Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

‘WATCH ON THE RHINE’ REVIEW – LILLIAN HELLMAN’S CALL TO ARMS IS A MUST-SEE ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/11/23; Photo: Channelling Bette Davis … Patricia Hodge in Watch on the Rhine. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

Donmar Warehouse, London
Patricia Hodge stars in Hellman’s play about a liberal American family confronted by war in Europe and the dangers of inaction

Lillian Hellman’s 1941 play looks like the silver screen come to life. It is framed as if inside an old-style cinema, with a rolling prologue in period typeface, the back wall flickering intermittently – a reminder that her plays were numerously made into Hollywood films.

Despite these dated effects, this quietly incandescent play about Nazi tyranny in Europe – and the US’s inertia in the face of it – feels current in the ethical questions it raises.

We meet the Farrelly family in their refined Washington DC home as matriarch Fanny (Patricia Hodge) waits to welcome back, after a 20-year absence, her daughter Sara (Caitlin FitzGerald) who has a German husband Kurt (Mark Waschke) and three children in tow.

Impeccably directed by Ellen McDougall, with an inspired design by Basia Bińkowska, what seems like a potential comedy of manners or family friction drama becomes charged with bigger world politics and violence.

Sara and Kurt are anti-fascist fugitives who bring the war in Europe to the door of this ostensibly liberal household, albeit with a Black butler who answers Fanny with “yes’m”. Kurt describes how he was compelled to fight against nazism after watching 27 people killed in the street (the word “Jew” is rarely uttered in this play but lies just beneath its surface).

“I could not stand by and watch,” he says. That message might have been written as a wake-up call to the US which had still not entered the second world war at the time of the play’s Broadway premiere in 1941 – but it is also instructive for us in light of the Ukraine war.

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‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND’ REVIEW – SPECTACULAR CLASS-FLIPPED ADAPTATION ·

(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/12; via Pam Green; Photo:  Eleanor Fransch, ‘sassy’ in the role of Alice. Photograph: Andrew Billington.)

New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
An underprivileged Alice fights for the wonder of book-learning in Theresa Heskin’s transformative take on Carroll’s classic tale

Astubby barge manoeuvres through a lock and moors alongside a clutch of canalside bottle kilns (smoking projections from Daniella Beattie). On board, a curious Alice bombards her hardworking parents with impossible questions. Only one is answered: “What’s for tea?” “An onion in hot water and a pinch of powdered pepper,” replies her “mam”. If the girl wants more, she’d better go and see what she can find in town.

The inspiration for director Theresa Heskins’s adaptation is Lewis Carroll’s photograph of 10-year-old Alice Liddell (his model for the eponymous character), posed as a beggar girl, dressed in rags. Heskins’s Alice, too poor to afford an education, is indignant that books hold “a world of wonders I can’t know”. As she struggles to spell out the words “Eat me”, “Drink me”, it is clear that this Alice (sassy Eleanor Fransch) is determined to reach for the possibilities that reading opens up.

If the show’s message is moral, the method of delivery is spectacular. Having followed a magician (illusions by Darren Lang), with his white rabbit, into a theatre, Alice falls through a trap door and finds herself in a Wonderland that shares many of the same elements as Carroll’s original (and its Looking-Glass sequel). The skittish White Rabbit (Peter Watts) is still ever-late and the Mad Hatter (Danielle Bird) singing nonsense at the nonstop tea party (composer James Atherton’s jaunty live music, here and elsewhere, an auricular treat).

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TALES OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM REVIEW – SPARKY JOURNEY THROUGH FAIRYTALE WORLD ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian 12/6; via Pam Green; Photo: Shines in every role … James Ifan in Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Photograph: Photo by Mark Douet.)

Sherman theatre, Cardiff
As the characters in the classic tales revolt against their narrative bounds, a zesty cast make this imaginative rewrite very nearly brilliant

It’s fitting that a musical about two of the greatest children’s storytellers plays with the concept of telling a story itself. Once upon a time, the narrator tells us, as he creates circles within circles, and stops and starts the tale.

We begin in Cardiff in 1913 where young Stevie (Alice Eklund, filling in for Lily Beau) is to spend Christmas with her Lutheran-looking uncles but a storm transports her into the storybook world of the Grimm-dom. As in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, these fairytale characters enact their stories until Stevie interrupts them.

