PHOTO CALL: Broadway-Aimed The Exorcist, With Brooke Shields and Richard Chamberlain
By Matthew Blank
A stage version of William Peter Blatty's horror novel "The Excorcist" began performances July 3 at Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, where Brooke Shields plays the mother of a girl possessed by the devil. Tony Award winner John Doyle stages the adaptation by John Pielmeier.
For the record, don't expect the famous special effects from the 1973 film to be recreated on stage. Young Regan MacNeil's head will not twist around on her shoulders, but the creators of this new look at the creepy classic have said they plan to put the demon's physical form on stage.
As previously reported, The Exorcist has Broadway producers Ben Sprecher and Sonia Friedman attached for a possible commercial future. Opening night in Los Angeles is July 11, after which reviews will indicate the intense story's trajectory.
Richard Chamberlain plays an aging priest in the world-premiere staging. There is no official announcement of a Broadway move, 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.)
Pielemeier said of the novel, "I've always been fascinated by crises of faith. And I've always been fascinated by crises with children. This is the perfect combination." Read the recent Playbill magazine interview with Pielmeier.
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.
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."
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.
For more information, visit geffenplayhouse.com.
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