of The Lyons, Nicky Silver's dysfunctional-family comedy, did not win a Tony for her widely praised performance. And so the play announced it will close July 1 at Broadway's Cort Theatre.

The Broadway revival of Godspell, too, said it will end its Broadway run June 24. It failed to earn any nominations.

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Life goes on after the Tonys. And so does Broadway. Harvey, Mary Chase's harmless 1944 chestnut about a man and his invisible six-foot rabbit pal, opened at Studio 54 on June 14 in a Roundabout Theatre Company production starring "The Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons as Elwood P. Dowd.

This was obviously a production put together for subscribers, not critics. (Pulitzer or no Pulitzer, Mary Chase hasn't been a critics' favorite for decades, and never will be.) Unsurprisingly, most critics found the choice tame, dull and dated. But they didn't dislike it. The New York Times gave it a pass, using gentle words like "winsome" and "amiable." The Hollywood Reporter called it "an unassuming charmer" that was much needed after Tony-season stress.

Parsons won some nice praise. The Times said, "Mr. Parsons possesses in abundance the crucial ability to project an ageless innocence without any visible effort." Variety called him "sweetly formidable." Entertainment Weekly called him "a rail-thin everyman who projects both intelligence and fundamental decency." Not everyone was in love. Wall Street Journal said he was "giving the kind of affably superficial performance that you'd expect from a network sitcom star."

The worst review may have come from the AP, where the usually amiable and affable Mark Kennedy seems to have missed his morning coffee. "At Harvey," he wrote, "there is overacting and under-acting, poor sound quality and endless windups for lame payoff jokes. And it is led by an actor who seems to be completely shorn of any charisma. Parsons, who plays a hard-core physicist nerd on 'The Big Bang Theory,' has merely transferred his pursed-mouth, vaguely creepy and unsocialized TV character to the stage. With no laugh track. For two hours."

I think Elwood needs to take somebody down to Charlie's Place for a drink.

Giancarlo Esposito and Ron Cephas Jones
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

At the Atlantic Theater Company, John Patrick Shanley directed the world premiere of his Bronx-set Storefront Church, the third play of his trilogy that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Doubt. (It was originally called, more portentously, Sleeping Demon.) The cast included Bob Dishy, Giancarlo Esposito, Zach Grenier, Ron Cephas Jones, Jordan Lage and Tonya Pinkins.

Critics found the play imperfect, but one that beared watching. The Times called it "unwieldy but affecting." The Daily News thought it was "modestly intriguing but lacks the taut, fine-tuned storytelling that made Doubt so compelling and provocative." Entertainment Weekly said it "veers more toward the sententious than the sentimental. The characters feel like proxies rather than flesh-and-blood humans, and the situations in which Shanley places them too often strain credulity," while Variety stated "this final installment is wordy, unfocused and unresolved." Time Out was more approving: "Shanley might direct his work too gently and reverently, but his lovely actors fully inhabit their gentle, flawed, broken people. We taste bitterness, but also much that is sweet."

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Critics were much more enamored of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn, which opened at Playwrights Horizons. The Times called the drama about two female friends who made different life choices "intensely smart, immensely funny." Time Out said it "keeps an impressive balance as its surfs several waves of feminism." And more than one critic called is Heidi Chronicles for 2012. Remember what happened when Heidi bowed at PH to raves? Rapture might have a future.

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Hope springs eternal in the theatre, so the formal closing of the books on the 2011-12 season was followed with furious plans for the 2012-13 season.

A revised production The Killing of Sister George—the seldom-seen 1964 Frank Marcus comedy about a stubborn and bawdy radio actress who discovers her character is about to be killed off—directed by and starring Kathleen Turner, is eyeing an Off-Broadway run, according to an Equity casting notice.

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher is taking on the strange task of adapting a play that is already a play, and already in English. Go figure. It will debut at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT, Nov. 28-Dec. 23.

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Susan Stroman
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

It was announced June 14 that Susan Stroman will direct and choreograph the world premiere of the new musical Bullets Over Broadway during the 2013-14 Broadway season. The work is based on Woody Allen's movie of the same name and will utilize existing music of the 1920s time period. In fall 2013, it had already been announced that she was choreographing an co-directing Prince of Broadway, with Harold Prince. Send in the clones!

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Broadway saw a new production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross just seven years ago. But when Al Pacino wants to play Shelly Levene, you just go ahead and stage another. Previews will begin Oct. 16 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre with an official opening Nov. 11. Mamet's Man in Times Square, Jeffrey Richards, produced the 2005 revival and he will produce this one, too.

Al Pacino has a habit of doing this sort of thing with Mamet. The playwright's American Buffalo debuted on Broadway in 1977, with Robert Duvall playing the central role of Teach. Six years later, the play was back, with Big Al playing Teach.

Pacino also starred in the film version of Glengarry. He played Ricky Roma that time around.

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More Mamet news. The writer's prison-set, two-woman drama The Anarchist, starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger, will play Broadway's Lyceum Theatre beginning Nov. 13. LuPone's an inmate, Winger is the warden. Mamet will direct.

Who's producing? One guess.

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Did you guess right? Well, that same guy is also busy recasting his Broadway revival of The Best Man. Cybill Shepherd, Kristin Davis, John Stamos and Elizabeth Ashley will step into the roles currently played by, respectively, Candice Bergen, Kerry Butler, Eric McCormack and Angela Lansbury. (Ashley actually played Lansbury's role in the 2000 Broadway revival of the drama.)

This will mean that, by the end of the production's run, John Larroquette, as a wavering President candidate, will have played a man who insists he does not want to bed either Candice Bergen and Cybill Shepherd. Now that's acting.