Cinderella (Katie Elin-Salt) smashes her glass slipper, Rapunzel (Sarah Workman) has her locks cut off and Sleeping Beauty (Bethzienna Williams) is roused awake. Prince Charming (James Ifan), meanwhile, tells of how he was reluctantly turned from a frog into a prince and dreams of going back to his old bog days.

Writer Hannah McPake’s universe is full of fizzing imagination and delightful rebellion: the characters set off on their own yellow brick road to find the brothers who can fix their broken stories but their quest turns into a tussle for freedom, led by the Snow Queen (also played by McPake), who has liberated herself from Hans Christian Andersen’s world and now wants to liberate this one.

Directed by Joe Murphy, there is some wonderful comedy and storytelling but not every song in Lucy Rivers’ score is memorable although some certainly hit the mark. Kyle Lima is like a young Tom Jones as he sings Big Bad Wolf and Williams blows the roof off with her opening number, Wide Awake.

What holds this musical back from being the belter it should be is its pacing. There are also too many repeated refrains, which slow the story down. Some performances are more energetic than others: Williams has a storming voice and stage presence while Ifan, who doubles up in roles, shines in every one. McPake gives a slightly halting performance as Stevie’s mother, but is better as the Snow Queen.

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‘HENRY V’; ‘VARDY V ROONEY’; ‘¡SHOWMANISM!’–REVIEW ·

(Susannah Clapp’s article appeared in the Observer, 11/27; via Pam Green; Photo: ‘Utterly concentrated’: Oliver Johnstone as Henry V. Photograph: Johan Persson.)

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; Wyndham’s, London; Ustinov Studio, Bath

Oliver Johnstone mesmerises as Henry V, Vardy and Rooney go head to head, and Dickie Beau lipsyncs a swarm of voices, from Hitchcock to Fiona Shaw.)

Imagine Henry V without crowd-lashing feats of oratory. Imagine it without crowds. Without the patriotic fervour of Olivier’s 1944 film, the sceptical disaffection of Nicholas Hytner’s 2003 production. Without some of the most flaring speeches: no “muse of fire”! You might think you would hardly recognise Shakespeare’s play. Well think again. In an extraordinary stripped-back version, for which the playwright Cordelia Lynn was the dramaturg and Holly Race Roughan the director, you seem to be looking into the core of the young king. The battlefield may be France, the site of contention England. But it is also the self.

There is little rush and roar on this stage. Under the stately glow of the Wanamaker candelabra, Moi Tran’s design begins with unfortunate ruched curtains but moves revealingly to a glorious background of tarnished mirrors. The cast are in modern dress (Fluellen wears a Scandi jumper), often seated on chairs. Dialogue is intimate and intense.

Oliver Johnstone is terrific: utterly concentrated; steadily growing; a young king propelled by anger but riven. There are reminders of Hamlet and of Richard II. He delivers “once more unto the breach” hugging his knees, not roaring at troops but willing himself into action. The deathbed scene from Henry IV Part 2 is helpfully imported at the beginning so that inheritance haunts the action.

I have never seen a Henry with such an inner life – nor one so evidently toxic. He gloats over the dead. His threats to the French – basically, I’ll kill your babies – are not hurled from a distance but delivered with intimate menace. They have never sounded so horrifying, or so like curses – which are usually women’s work.

The personal and political are intertwined, growing one from another, helped by fine, crisp acting throughout, particularly from Eleanor Henderson as the dauphin. When the French princess Katherine – oh these familiar names – is handed over to seal the peace, the action is freezing, forced, brutal. You might expect a coda involving 21st-century British immigration officials to be embarrassing and obtrusive, yet the past seeps naturally into the present. What a feat.

There is a shift in outrage as the filthy online abuse hurled at Vardy is repeated

Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is a game of two halves. Half-panto, half-audience provocation. With impressive speed, Liv Hennessy has adapted the transcript of the mind-boggling court proceedings earlier this year between footballers’ wives Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney. Lisa Spirling directs the result to make a springy insta-success.

Framed by avid commentators who deliver match reports on the action, the trial takes place in a set as flimsy as the evidence; the judge blows a whistle to declare time. It is not hard to reproduce the appearance of women branded from head to foot – tiny top-of-the-head buns, big top-of-the-range handbags – but Lucy May Barker (Rebekah Vardy) and Laura Dos Santos (Coleen Rooney) are vibrant with attitude.

