PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 5-12: Matilda Arrives, Nicholas Hytner to Depart and Julie Taymor and Spider-Man Settle

By Robert Simonson
April 12, 2013

Is there peace in the web? Can it be?



This week, Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and 8 Legged Productions LLC (cute name), the producer of Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—parties who have been at each other's throats since the mega-musical with the troubled history opened—announced April 10 that the pending litigation between them has been settled by mutual agreement of all parties.

How were they resolved? Wouldn't you like to know. Wouldn't we all. But, sadly, details of the agreement were not announced.

There were, however, several official statements. The general message was that everybody was happy, pleased and glad.

Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris of 8 Legged Productions said in a joint statement, "We're happy to put all this behind us. We are now looking forward to spreading Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark in new and exciting ways around the world."

Taymor added, "I'm pleased to have reached an agreement and hope for the continued success of Spider-Man, both on Broadway and beyond."

Berger said, "I am very glad the parties have put the claims behind them. I look forward to seeing fruitful work from all those involved."

The news was the conclusion of a legal battle that began in November 2011, when original Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark director Taymor filed a lawsuit against the producers of the musical claiming that the producers violated her creative rights and did not compensate her for her work on the musical.

In response to Taymor's suit, the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark filed an answer and countersuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the director and her company, LOH, Inc., in January 2012. The producers' counterclaims said that Taymor refused "to fulfill her contractual obligations, declaring that she could not and would not do the jobs that she was contracted to do."

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The reign of Nicholas Hytner, the super-successful artistic director of London's National Theatre, now has an end date. But, fans needn't worry; they still have two more years of Hytner-brand theatre in store. The director announced that he will step down at the end of March 2015.

In a statement Hytner said, "It's been a joy and a privilege to lead the National Theatre for ten years and I'm looking forward to the next two. I have the most exciting and most fulfilling job in the English-speaking theatre; and after twelve years it will be time to give someone else a turn to enjoy the company of my stupendous colleagues, who together make the National what it is."

Nick Starr, who has been executive director since 2002, also announced that he will be leaving the NT during 2014.

Whoever succeeds Hytner in the position will have a tough act to follow. In the entire history of the National, no artistic director has enjoyed the winning streak Hytner has, with both the press and the public. Among the productions he has shepherded to the stage have been the critical and popular smashes The History Boys; War Horse; One Man, Two Guvnors; Jerry Springer: The Opera; Coram Boy; The Seafarer and many more. Quite of few of these transferred to Broadway, where they often repeated their success and took in awards.

Hytner also innovated reduced-price ticket seasons, sponsored by Travelex. The system was credited with brining in higher attendance, and attracting a younger and more diverse audience.

Bertie Carvel in Matilda.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Broadway finally has a spring smash musical.

Matilda The Musical, the British show based on Roald Dahl's children's book about a precocious bookworm with magical powers, with a book by Dennis Kelly and a score by Tim Minchin, opened on Broadway April 11 at the Shubert Theatre, and the critics couldn't have been happier.

The show, "is the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain," wrote the New York Times. "As directed by Matthew Warchus, with a bright, efficient book by Dennis Kelly and addictive songs by Tim Minchin, Matilda is as much an edge-of-the-seats nail biter as a season-finale episode of 'Homeland.'…Above all it's an exhilarating tale of empowerment, as told from the perspective of the most powerless group of all. I mean little children."

AP called it "a witty musical adaptation of the beloved novel by Roald Dahl and is true to his bleak vision of childhood as a savage battleground. The musical arrives in New York with plenty of hype and awards, and it mostly delivers a thrilling blast of nasty fun, even if it's a bit swollen and in need of some fine-tuning. It also has come with perhaps its most grotesque masterstroke: Bertie Carvel as the fearsome cross-dressing school headmistress Miss Trunchbull."

Most of the reviews continued in this praising vein, with enough superlatives to fill a couple full-page ads in the New York Times. The show was a "miracle," "delectably clever," "immersive and strangely moving," a "meticulously calculated production offers coup after coup de théâtre," "stupendous fun," "dazzlingly inventive," and "far and away the best new musical of the Broadway season."

Wall Street power brokers, hotel concierges, tourists, theatre geeks: take heed—there is now a new toughest ticket in town.

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The week brought bad news for another Broadway musical. Hands on a Hardbody, the cultural pulse-taking about a cross-section of Texans hoping to win a pickup truck in a grueling endurance competition, which won respectable but not great reviews, announced it will close on Broadway April 13. The musical's score is by Amanda Green and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, with a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright.

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Yes, the producers of Rebecca—the musical for which the term "star-crossed" is vastly insufficient—are still trying to get that scandal-plagued show off the ground and onto the stage.

The musical's shadowy, twisting off-stage tale—one that rivals any mystery written for the stage—hasn't deterred embattled producer Ben Sprecher from pushing forward with Broadway plans for the musical thriller. He told Playbill.com that he is getting closer to the $15 million capitalization necessary to bring the production to Broadway later this year.

As previously reported, Rebecca found a new angel in recent months, with the addition of Barbara Sellinger, who joined Sprecher and Louise Forlenza on the producing team. A March 11 reading of the musical at Sellinger's home took place with members of the previously announced Broadway cast.

Sprecher told Playbill.com April 9 that he and his team have "identified an additional $2 million" in funding, bringing their current standing to $8 million.

The show landed in the soup, and onto the tabloid pages, when it was discovered that Long Island businessman and con man Mark C. Hotton had fabricated the name and existence of an investor who pledged the final $4.5 million for the production—an investor that Sprecher had never met or spoken to.

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Finally, "Harry Potter" actor Daniel Radcliffe continues in his steady pursuit of stage cred.

Following appearances in How to Succeed… and Equus, the actor will step into the knee-deep blood and gore of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan.

Michael Grandage's new West End production will begin performances June 8 prior to an official opening June 18, for a run through Aug. 31.