PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 11-17: Beautiful and Machinal Open on Broadway and Titanic Will Sail Back to the Stage

By Robert Simonson
January 17, 2014

Was there ever a famous actor more determined to earn his stage stripes than Daniel Radcliffe?



The former big-screen Harry Potter will not just undertake just any theatre part. No, he accepts only those that can be seen from a mile away as unmistakably challenging. He began with Equus, which required him to be both crazy and naked. He followed that up with How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a full-blown, old-fashioned musical comedy lead that would have taxes the resources of any actor.

Now, Radcliffe will return to Broadway in Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan. It goes without saying that he will play the hard luck, disabled leading character.

Radcliffe previously played the part in a sold-out West End run last summer at the Noel Coward Theatre, directed by Michael Grandage. It will transfer to Broadway's Cort Theatre in April. Set to begin previews April 12, towards an April 20 opening, the production marks the Broadway premiere for playwright McDonagh's work, which was previously seen Off-Broadway in 1998 at the Public Theater and in 2008 at the Atlantic Theater. It will play a limited run through July 20.

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In other news of upcoming Broadway attractions, in winter 2015 the Roundabout Theatre Company will present a new Broadway production of Michael Frayn's backstage farce Noises Off, which will be directed by Jeremy Herrin.

This will be the third Broadway go-round for the classic comedy. Noises Off premiered on Broadway in 1983 and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. The original production ran over 550 performances. It was last revived on Broadway in 2001.

Roundabout also plans to bring back Tom Stoppard's romantic drama Indian Ink, directed by Carey Perloff, in September 2014 at the Laura Pels Theatre.

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Maury Yeston and Peter Stone's musical Titanic just won't sink.

Presented on Broadway in 1997, it ran for two years and surprised many by winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. Nonetheless, the reviews were tepid and the show's reputation is largely as a failure.

Jessie Mueller
Photo by Joan Marcus
Titanic has always had its believers, however, and some of them are bringing it back to Broadway this fall. Thom Southerland, who staged an acclaimed chamber production of the musical at London's Southwark Playhouse last year, will return for a North American staging at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre from July 22 through Aug. 31. Following that run, it will transfer to a theatre-to-be-announced on Broadway.

Additional production details including creative team and casting will be announced at a later date.

The new revival of Titanic is produced by Barry and Fran Weissler, and David Mirvish.

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After a preview period of Nick & Nora lengths, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the new stage production that stars Jessie Mueller as the Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter responsible for a library of hit songs, officially opened on Broadway Jan. 12 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

The general thrust of the reviews was that critics could take or leave Beautiful, but they would definitely take Mueller anytime.

The New York Times referred to the "tracing-paper script by Douglas McGrath," and added, "In its first act, the show seems to exhaust itself — it sure exhausted me — as it dutifully wedges such songs into production numbers."

"Beautiful seems less concerned with exploring King's story than with using it to string together familiar tunes," complained USA Today, while The Daily News observed, "Too bad a great musical isn't only about the music. The book is crucial, too — and this show's connect-the-dots story line is so simplistic that the extravagantly talented King's life emerges as a mundane version of the long-suffering little woman."

Rebecca Hall
Photo by Joan Marcus
But nearly ever review shifted tone when it came to the subject of Mueller. "Originality is clearly not this show's strong suit," wrote the Times. "With one very important exception. That's Ms. Mueller, a Broadway star in waiting for several years, who here steps confidently into the V.I.P. room of musical headliners." USA Today called the actress, "far and away the best reason to see Beautiful," and Variety said, "all is forgotten, even momentarily forgiven, whenever Jessie Mueller, in the modest person of Carole King, sits down at the piano and pours heart and soul into familiar favorites from the composer's songbook."

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The other Broadway opening this week also dealt with female empowerment, but in a very different era and in a decidedly different way.

The Roundabout Theatre Company opened its new production of Sophie Treadwell's seldom-seen expressionistic classic Machinal, starring Rebecca Hall portraying real-life murderer Ruth Snyder, a rather ordinary woman driven to murder by her stultifying, circumscribed existence, at the American Airlines Theatre. The show is the play's first Broadway revival since its 1928 debut.

Critics were largely impressed with director Lyndsey Turner's production, and Hall's performance, even if there were complaints that Hall's character was difficult to sympathize with and her portrayal was often overshadowed by design elements.

"Describing Machinal as ahead of its time is just the tip of the revelations in Sophie Treadwell's 1928 expressionist stunner," wrote Newsday, in one of the more wholly positive notices. "This little-known adventure in psychological, sociological and stylistic boundary-pushing — not on Broadway in 86 years — has been given a dazzling, daring revival that feels especially startling in the doggedly conventional environs of the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre... It cannot be easy to play a character so tightly trapped behind society's facade. But Hall — with a beanpole body like an exclamation point and a face of a thousand worried looks — brings us deep inside the long, virtuosic bursts of halting half-sentences and tangled mazes of internal monologues."

"Staged this time by British director Lyndsey Turner with uncompromising rigor, the play's nine 'episodes' unfold in a revolving rectangular box created by design magician Es Devlin," commented Hollywood Reporter. "This functions like a gallery of grim dioramas… The combined effect is dour but often darkly beautiful... This is a tough play with an intensity that doesn't let up, and the actors all respond to it with full-force commitment... But it's Hall who rivets attention."

Yet, the Times noted that "Hall must struggle to hold her own against an overbearing co-star. That would be Es Devlin's revolving, scene-stealing set, which portrays a juggernaut of doom — i.e., modern urban existence — that flattens all in its path. You might say such a battle, pitting a lone specimen of humanity against a marvel of technology and artifice, only underscores the haunting determinism of Machinal, and I wouldn't argue. And even if the Young Woman is clearly headed for extinction from the first scene, Ms. Hall's emotionally transparent performance is never overwhelmed by what surrounds it."

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Frank Langella
Photo by Richard Termine

Also opening this week was the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Shakespeare's King Lear, starring Frank Langella, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Critics came expecting an impressive Langella (he nearly always is) and they were not disappointed. "Given Frank Langella's rock-solid stage background," wrote Variety, "it should come as no surprise that the old lion makes a formidable monarch in King Lear. Under Angus Jackson’s firm helming, the… production of the Shakespeare tragedy is all business — no bells, no whistles, no bluster.  Super-clean staging and tight ensemble work provide strong support for Langella, who turns in a thoughtful, moving, and well-rounded perf that is only the teensiest bit hammy."

New York magazine, too, referred to pork: "It takes a ham to play a ham, and Langella, more than any recent Lear I’ve seen, including Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline, and Christopher Plummer, knows just how to serve it up. Whenever he’s onstage, this production…snaps into focus." When off, though, the reviewer added, the staging got "shaggy."

The Times concurred that Jackson's mounting was a "straightforward storybook version," but confessed, "while I was often intrigued and stimulated by Mr. Langella’s Lear, I was only occasionally moved."