Barker enters to boos and proceeds to do brilliant f***-off acting, much of it with her neck. Brass neck. Dos Santos, who grew up in Liverpool, emphasises Rooney’s Liverpudlian accent to an extent that a London audience found hilarious, and gets approving murmurs. She emits resigned attention – spelling out the word “Wags”, as she doesn’t use the term – her sharpness honed by a canny lifetime of dealing with the media. Beside her, Nathan McMullen’s Wayne looks bewildered.

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IN ‘THE CHINESE LADY,’ PREJUDICE AND EXPLOITATION, SEEN FROM A STAGE (BOSTON) ·

(Don Aucoin’s article appeared in the Boston Glober, 11/14; Photo:Jae Woo (left) and Sophorl Ngin in “The Chinese Lady” at Central Square Theater.NILE SCOTT STUDIOS.)

CAMBRIDGE — When it came to the craft of writing, E.B. White’s famous dictum was: “Don’t write about Man. Write about a man.”

That’s the path Lloyd Suh took with “The Chinese Lady,” and it has yielded a small gem of a play about a person who is seen and unseen at the same time.

After premiering in 2018 at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company and then running at New York’s Public Theater earlier this year, “The Chinese Lady” is now at Central Square Theater under the sensitive and astute direction of Sarah Shin.

Suh’s play was inspired by a real-life figure, Afong Moy, who was brought from China to New York in 1834 at age 14 and put on display in a museum. At Central Square, Sophorl Ngin delivers an expertly shaded portrayal of Afong that traces her emotional arc while also signaling the slow-but-steady dawning of her consciousness. As Atung, her translator, Jae Woo delivers a note-perfect performance.

Over 90 absorbing minutes, with only occasional lapses into overly message-y territory, “The Chinese Lady” essentially distills the history of anti-Asian prejudice and exploitation in the United States — as well as the (very) dark side of the immigrant experience — within Afong’s story.

When we first meet her, Afong is heartbreakingly innocent and chipper. Seated on an upholstered chair at center stage and smiling brightly, she explains — as if there were nothing odd about the arrangement — how her family “sold me for two years of service” to two traders from an American import company. Now she is on display “for your education and entertainment.”

At each performance, Afong enacts various rituals: eating rice with chopsticks, brewing tea, walking around a room on her bound feet. She tells us that the terms of the deal that brought her to the United States were that she would return to her homeland and her family in two years. That does not happen. In “The Chinese Lady,” her servitude lasts for decades.

Those of us in the Central Square Theater essentially function as stand-ins for 19th-century spectators, implicating us in all we see and hear in “The Chinese Lady” — a notion shrewdly underscored by director Shin when Afong tears down upstage curtains to reveal a large, circular mirror. From then on, we watch ourselves watching.

Crucially, Shin avoids the kind of ham-fisted staging decisions that seriously marred the ending of the otherwise excellent Public Theater production. What Shin has devised for the ending at Central Square is less showy and comports better with the nature of the play.

At first, Afong is touchingly eager to make a connection with Americans (she speaks glowingly of “your first emperor, George Washington.”) Afong sees her role as that of cultural ambassador, a human bridge of understanding between China and the United States. Atung, the translator, clearly knows that the museum’s goal is nothing so noble as that.

Outside that room, history inexorably unfolds: the construction of the transcontinental railroad, starting in 1863 and using primarily Chinese laborers; the 1882 passage by Congress of the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese migration to the US. Inside that room, Afong and Atung are growing older. “With each passing hour, I am less and less Chinese,” Afong says.

Their relationship evolves over time, defined by amusing byplay at the start. With the hauteur of a born star, Afong tells the audience several times that Atung is “irrelevant” to the show; his imperturbable responses, which she recognizes as passive-aggression, get on her nerves.

As years pass and they play their roles day after day, including a 40-week tour of the Eastern states, they achieve a certain solidarity, perhaps bolstered by a realization that they are both, in different ways, trapped. But are their fates as inextricably tied together as Afong believes they are?

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‘THE MOORS’ REVIEW – DELICIOUSLY DARK BRONTË PASTICHE ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/16/22; via Pam Green; Photo: Captivating … The Moors. Photograph: Steve Gregson Photography.)  

