PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 1-7: Mark Rylance to Bring Gender-Bending Shakespeare to NYC, Far From Heaven Opens

By Robert Simonson
June 7, 2013

Today's young generation is too fresh to this planet to know a time when you couldn't escape the title "The Bridges of Madison County." Published in 1992 by an unknown author named Robert James Waller, the story about a brief, four-day love affair between a National Geographic photographer and an Italian-American housewife in 1965 Iowa became an unexpected runaway smash.



It was the best-selling book of 1993, and flew off the shelves at such a rate that, for years, it was only available in hardcover. It remained on The New York Times bestsellers list for three full years. Critics berated the prose and the plot as contrived and trite, but the novel sold 50 million copies, making it one of the biggest sellers of the 20th century. In 1995, Clint Eastwood directed and starred with Meryl Streep in a movie adaptation.

It's been a good decade or so since "Bridges" has been a part of the national conversation, but that's about to change. Jason Robert Brown has seen fit to turn the book into a musical, and producers have seen fit to back it. The Bridges of Madison County will arrive on Broadway in January 2014, lead producers Jeffrey Richards, Stacey Mindich and Jerry Frankel announced June 6.

The new musical will first premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in August. It will arrive on Broadway Jan. 13, 2014 at the Schoenfeld Theatre. An opening night has been set for late February.

Director Bartlett Sher, who has a way with sumptuous musical staging (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza) will stage the project. Casting will, of course, be critical, and has not yet been announced. Kelli O'Hara — who would have been the fairest, blondest Italian woman ever — had originally been attached to star in the Williamstown production, but she is expecting her second child later this summer.

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In other Broadway news, Mark Rylance, who can barely touch a foot to a Broadway stage without winning a Tony Award, will return to town this fall in not one, but two, roles.

Rylance will star on Broadway in two very different roles: as the suddenly love-struck noblewoman Olivia in Twelfth Night and as the title monarch in Richard III. You read the first part right; as artistic director of The Globe in London, Rylance often adhered to the Shakespearean habit of taking on women's roles in the Bard's plays.

Mark Rylance
Directed by Tim Carroll, performances will begin in repertory at the Belasco Theatre Oct. 15 prior to an official opening Nov. 10. This will mark the Broadway debut of Shakespeare's Globe.

The cast also includes acclaimed English comic actor Stephen Fry ("Jeeves and Wooster," etc.), making his Broadway debut as Malvolio and Samuel Barnett as Viola in Twelfth Night and Queen Elizabeth in Richard III.

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Actor Terry Kinney and playwright Keith Reddin — two talents who came of age in the 1980s — will join forces for a new Broadway staging of the classic Cornell Woolrich story "Rear Window." Reddin will pen the adaptation of the thriller and Kinney will direct.

The tale is best known for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1954 film. A timeline is not in place for the Broadway production.

Strangely, given the number of plays he's written, this will be Reddin's Broadway debut as a playwright. He has been on Broadway twice, but as an actor (A Taste of Honey, The Play's the Thing).

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Stephanie J. Block and Will Chase both did very well by the recent Roundabout Theatre Company revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and are nominated for Tony Awards — their first such honor in both cases. The two will join forces again as co-stars of the Off-Broadway Second Stage Theatre production of Little Miss Sunshine. The new musical by Tony Award winners William Finn and James Lapine is based on the 2006 road-trip comedy film of the same name. They will play husband and wife.

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The much-sought-after Kelli O'Hara, who was wanted for the lead in The Bridges of Madison County, opened this week as the lead in another new musical, Far From Heaven, based on the 2002 Todd Haynes film. She played not a 1960s unhappy Iowa housewife, but a 1950s unhappy Connecticut housewife. The Playwrights Horizons staging — with a score by the Grey Gardens team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie and a book by Richard Greenberg — opened June 2.

Kelli O'Hara
Photo by Joan Marcus
The general feel among critics was that improvements were needed if the show was to have a further life. The New York Times called the show "prosaic," adding, "there’s the nagging sense throughout that Ms. O’Hara, like the character she plays, is not being allowed to express her vast potential. Too often she seems confined to two dimensions; so do the imperfectly cast actors portraying the men in her life, Mr. Johnson as Raymond and Steven Pasquale as Cathy’s husband, Frank, a closeted homosexual. So, for that matter, does the show as a whole."

"For all the swoony melodies and elegant lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, the production doesn’t transform the material into gripping musical theater," said Time Out New York. "Part of the problem lies in Richard Greenberg’s serviceable but uninspired book. Casting is also to blame. O’Hara is perfect for the role of Cathy — too perfect. Her coolly bland exterior never cracks or warms convincingly. Pasquale is similarly frosty and removed, making an underwritten character even more unsympathetic."

AP liked it best, calling it "pretty close to heavenly. Tightly staged by Michael Greif at Playwrights Horizons, it's smart, sophisticated and a perfect vehicle for Kelli O'Hara's soaring voice and endearing stage presence… the transporting, potent show has an elegant diversity of music by Scott Frankel. Thoughtful lyrics by Michael Korie sensitively express the characters' turbulent inner emotions, and the score is beautifully performed by the entire cast. "