PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW: Jake Gyllenhaal On Stage, Raves for Detroit, Les Miz Back on Broadway?
By Kenneth Jones
Lisa D'Amour's Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Detroit, about neighbors who form a codependent bond in the current economic downturn, opened Sept. 18 in its New York City debut at Playwrights Horizons. It is officially the best-reviewed play of the still-young New York theatre season.
Leading a parade of raves was Charles Isherwood of the New York Times, whose earlier embrace of a separate Chicago run in 2010 was possibly responsible for its future life (including London and the current Off-Broadway run). Time Out New York blessed it as "sly, timely and neatly surprising," despite occasional "playwriting cliches." The Post said it "totally nails the great, deep malaise of middle-class suburbia, with a sustained energy and a wicked eye for telling details," adding that it's "expertly written, directed and acted."
Linda Winer at Newsday was less upbeat, dubbing it a "thoughtful but not exactly thought-provoking drama" and adding that it "feels long, with heavy splatters of emotional foreshadowing and with familiar sitcom exchanges between two neighboring couples."
PH quickly announced that two weeks would be added to the run (Oct. 16-28) following a one-week hiatus (Oct. 8-14). The play, which the Times called "superb," "smart" and "satisfying," stars Tony Award winner John Cullum, Darren Pettie, Sarah Sokolovic, Tony nominee Amy Ryan and David Schwimmer, who all got solid reviews. The PH website has this disclaimer: "In extension weeks, understudies may appear."
Nick Payne's domestic drama If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet made its U.S. premiere at Off-Broadway's Laura Pels Theatre on Sept. 20, in a production by Roundabout Theatre Company. The tale of a drifter uncle who connects with his overweight niece earned mixed reviews, with Time Out New York being the most kind by calling it a "brutally honest and tender family tale." The Times called it a "four-member comic drama" that is "more conventionally formulaic and less fully realized" than British writer Payne's more praised Constellations. Beowulf Boritt's conceptual scenic design raised the eyebrows of Times' Ben Brantley (who said it got in the way) and Newsday's Linda Winer, who characterized it as "a big, stage-wide tank of water into which rain pours as we enter the theatre, and pieces of furniture are carelessly tossed when people no longer need them for a scene."
The takeaway of most of the reviews is that Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal, in his U.S. stage debut, is a solid stage actor.
Casting was announced for the fall Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Director Rob Ashford's cast will feature the previously mentioned Tony Award winner Scarlett Johansson (A View From the Bridge) as Maggie and the not previously mentioned Benjamin Walker (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) as Brick (Chris Pine was thought to be in the running), with Tony winner Deb Monk (Curtains, Steel Pier, Redwood Curtain) as Big Mama and Irish actor Ciarin Hinds ("Harry Potter" movies) as Big Daddy. Hinds played a juicy, Southern, Bill Clinton-like role in the summer miniseries "Political Animals."
The revival (beginning Dec. 18) will mark the Broadway non-musical directing debut of Ashford, the director-choreographer known for Promises, Promises and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Ashford won the Tony for his choreography of Thoroughly Modern Millie. He staged a lauded revival of Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire in London.
Academy and Tony Award-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave will co-star with Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg in the world premiere of his new play, The Revisionist, which will debut Off-Broadway in February 2013 in a staging by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Last season Eisenberg ("The Social Network") starred in his play Asuncion for the Rattlestick. His latest work will debut Feb. 6, 2013, at the Cherry Lane Theatre for a run through March 31, 2013. An opening night has been set for Feb. 21, 2013. Kip Fagan will direct.
The North American touring production of the revised and redesigned musical Les Misérables, a road hit that launched in early 2011 and has recouped due to sellout crowds and bookings into early 2014, may appear on Broadway.
Nick Allott, managing director of Cameron Mackintosh, Ltd., confirmed that producer Mackintosh wants to see the new 25th-anniversary reboot staging — co-directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo — on Broadway, where the original won the Tony Award as Best Musical in 1987.
Allott said, "We've got to decide what to do with the tour when it comes off the road at the beginning of 2014. It's all up for grabs, as they say, but nothing is scheduled, we haven't talked theatres, we haven't talked dates, we haven't talked about the rest of the cast. The tour is doing phenomenally well — there's obviously still a big, big appetite for it, and Cameron is keen to have that production seen on Broadway." He added, "It's a way off — a minimum of 18 months away, if it happens."
We also learned this week that the film version of the epic pop musical will be released wide on Dec. 25 rather than Dec. 7. Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean.
The Old Globe production of Allegiance — A New American Musical, charting the lives of Japanese Americans who were placed in concentration camps on U.S. soil during World War II, opened Sept. 19 in San Diego. The cast boasts Paolo Montalban, Allie Trimm, Michael K. Lee, Ann Sanders, George Takei, Telly Leung and Tony Award winner Lea Salonga. Stafford Arima (Carrie, Altar Boyz, London's Ragtime) directs the world-premiere production of the history-inspired original musical by Jay Kuo (composer-lyricist) and Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione (co-librettists).
The Los Angeles Times review suggested that "though peppered with promising scenes and powerfully sung by the largely Asian American cast," the musical "retreats from the challenge of its own material and hasn't found a consistent focus, tone or musical idiom." Despite "its historical reach and welcome significance, the book drifts into two generic romances and in the second act meanders into sentimental warblings that family is 'what really matters.'"
On Sept. 18, the music of late composer Marvin Hamlisch was performed by some of the greatest singers and artists of the age: Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin, Itzhak Perlman and others, in a tribute evening in Manhattan.
Brought together by The Juilliard School (where Hamlisch attended as a child prodigy at the ripe age of seven), the audience at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on West 65th Street was dotted with celebrities from all walks of life: Mike Nichols; former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; Regis Philbin; Susan Lucci; Sarah Jessica Parker; Alan Cumming; Sheldon Harnick; Mary Rodgers; Paul Shaffer and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, who came on behalf of the President and the First Lady
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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