The Hope theatre, London
The characters might be the Brontës themselves or they might be from novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, mashed-up with wandering strays from a zombie movie

Agoverness arrives in a remote corner of the Yorkshire moors to find a household of oddballs. She has been wooed there by Branwell – the dissolute brother of the Brontë sisters – but there are only his sisters here and a house that creaks with creepy mysteries.

Inspired by the letters of Charlotte Brontë and boldly directed by Phil Bartlett, this black comedy by American writer, Jen Silverman, is a homage to the Brontës and a gothic pastiche in one.

The characters might be the Brontës themselves, stranded in Haworth and playing a sinister game of make-believe. Or they could be characters from several Brontë novels (most obviously from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), mashed-up with wandering strays from a zombie movie.

It takes a while to realise we are enveloped inside Sophia Pardon’s atmospheric set, sitting in the round with gravel beneath our feet. The charred walls of the house are behind us and the characters sit among us, staring dead ahead. Julian Starr’s sound design brings sometimes eerie, sometimes schlocky melodrama with screeching violins and organ music. The moor outside is evocatively conjured as a savage place of quicksand and endless wilderness.

Best of all, the actors captivate with lines that waver between humour and horror. Their performances are all the more astonishing given that they are recent drama school graduates.

Emilie (Meredith Lewis) is the callow governess with a beautiful singing voice; Agatha (Imogen Mackenzie) is the head of the household in lace and black lipstick with the dark allure of a Heathcliff figure. There is a fame obsessed sister, Hudley (Kenia Fenton), a hammily dead-eyed maid (Tamara Fairbairn) and a talking mastiff (Peter Hadfield), complete with leather collar and black nail varnish, along with a moorhen (Matilda Childs). They keep us hanging on their every word, even when the plot is pushed to the furthest edges of weirdness.

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TOM STOPPARD’S ‘LEOPOLDSTADT’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play Leopoldstadt—his 19th on Broadway–which opened October 2, at the Longacre Theatre, is epic, the English way, with huge scope  and significance, about the need to win,  and  to always find a way to win:  in relationships, in assimilation and even, as much as possible, against the ultimate horrors of the last century.  There is too short a glance at Eastern European absurdism that informs previous plays by the author, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Dogg’s Hamlet, which may have been appropriate (some contend the form was a reaction to the existential effects of World War II), given his devastating theme:  the destruction of a Viennese and Galician family, from their lives in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Austrian independence; from the Anschluss to immigration to new lands in the West.  Instead, in Patrick Marber’s first-rate production,  a measured cinematic approach seems to have been a guide, as if Freddie Young’s technically sharp, crystal-clear camera could be brought in for perfect scenic composition (the settings are by Richard Hudson, with Costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and lighting design by Neil Austin; project design, using period photography,  is by Isaac Madge and sound  design and original music are by Adam Cork), with  allusions, in terms of writing,  to Anna Karenina, Chekhov,  Hedda  Gabler, Woyzeck, and probably more classic work–Brecht should be mentioned, as well, for some might conjecture that events of this scale, in the theatre,  may need to happen through one great Mother Courage figure, instead of a family.  The characters in the play—and there are 38 of them, including young actors—a number of whom are interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, are not necessarily likable or sympathetic, and many are cunning, perhaps due to the fact that the momentum of the story does not allow enough time with each—they’re opportunists overwhelmed by barbarity.

For theatregoers, Tom Stoppard means erudite fun at the most sophisticated levels, but although expert at keeping his play moving–with language more windy and literary than imitative of real speech (and with excellent monologues)–there’s not much intrinsically funny here, in a dark documentary-like work about survival skills, literal survival skills, probably more appropriately examined in film. There may be a comic joke about a cigar cutter, which promises to let loose mayhem, a Freudian slip or provocation to be found, a suppressed or false memory, which the Viennese doctor might find amusing, but the serious subject also forces the viewer to examine contemporary societal splits and abysses, discussed , for example, by John Murray Cuddihy in his The Ordeal of Civility (1974), whose thesis is expressed by Chilton Williamson, Jr. as:   “Jews and the modern West have been at odds with one another for [more than] the past 150 years, as a tribal and essentially premodern people confronted a civilization representing secularized Christianity . . . and . . . celebrants of the illusory “Judeo-Christian” civilization have deliberately disguised the schism . . .  prevent(ing it from) . . .  coalescing (157).”  The divide continues, in the public eye, from blatant antisemitism, where synagogues need to be monitored on holy days, to the mindless, escapism of social media chattering, chronicled as recently as the present, as celebrities like Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Whoopi Goldberg  express off-the-cuff opinion in cancel culture.  Antisemitism is an endless polarizing, immobilizing subject, in a country that, by all accounts, has been very good to and for Jews, but has never asked or expected them, to explain themselves, with self-reflection, before American society in the way that African-Americans have been asked to do, for example, in the Million Man March (and that may be a source of contention).  Yet, high profile cases, in the Jewish community, are not unknown and have profoundly upset the country, such as, in the recent past, those concerning Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell.  A playwright could choose to self-identify as “British,” instead of “coming out” as Jewish, for reasons, personal and myriad, but the irony is not lost, that a largely realistic, historical drama, like Leopoldstadt, is an example of what the ‘60s and a playwright like Tom Stoppard, helped drive out of fashion, only to be refound again, now, in the present day, perhaps like his heritage.  

