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Anna D Shapiro steps up at Steppenwolf and Doctor Zhivago musical heads for Broadway

Joely Richardson in The Belle of Amherst. Photo: Carol Rosegg
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This week, news travels across the Atlantic that there are high-level shake-ups at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, Zhivago sets his sights on Broadway at last and we find out the sad reason why The Total Bent is taking a rain check. Plus the latest openings and closings on the American stage.

Chicago Steppenwolf transition

Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, which boasts one of America’s most vaunted acting ensembles, surprised many last week when it announced a major leadership transition. Artistic director Martha Lavey and executive director David Hawkanson, whose tenures are 19 and 11 years respectively, will step down at the end of the current season to be succeeded by ensemble member Anna D Shapiro and current managing director David M Schmitz. Accounts in both the Chicago Tribune and American Theatre magazine make clear that the transition was prompted by the company’s strong desire to secure a long-term commitment from Shapiro, a much in-demand director who built her career at Steppenwolf before finding Broadway success with the Steppenwolf transfers of August: Osage County and This Is Our Youth, as well as The Motherfucker With the Hat and Of Mice and Men (the latter soon to be seen via NT Live).

The Total Bent postponed

The Public Theatre announced the postponement of The Total Bent, the new musical from Passing Strange’s creators Stew and Heidi Rodewald, with unusual candor. Director Joanna Settle, who previously directed the show in a Public Lab workshop in 2012, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and the show has been put off to accommodate her treatment and recovery. While the show is delayed, Settle has just begun her tenure as head of the theatre program at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, following her work this summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on the world premiere of Stew and Rodewald’s new musical Family Album. Back at The Public, Tracey Scott Wilson’s new play Buzzer fills the slot left open by the delay of The Total Bent, and Elevator Repair Service’s The Sound and the Fury, which marked the company’s Off-Broadway debut at New York Theatre Workshop in 2008, has been added to the schedule as well, for performances beginning in May.

Doctor Zhivago for Broadway

First seen at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2006 and in Australia in 2011, the musical version of Doctor Zhivago will finally reach Broadway in the spring of 2015. Based on the original Boris Pasternak novel, which was the source for David Lean’s classic film, the musical has a book by Michael Weller, music by Lucy Simon, and lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers. Des McAnuff will direct the show, which begins previews in March for an April 21 opening at the Broadway Theatre. Presumably Maurice Jarre’s Lara’s Theme, well remembered from the film, will be absent.

Titanic rises again

Prompted by the success of the Southwark Playhouse’s production, Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s musical Titanic was steaming its way to Toronto and New York for 2014 before being called off in May. But the great ship is afloat once again, and Thom Sutherland’s production is now set for a May 20, 2015 production in Toronto. Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, who announced his retirement from classical music in April, will play multiple roles in the ensemble production. No word yet about any New York plans.

Ruth Wilson in Constellations

Two-time Olivier winner Ruth Wilson will get her first shot at a Tony when she makes her Broadway debut this winter in Nick Payne’s Constellations opposite the previously announced Jake Gyllanhaal, who is also making his Broadway debut. Playing at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre beginning in mid-December, it is billed as a production by Manhattan Theatre Club and the Royal Court Theatre in association with Ambassador Theatre Group and the Dodgers. Methinks a run beyond MTC’s venue is contemplated given this quartet of above-the-title names.

Once closings

Once, the Tony Award winner for Best Musical in 2012, will be closing up shop on both sides of the Atlantic in early 2015. The London closing in March will come on the heels of the Broadway wrap-up on January 4. It will have played 1189 total performances, including previews.

Joely Richardson in The Belle of Amherst

When Julie Harris passed away last year, she left behind a legacy of multiple signatures and award winning roles, including Sally Bowles in the pre-Cabaret I Am A Camera. Among her gallery was her performance as the poet Emily Dickinson (and others) in The Belle of Amherst by William Luce, a one-hander that played 116 performances on Broadway in 1976 (before being taped for TV and beginning a long regional life). Now Joely Richardson takes up Harris’s mantle in an Off-Broadway production that marks the highest profile revival of the play since its debut. Richardson is directed by Steve Cosson, best know for the documentary theatre work of his troupe The Civilians and for Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play. Don Gregory, who produced the show in the 1970s, is once again driving the production.

Manhattan Parisienne at 59 E 59

Manhattan Parisienne, a four-actor play receiving a two week world premiere run at Off-Broadway’s intimate 59 E 59 Theaters during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, might seem a bit small scale to note. However the presence of director Graciela Daniele quickly draws attention, for those who admire her direction and choreography of works as diverse as Once on This Island and A New Brain. However, this brief stint is perhaps most noteworthy due to its author, a certain Alain Boublil. Apparently, he writes musicals too.

Read more of Howard Sherman’s news and opinion from Broadway and beyond

 

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