Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Plays Rule on B'way - the Second Seven

Posted by Bruce Miller
It’s been more than 48 hours since I discovered that Broadway is enjoying an historic fall, having mounted more straight plays (The Ritz notwithstanding) in 2007 than during any other Fall Season in the last 27 years. And, yes, I know that everyone else probably noticed this months ago, but I didn’t notice it until now, and I’m excited.

It’s not that I don’t love musicals—I do. It’s just that I love plays even more. I’m so used to Broadway trending away from plays that this reversal gives me cause for rejoicing.

One of the questions I receive most often—it comes with the job title—is, “I’m going to New York next Tuesday and can go to only one show. What should I see?” Hopefully these last three posts will help to give at least a little guidance in that department.

Rock ’n’ Roll by Sir Tom Stoppard began previews on Oct 19 and opened on Nov 4 to nearly unanimous, heart-stopping raves. It’s a transfer of the London production that won just about every major award that London has on offer, and it jumped across the pond complete with its three amazing stars: Rufus Sewell, Sinead Cusack and Brian Cox. It’s directed by the deservedly acclaimed Trevor Nunn. It uses rock ’n’ roll as a roadmap to chart its way through the political and personal turmoil of the last several decades, finding connections between love, revolution and music that illuminate our current century. I’m passionate about seeing it and seeing it soon.

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts began previews on Oct 30 and opened on Dec 4, and it also received nearly unanimous, heart-stopping raves. As American as Rock ’n’ Roll is British, August is a transfer of the award-winning premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre, based in Chicago. In the NY Times, Christopher Isherwood says, “Tracy Lett’s fiercely funny, turbo-charged tragicomedy is, flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years.” When Tracy Letts wrote Killer Joe, Gary Hopper started talking to me about him. When he wrote Bug, Irene Ziegler started singing his praises. Now all of the American theatre community is paying attention. This is another play I’m desperate to see.

The Seafarer, written and directed by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, began previews on Oct 30 and opened on Dec 6, and again received great reviews—although not quite as great as its two predecessors. The Seafarer is a supernatural tale set on Christmas Eve in an Irish bar, where five Irishmen, one of whom may not be who or what he appears, descend into drunkenness and share spine-tingling yarns. I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but this play is surely as Irish as August is American and Rock is British. At the end, it’s also, from most accounts, unexpectedly uplifting.

Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is being revived on Broadway for the first time since 1923 in an all-star production that is lighting up the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center. The play began previews on Nov 1 and opened on Dec 2, starring Michael Cerveris, John Cullum, Phylicia Rashad, John Pankow and Martha Plimpton, under the direction of Mark Lamos. Again, the critics have been mostly enthusiastic, especially toward Michael Cerveris’s performance and Mark Lamos’s direction. Cymbeline was the first show to open after the strike, and it appears that it will have the successful limited engagement that had been planned.

Is He Dead? is that rarest of rarities—a new, previously unproduced farce by Mark Twain. Not known as a dramatist, old Sam Clemens nonetheless penned a couple of hoary chestnuts, and after this one was discovered in the University of California, Berkeley archives, it was “polished”—there’s that running theme again—by David Ives, and from all accounts turned into an effective comic vehicle for the Scott Wichmann of Broadway known as Norbert Leo Butts. The play’s a hit! A HUGE hit!! And, again, that rarest of rarities on 21st Century Broadway—a laugh-a-minute comedy hit!!! Exactly what Broadway used to have in abundance, seldom has anymore, and desperately needs. Our friend Lizzy Holland saw it a few days ago, and claims to have laughed herself silly.

The Homecoming by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter began previews on Dec 4 and opened on Dec 16 to, again, some truly amazing reviews. The NY Times starts out with, “First of all, it really is that good!” And Linda Winer of Newsday named it her Best Production of 2007. The Homecoming is, of course, a masterwork of 20th Century English language theatre, and apparently, after 40 years, it still sizzles with the right cast and director, both of which this current revival appears to have.

November, the new David Mamet play starring Nathan Lane, began previews on Dec 20 with a planned opening on Jan 17. There’s lots of promise. I’ll let you know more after the play opens.

Until then, have a Happy New Year. I hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I got to see Rock and Roll in London last season and its part of the reason we are doing Arcadia at AGL this season. I absolutely LOVED the play and I will be curious to hear your take on it. I am also curious about August, as friends of mine have been raving about it. It certainly does seem to be an exciting time in New York, and in Richmond as well...

Happy New Year!
Rick St. Peter