Bluffing, as a theme, does come up in Leopoldstadt, from a card game, to counting numbers, to a family business, and the family’s definition of its religion.  Because of Stoppard’s stature as a major artist, as well as a character in the play, who apparently knew little about his own family, theatregoers might question how much subterfuge is being used about his past and what he knew about himself. “Mathematics is the only place where one can make yourself clear,” intones one of the scholars in the play, but theatregoers may still be perplexed about how Stoppard thought of himself and when, before his admission, and to which version of the self he is referring to (of course, being Jewish in the entertainment field is nothing unusual or stigmatizing—similarly, no one raised an eyebrow when Carol Channing exposed the fact that she was of African-American lineage, in her autobiography).  There is always a hide-and-seek game in fiction with real characters—are we watching fiction or autobiography? Also,  to what extent is the fiction protective, and can one have it both ways, or many ways, when readers or audience members might be asking for less rationalized alternatives to reality and more clarity? Nevertheless, assuming that authors will write more conservatively as they age, there are real reasons to admire Leopoldstadt, none the least to “never forget”—and for the ensemble work of the actors, including David Krumholtz, Faye Castelow, and Jenna Augen, to only choose three.  A work of this sheer expanse and literary quality is so hard to find anywhere, whether an author is young or old, Jewish, Buddhist, or a Christian Scientist:  Where else today could another script be found, for example, where one would actually want to have had a traditionalist, like David Lean, render it on screen?

Recommended.

Copyright © Bob Shuman; all rights reserved.

Press:  Michelle Farabaugh, Angela Yamarone, Boneau/Bryan-Brown

(Photo from the London production.)

John Murray Cuddihy’s book The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity is discussed in The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (Citadel Press, 2004).

(via BBB, Adrian Bryan-Brown / Michelle Farabaugh / Angela Yamarone )

★★★★★

“Magnificent!

Sir Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece. GO!”

The Independent

Leopoldstadt,

Stoppard’s 19th Production on Broadway,

Previews Begin Wednesday, September 14

Opening Sunday, October 2

In a Limited Engagement at the Longacre Theatre

 LeopoldstadtPlay.com

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Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Patrick Marber and produced by Sonia Friedman ProductionsRoy Furman, and Lorne Michaels.

 

Leopoldstadt’s full 38-member company, which includes several members of the original West End company and 24 actors making their Broadway debuts, will feature Jesse Aaronson* (The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway), Betsy Aidem (Prayer for the French Republic), Jenna Augen* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Japhet Balaban* (The Thing About Harry on Freeform), Corey Brill (“The Walking Dead,” Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Daniel Cantor* (Tuesdays with Morrie off-Broadway), Faye Castelow* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Erica Dasher* (“Jane By Design”), Eden Epstein* (“Sweetbitter” on Starz, “See” on Apple TV+), Gina Ferrall (Big RiverA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Arty Froushan* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Charlotte Graham* (The Tempest at A.R.T.), Matt Harrington (Matilda The Musical), Jacqueline Jarrold (The Cherry Orchard), Sarah Killough (Travesties), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs,” Oppenheimer), Caissie Levy (The BedwetterCaroline, or Change), Colleen Litchfield* (“The Crowded Room” on Apple TV+), Tedra Millan (Present LaughterThe Wolves), Aaron Neil* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Theatre World Award winner Seth Numrich (TravestiesWar Horse), Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Chris Stevens*, Sara Topham (Travesties), three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz (Assassins, FalsettosBurn This), Dylan S. Wallach (Betrayal), Reese Bogin*, Max Ryan Burach*Calvin James Davis*, Michael Deaner*, Romy Fay* (“Best Foot Forward” on Apple TV+), Pearl Scarlett Gold*, Jaxon Cain Grundleger*, Wesley Holloway*, Ava Michele Hyl*, Joshua Satine*, Aaron Shuf*, and Drew Ryan Squire*.

