PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 10-16: Follies Finds Its Heyday, Lear Is Cast, Porgy's Coming

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 10-16: Follies Finds Its Heyday, Lear Is Cast, Porgy's Coming
Follies is back.

Ron Raines and Bernadette Peters in Follies.
Ron Raines and Bernadette Peters in Follies. Photo by Joan Marcus

It seems Follies is always back, of course. And usually the return is accompanied by a lot of grousing from the critics and Stephen Sondheim groupies about how the great and grand and historic musical has not been well served by the fates. There was the most recent Broadway revival, in 2001, which most reviewers hated for director Matthew Warchus' emphasis on the James Goldman book over the Sondheim score, and its casting of actors who could sing instead of singers who could act. Then there was the Paper Mill Playhouse revival in 1998, which many though should have come to Broadway, but didn't due to backstage politics. There was also the Encores! concert reading that a lot of people liked, but that didn't get to Broadway either.

This Follies, which began at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, did get to Broadway, and critics do like it. It's a miracle of sorts.

The New York Times, which was cool to the DC production, changed its tune a bit. "Somewhere along the road from Washington to Broadway, the Kennedy Center production of Follies picked up a pulse," wrote Ben Brantley. "The four stars of this Follies give X-ray performances, in which lives past and souls divided can be seen clearly beneath the skin." One critic states, "Finally, we have this one — the first staged Follies I've seen that wouldn't work better as just a concert of blazingly theatrical Sondheim songs without James Goldman's mawkish dialogue. Some thought director Eric Schaeffer mainly played it safe with the staging, opting "mostly to steer the ship, not re-install the keel." Another critic, not wishing to quibble too much, said, "just having Follies back on Broadway, played by a full orchestra and performed by a gifted cast, is reward enough."

My favorite observation — one I share — came from Bloomberg News, which pointed out that, draped in black cloth to stand in for the old theatre being torn down in the show, "Broadway’s sterile Marquis Theatre has never looked so good as in the state of faux decrepitude." 


Susie Sokol in The Select (The Sun Also Rises).
photo by Rob Strong

Also opening this week was Elevator Repair Service's The Select (The Sun Also Rises), the experimental troupe's third journey into long-form, literary adaptation. It followed The Sound and the Fury and Gatz, the huge snob hit of last season.

For this final installment in the trilogy, critics seemed a bit burned out. There were a few raves, such as Time Out New York, which called it "a fasinating duel between literalism and abstraction." But others found Sun less inspired that the all-day Gatz. And still others wondered if ERS had wandered into the library stacks just once too often.


Usually, Broadway shows issue press releases to announce casting, an opening date or the selection of theatre. This week, the producers of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (as the show is called) sent out news that the estates of George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward have given the green light to their production. That's got to be a first.

The producers, no doubt, wanted to quell any doubts that the show was indeed coming to Broadway. After Stephen Sondheim ripped apart the director and book adaptor's intentions in a long letter to the New York Times, and the Times' Brantley then gave the Boston production a chilly review, pundits and reporters openly questioned whether the show would survive past its American Repertory Theater staging.

Well, it will. There were even statements from the heads of the two estates (Albert J. Cardinali from the Heyward Memorial Fund, and Michael Strunsky from the Gershwin Trust, for what it's worth), voicing their enthusiasm for the piece. Perhaps they could be blown up and hung from the marquee at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.


Bobby Cannavale
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Bobby Cannavale will make his Broadway musical debut as Nicky Arnstein opposite Lauren Ambrose as Fanny Brice, in the Broadway-bound Center Theatre Group revival of the seldom-revived (because Babs Streisand is a hard act to follow) Funny Girl.

A Tony nominee for The Motherf**ker With the Hat this past season — which is, I think, enough for us to consider this unconventional, and somewhat exciting, casting — Cannavale will take on the role of American businessman (and con man) Arnstein, Brice's second husband. The role was originated on stage by Sydney Chaplin and played by Omar Sharif in the film. Bartlett Sher will stage the revival that will play a Los Angeles tryout at the Ahmanson Theatre Jan. 15-Feb. 26, 2012. The production is aiming for a spring 2012 Broadway arrival.


Newsies — the 1992 Disney musical film about an 1899 newspaper boy strike, which famously flopped — is now a musical musical. You know — for the stage.

Jeff Calhoun directs the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the show, which has the creative team of Alan Menken (music), Jack Feldman (lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book). The cast is headed by Jeremy Jordan as teenage newspaper-hawking hero Jack Kelly and John Dossett as newspaper giant Joseph Pulitzer (who wasn't a nice guy, despite the awards that are given out in this name). The score contains songs from the movie, as well as a few new ones.

It began previews Sept. 15 at the New Jersey venue with an official opening scheduled for Sept. 25.


Here's the genius — yet obvious — bit of casting of the week. Bill Irwin, modern clown nonpareil, will play the Fool in the Sam Waterston production of King Lear.

Why didn't anyone think of this before?

Also cast this week in the Public Theater production was Kristen Connolly as Cordelia and that nice man Frank Wood, playing completely against type as the awful, cruel, eye-gouging Cornwall. Previews will begin Oct. 18 Off-Broadway.

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