Will The Exorcist Possess Broadway?
By Kenneth Jones
The Exorcist, the new stage adaptation of the horror novel by William Peter Blatty, has Broadway producers Ben Sprecher and Sonia Friedman attached for a possible commercial future of the John Pielmeier play, which begins previews July 3 at Geffen Playhouse.
Brooke Shields stars in California, playing the mother of a girl possessed by a demon. Richard Chamberlain plays an aging priest.
There is no official announcement of a Broadway move, and producers are likely waiting for reviews that will appear after the Los Angeles world premiere opens on July 11.
But, for now, it would seem that The Exorcist has serious commercial potential: Shields and the title are box-office names, and supporting players Harry Groener, Manoel Felciano, Stephen Bogardus and David Wilson Barnes — and Tony Award-winning director John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company) — have lots of cred in the New York critical community. To say nothing of illusionist Teller (of Penn and Teller) creating effects for the production.
The New York Post reported on June 22 that the producers will cast Malcolm MacDowell to replace Chamberlain if and when it moves Broadway, and that Chamberlain knows of that prearrangement. (A spokesman for the producers had no comment for Playbill about the future life of The Exorcist.)
John Pielmeier is the author of Agnes of God, another Broadway play about faith, mystery, spiritual questioning and the supernatural.
In the new production (not based on the 1973 horror film, but on its 1971 source novel), Shields (The Addams Family, Wonderful Town) and Chamberlain (My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music) play Chris MacNeil and Father Merrin, respectively; Barnes (Becky Shaw, The Big Meal) is troubled young priest Father Damien Karras; Tony Award nominee Harry Groener (Crazy for You, Oklahoma!, Cats) is director Burke Dennings; UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television graduate Emily Yetter plays the young Regan MacNeil, who is possessed by the devil; Tony nominee Bogardus (Falsettos, High Society) is Dr. Strong; Felciano (Sweeney Todd, A.C.T.) is Father Joe; Tom Nelis is Dr. Klein; and Roslyn Ruff is Carla. In addition to Teller, whose work with Penn Gillette has been seen on Broadway (Penn & Teller: The Refrigerator Tour, Penn & Teller) and Off-Broadway (Penn & Teller Rot in Hell), on television and in venues around the world, the production has also enlisted spiritual-music composer Sir John Tavener (read more at johntavener.com).
The production team also includes Tony Award-winning scenic and costume designer Scott Pask (a three-time Tony Award winner), lighting designer Jane Cox and sound designer Dan Moses Schreier.
Performances continue to Aug. 12 in the Geffen's Gil Cates Theater.
According to Geffen notes, expect a work that "transforms the unsettling battles of good versus evil, faith versus fact and ego versus ethos into a uniquely theatrical experience as sophisticated as it is suspenseful."
"The story of the battle between faith and evil needed no spinning heads or green vomit," said playwright Pielmeier, in a statement. "The horror should unfold instead on a simple set with an incredible cast (which we absolutely have), and the central conflict between doubting Father Karras and the demon should be a series of debates, in which the young girl possessed is the least of the figures present."
For more information, visit geffenplayhouse.com.
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