* indicates an actor making their Broadway debut.

Leopoldstadt’s limited Broadway engagement begins previews Wednesday, September 14 ahead of a Sunday, October 2 opening night at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street).

Perhaps the most personal play of Stoppard’s unmatched career, Leopoldstadt opened in London’s West End to rave critical acclaim on January 25, 2020. A planned extension due to overwhelming demand was curtailed due to the COVID-19 lockdown seven weeks later. In late 2021, the play returned for a further 12-week engagement. Both runs completely sold out and Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020.

Leopoldstadt will mark Tom Stoppard’s 19th play on Broadway since his groundbreaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opened 55 years ago. Stoppard has won four Best Play Tony Awards, more than any other playwright in history.

Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the Jewish quarter. This passionate drama of love and endurance begins in the last days of 1899 and follows one extended family deep into the heart of the 20th Century. Full of his customary wit and beauty, Tom Stoppard’s late work spans fifty years of time over two hours. The Financial Times said, “This is a momentous new play. Tom Stoppard has reached back into his own family history to craft a work that is both epic and intimate; that is profoundly personal, but which concerns us all.” With a cast of 38 and direction by Patrick MarberLeopoldstadt is a “magnificent masterpiece” (The Independent) that must not be missed.

Leopoldstadt’s creative team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion KingLa Bête), costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by three-time Tony Award winner Neil Austin (Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildCompanyTravesties), sound and original music by Tony Award winner Adam Cork (RedTravesties), video design by Isaac Madge, movement by Emily Jane Boyle, and hair, wig & makeup design by Campbell Young & Associates. Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Maureen Kelleher, and UK casting is by Amy Ball CDG.

Co-producers of Leopoldstadt include Stephanie P. McClelland, Gavin Kalin, Delman Sloan, Brad Edgerton, Eilene Davidson, Patrick Gracey, Burnt Umber Productions, Cue to Cue Productions, No Guarantees, Robert Nederlander, Jr., Thomas S. Perakos, Sanford Robertson, Iris Smith, The Factor Gavin Partnership, Jamie deRoy / Catherine Adler, Dodge Hall Productions / Waverly Productions, Ricardo Hornos / Robert Tichio, Heni Koenigsberg / Wendy Federman, Brian Spector / Judith Seinfeld, and Richard Winkler / Alan Shorr.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are on sale online at Telecharge.com or by phone at 212-239-6200.

For 10+ Group Sales information contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or call 866-302-0995.

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LeopoldstadtPlay.com

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REVIEW: IN LEA MICHELE, ‘FUNNY GIRL’ HAS FINALLY FOUND ITS FANNY ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/29/22; via Pam Green; Photo:  Yes, Lea Michele (with Ramin Karimloo) lights up like a light as the new Fanny Brice on Broadway. Credit…Matthew Murphy.)

Funny Girl

Though it can be a great vehicle, “Funny Girl” has rarely been a great ride. Even its first-rate Jule Styne songs — “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” among them — are problematic. Not only are the lyrics, by Bob Merrill, often inane (“I’ll light up like a light”?) but the challenge of the vocal writing that made Barbra Streisand a star in 1964 makes casting anyone else now a nightmare.

And let’s not get started on the book, by Isobel Lennart, which in telling the (mostly fictional) story of the early-20th-century comic Fanny Brice, and her disastrous love affair with the gambler Nick Arnstein, seems to have been assembled from a warehouse of used musical-comedy parts. They do not work well together, however well they work individually.

The revival that opened in April at the August Wilson Theater — its first on Broadway — only made matters worse. Harvey Fierstein’s meddling with the confusing book confused it further by giving Nick (Ramin Karimloo) more to do; nobody cares what Nick does. And Fanny, whom we do care about, was just too much of a reach for Beanie Feldstein, offering a pleasant performance in a role that shouldn’t be. “Without a stupendous Fanny to thrill and distract,” I wrote at the time, “the musical’s manifold faults become painfully evident.”

