Monday, December 31, 2007

With 13 Plays Opening, Several are Hits!

Posted by Bruce Miller
The prevailing image of Broadway will always be the big musical. But within the last four months, 80% of the openings were straight plays instead of tuners. Yesterday we considered the thirteen non-musicals that opened or began previews on Broadway between Labor Day and Christmas 2007. By my accounting, that’s the largest number of non-musicals to open during Broadway’s Fall Season since 1980-81, when 18 plays debuted during the same time period.

But quantity, as we know, is not everything. If the fourteen plays are mostly turkeys, then who cares how many of them opened. From my survey of the reviews, several of the plays appear to be critical successes, and are still running to large and appreciative houses. I'm sorry to say that I've yet to see any of them personally.

The season started off a little iffy, but has been gaining considerable steam.

Mauritius, pictured to the left, was the first play to begin previews last September. It's also the only one of the thirteen to be penned by a woman playwright. After some significant Off Broadway and regional theatre success, Theresa Rebeck, whose day jobs have included staff writer for NYPD Blue, made her Broadway debut with this comic thriller about a pair of very rare stamps, the two estranged sisters who inherit them, and the three tough men who want them. Among the mostly favorable reviews, the NY Times loved the production and paid respect to Rebeck’s “homage” to David Mamet’s American Buffalo, only with “added estrogen.” Longtime Barksdale family members Tom and Carlene Bass saw the show early in its run and loved it. Mauritius closed on Nov 25, a victim, at least in part, of the strike.

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, pictured to the right, began previews one day after Mauritius. It's certainly not a new play—it’s among world theatre’s most beloved classics. Therefore much of the attention received by the production focused on the Broadway debut of Hollywood actress Claire Danes as Eliza Doolittle. Several reviewers were charmed by her, but more—including the NY Times—were less impressed. Moreover, the Henry Higgins of Jefferson Mays earned a lot of ink that was, for the most part, unfavorable. Nonetheless, the show completed its announced limited engagement and closed on Dec 16.

As if to disprove that cliché that says “the third time’s the charm,” the third show to open this fall was a third less-than-successful effort. The Ritz by Terrance McNally, pictured to the left, was a revival of an early gay-themed farce from the mid-70s. It ran for an unfortunate 69 performances, directed by Joe Mantello no less. The reviews were mostly negative, and the word of mouth was terrible for everyone except leading lady Rosie Perez, who emerged unscathed.

And here’s where things started to pick up. The fourth show to open was A Bronx Tale, written by and starring Chazz Palminteri, pictured to the right. The show originated Off Broadway in the late 80s and catapulted Mr. Palminteri into a film career, most notably appearing, unforgettably, in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. At age 55, Mr. Palminteri has now revived his 90-minute one man show about growing up in the thrall of crime bosses and a hard working father. From all accounts, he continues to knock ‘em all dead, critics and audiences alike, in this highly acclaimed crowd pleaser.

Next up – Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Kevin Kline (pictured to the left) and TV star Jennifer Garner. The great news is that all participants seem to be winning hearts in an attractive production that is packing ‘em in. Kevin Kline, not for the first time, is being called “world class,” and Jennifer Garner is almost universally coming out on top of the list of Hollywood starlets who have recently tried their hand at Broadway (Julia Roberts, Amanda Peet, Claire Danes). Even the NY Times gave the leads and the show a rave.

The Farnsworth Invention, pictured to the right, began previews on Oct 15 and its opening was delayed by the strike until Dec 3. But it’s still running and drawing crowds, even after mixed reviews. I’ll admit, I'm a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin, the writer of not only Farnsworth but also Sports Night, The West Wing and the recently cancelled Studio 60. I’ll probably love this show about the invention of television, and I’m rooting for it. The NY Times gave the show a less than enthusiastic review, comparing it to a wonderfully produced school science project. Everyone seems to admire the acting and directing, it’s Sorkin’s writing that’s earning mixed notices.

Well, I’ve made it through six of the record-breaking fourteen shows. We’ll discuss the remaining seven—including at least one super-hit—tomorrow.

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Such stock in the NY Times.

Have heard wonderful things about Claire Danes and much less positive about Jennifer Garner.

Glad to see so many plays being produced on the Great White Way.

Very heartening.