Is there a more green place than Broadway when it comes to recycling, repacking and re-using old materials? I arrived in New York last night for my regular spring catch-up on the new season openers, and I’m not sure I can ever remember a time when I’ve seen more of the shows already.
Between mid-March and the end of April, there are 17 major Broadway openings, and I’ve seen eight of them already in the same productions, whether in London (One Man Two Guvnors, Ghost, End of the Rainbow, Evita), the US (from Once and Peter and the Starcatcher, which both originated at off_Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, to Disney’s Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse) or Canada (Jesus Christ Superstar, which I first saw in this production at Stratford, Ontario last summer).
That’s obviously testament to the fact that I get around quite a lot, as regular readers of this blog will know; and it’s no bad thing that Broadway is a showcase of proven excellence, or at least popular success, from elsewhere.
But of the remaining 9 openings, two are new productions of established classics like Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire, plus a return run for Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, twelve years after it was last seen on Broadway (the latter from the same producer Jeffrey Richards, but with a new creative team and cast); the Broadway bow of Clybourne Park in a return run of its Off-Broadway premiere production; and a new production of the comedy Don’t Dress For Dinner that had a long West End run in the 90s at the Apollo (and here with a cast that includes those wonderful English actors Ben Daniels and Adam James).
So that leaves just four new brand-new shows in all out of the 17: two new musicals — Leap of Faith and Nice Work if You Can Get It (the latter with a recycled score of old Gershwin standards), and two plays (David Auburn’s The Columnist and Magic/Bird).
Still, I can’t wait to see quite a few of the shows opening on Broadway: as someone who likes to re-visit shows, I make no apology for putting Evita at the top of my list for this trip, not least for the opportunity to see Elena Roger yet again in a role in which she gave what I seriously consider to be one of the greatest performances I have seen in a musical, ever. In fact, so thrilled was I was by her performance in it that when it was announced that the show was closing in London after only a year’s run, I went to see the show every Friday for its last three weeks. (She is newly joined by Ricky Martin as Che).
And I am also greatly looking forward to seeing Tracie Bennett play another real-life character Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow again. I have to admit that I was deeply sceptical when this version of the show first premiered at Northampton two years ago with Bennett; I’d seen earlier versions of the same script, one with Bennett herself (when it was called Last Song of the Nightingale), and also with Caroline O’Connor on the Edinburgh Fringe, and it had never compelled. But something transformative happened to both the play and the actress here, and there’s only one possible explanation: Terry Johnson, himself a brilliant writer of plays based on real-life characters, came on board as director, and deepened both.
I’ll also never forget going to interview Bennett after admiring her performance at the Trafalgar Studios, and the brutally frank and fearless Bennett began by admitting how nervous she was to meet me: she’d heard I hated her! The truth was that I’d expressed public dissatisfaction with some of her performances, most notably in La Cage Aux Folles (also coincidentally directed by Johnson), in which I felt she fatally over-compensated for a small role by making herself the centre of all attention.
But there was no such problem with End of the Rainbow; here, she was justifiably just that. And the performance showed an onstage persona as frank and fearless as her offstage one. It will be interesting to see how it translates to a Broadway stage, which I’ll be doing tonight, before it opens officially on Monday.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Once and Jesus Christ Superstar again, to see how they scale up to Broadway dimensions and more importantly, expectations; ditto, I’m tempted to see how a Broadway audience responds and reacts to One Man Two Guvnors.
Of course I can’t miss a production of Death of a Salesman that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, even though he is 20 years too young for the role of Willy Loman, or Andrew Garfield, the young British film star who actually began his career on the British stage and whom I remember reviewing in a triple bill at the National in 2006 by saying, “Andrew Garfield (recently also superb in the Sound Theatre’s revival of Beautiful Thing) gives performances of such yearning desolation in both Chatroom and Burn that it’s clear a major actor has arrived in our presence. I only hope he is not instantly lost to television.”
He returned to the National for another production a few months later to prove me wrong, but that was the last he was seen onstage until now. It’ll be good to see him back.
— I’ll also be seeing The Best Man again, though I also saw the last Broadway revival, if only because the cast includes Angela Lansbury, and I try not to miss any of her returns to the stage nowadays. She had a long mid-80s to mid-noughties break from the Broadway stage, after a quick-flop revival of Mame, so I never saw her onstage until her return in Deuce, and interviewed her at the time. I was given her Manhattan phone number and told to call at 8am local time; not only was she up, but she answered her own phone.
Of course I need to see the new shows, too — so I’m seeing Leap of Faith and Nice Work if You Can Get It, though both are still in preview and not available to review yet, so I’ll be buying tickets. In fact I’ve already bought mine for Leap of Faith — on February 29, the producers did a “leap year” promotion and offered all seats for $29, so I nabbed a pair then.
Quotes of the week: * Greg Doran on taking over RSC, talking about his immersion in Shakespeare in The Times last week: “There’s that ancient Greek saying, ‘A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. Well, I’m more of a hedgehog, but I know a lot of foxes … who will widen the scope of our work.”
Richard Eyre on why we produce so many great stage actors in Britain, writing in The Guardian: “We produce great actors because we’re repressed as a nation. We’re introverted and need to be licensed to express ourselves publicly. People say that all changed with Diana, but I think her death just proves my point: it gave us licence to show emotion in public. All actors crave approval, but however fine an actor’s characterisation, you don’t make the distinction between approving the performance and approving the actor. In applauding a performance, you bestow love not on the fictional character, but on the actor. ‘Scratch an actor,’ Laurence Olivier said, ‘and you find an actor.’ He should have known, but I don’t think it’s true, or any more true of actors than it is of politicians, priests, teachers, strippers or anyone else engaged in acts of public self-display. What is true, I think, is that if you scratch an actor, you’ll find a child. Not that actors are inherently less mature than politicians, priests, etc, but an actor must retain a child’s appetite for mimicry, for demanding attention and, above all, for playing.”
Tim Rice, on his partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber — and why they won’t be working together again, reported in the Telegraph: “We had a great 10 years. Very few artistic partnerships last more than 10 years, and if they do they tend to go down the tubes.” How is their relationship now? “Well, we have a few ups and downs, like any marriage.” Will there ever be another Rice/Lloyd Webber musical? “No. I don’t think it would be any good. You’ve got to have a young element in a show. Any project needs youth and dynamism as well old codgerdom and experience. The two of us trying to write something wouldn’t work. We’re not relevant as a team any more.”
Blind quote, which could apply to so many people: “He’s such a no-one trying to be a someone and pretending he already is!”