Lea Michele, who took over the role on Sept. 6, turns out to be that stupendous Fanny. Yes, she even lights up like a light. Both vulnerable and invulnerable, kooky and ardent, she makes the show worth watching again.

She can’t make it good, though. Michael Mayer’s production is still garish and pushy, pandering for audience overreaction. A confetti cannon tries to put an exclamation point on a dud dance. Many of the minor players overplay. The lighting by Kevin Adams would make a rat clap, and the unusually ugly set by David Zinn seems weaponized against intimacy. It looks like a missile silo.

But at least “Funny Girl” now has a missile: a performer who from her first words (“Hello, Gorgeous”) shoots straight to her target and hits it.

It has been a tortuous path to this obviously right and seemingly predestined casting, with decades of false starts involving Lauren Ambrose, Debbie Gibson, Sheridan Smith and others. Feldstein was just another in the long list of misfires; after she ditched the show in a cloud of apparent acrimony — a cloud everyone denied — her standby, Julie Benko, took over.

Benko, who is still the Thursday night Fanny, sings the role very well, so you never worry, as you did with Feldstein, that she might not make it through the songs. Then too, Benko gets closer to the dark heart of the comedy, backfilling its shtick with something like anger. Still, good as she is, her voice and the rest of her performance don’t yet match; she even has a different accent when acting the role than when singing it.

(Read more)

‘THE PRINCE’ REVIEW – PLAYFUL ROMP THROUGH SHAKESPEAREAN ROLES ·

(Kate Wyver’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/22; via Pam Green; Photo:  Exploration of transgression … Corey Montague-Sholay (Prince Hal), Joni Ayton-Kent (Sam), Mary Malone (Jen) and Abigail Thorn (Hotspur) in The Prince. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian.)

Southwark Playhouse, London
YouTube philosopher Abigail Thorn moves offline and on to the stage with an ambitious exploration of identities and the performance of gender

Using the intelligent wit that makes Abigail Thorn’s YouTube channel so popular, The Prince playfully questions the performance of gender and the roles we are all assigned. Thorn is the host of Philosophy Tube, a channel discussing philosophy in creative, accessible ways. The writer swaps screen for stage in this ambitious if slightly feverish exploration of transgression and transition within Shakespeare’s plays.

The hilarious Jen, played radiantly by Mary Malone, is our comic tether to reality. When it’s revealed that she’s trapped inside a Shakespearean multiverse and is currently wandering around Henry IV Part One – a slightly stodgy but enthusiastic version – her response is to yell “I bloody hate Shakespeare” and attempt to call the police. Her innocence serves as an outstretched hand to the audience, helping us understand the motivations of the characters she’s reluctantly stuck with.

As she searches for an escape route, Jen is drawn to Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the warrior and Prince played with smouldering dignity by Thorn. Recognising Hotspur as trans, at odds with the male role she is playing, Jen begins interrupting the action. This is when the fun really starts, as she encourages the characters to question their written roles, and the matrix starts to crumble. Softer, free-wheeling voices replace the stoic verse, and queer punk aesthetic rips apart the period clothing.

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***** ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, REVIEW – HILARIOUS, HEARTFELT SHOW IS EVERYTHING ·

(Nick Ahad’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/14; Photo: Compelling … Guy Rhys (Benedick) and Daneka Etchells (Beatrice) in Much Ado About Nothing at the Crucible, Sheffield. Photograph: Johan Persson.)

Crucible, Sheffield
Daneka Etchells is the most compelling Beatrice you might ever see in an exceptional production of the romantic comedy

Post lockdown, theatres are looking for sure things and bets don’t come much safer than the wittiest of Shakespeare’s romcoms. Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon bring this production of Much Ado to the stage just a couple of days after the National Theatre brought down the final curtain on its own. If London audiences missed out, they should head to this exceptional and exceptionally moving version of a bulletproof piece.

A number of aspects elevate the production. One is the involvement of Ramps on the Moon, which aims to normalise the presence of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people on British stages. Another is the most compelling Beatrice you might ever see: Daneka Etchells plays this script like a maestro, somehow finding new notes in lines that are four centuries old, even making some of it feel like it was written yesterday. When Beatrice’s shield of wit is pierced by heartbreak, Etchells, who is autistic, can’t suppress her – or the character’s – physical tics and watching her resolve to remain calm is deeply affecting.

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