Simon Callow is Charles Dickens, as they used to say.
The British hyphenate will display his primary talent—acting—in the one-man show, The Mystery of Charles Dickens, which opens at the Belasco Theatre April 25, after previews from April 18.
Dickens, by Peter Ackroyd, was an acclaimed London solo vehicle for Callow, who occupies his time with acting (stage and film), directing (The Pajama Game) and writing (biographies on Orson Welles and Charles Laughton). The play returned earlier this year to the Comedy Theatre in London and then transferred to the Albery Theatre, where it had enjoyed its first run in 2000.
Callow graced the West End in 1997 with another one-man play, The Importance of Being Oscar, about author Oscar Wilde. That venture was directed by Patrick Garland, who also pilots Dickens here. Callow will make his Broadway acting debut in Dickens, though he did direct Shirley Valentine in 1989. The planned limited-run will last 10 weeks.
In the piece, also seen at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in late 2001, Callow plays the celebrated Victorian novelist, as well as more than 40 of his creations, including the jovial Mr. Micawber ("David Copperfield"), besotted nurse Mrs. Gamp ("Martin Chuzzlewit"), murderous villian Bill Sikes ("Oliver Twist") and the deluded Miss Havisham ("Great Expectations").
Dickens worshipped the stage and often toyed with acting. In his later years, he toured widely with lecture tours in which hundreds packed in to hear the novelist's dramatic readings of his own work. Legend has women routinely fainting at Dickens' depiction of Nancy's gruesome death in "Oliver Twist." Many historians have credited these exhausting and unending tours with handing the writer an early death. The Playbill includes a chronology of the life of Charles Dickens, although the work is said to be theatrical rather than academic, with Callow playing a narrator, Dickens himself and the famed characters.
Callow is best known to audiences for his many colorful supporting turns in movies such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "A Room with a View," "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge," "Maurice" and "Shakespeare in Love."
Christopher Woods is credited for design and Nick Richings handled lights for The Mystery of Charles Dickens. Producers of the Broadway engagement are Ambassador Theatre Group, Act Productions and Pre-Eminence, Ltd. The Belasco, the vintage 1907 theatre, is at 111 W. 44th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.
Contrary to Broadway trends of the last two decades, Simon Callow's performance in Charles Dickens is not miked. There is not even a sound man on staff at the Belasco, according to a press spokesperson. This would make Callow very possibly the only actor now gracing Broadway unaided by any vocal enhancement whatsoever.
For much of the last century, of course, actors had to make do with their own lungs, speaking loud enough to reach the ears in the last row of the balcony. Excessive amplification and body mikes are now the rule—a sore spot with many critics and audience members, who bemoan young performers' inability to project and complain that the sound mix makes its difficult to discern who is speaking at any given time.