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Californian premieres, busy Rees and Off-Off-Broadway finally hits Broadway

BD Wong during rehearsals for The Orphan of Zhao. Photo: Jim Cox
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While Broadway has been holding its breath since the end of April, afraid to exhale until after Sunday’s Tony Awards, a spate of new productions of note are happening along the California coastline. Working from north to south, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco has begun performances, through June 29, of the US premiere of James Fenton’s adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao, which stirred up controversy in its premiere at the Royal Shakespeare Company. At ACT, charges of racial insensitivity are unlikely, with the cast headed by Tony Award-winner BD Wong and also featuring Stan Egi, Orville Mendoza, Paolo Montalban, Sab Shimono and Julyana Soelistyo. ACT’s long-time artistic leader Carey Perloff directs this co-production with San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, where the show will run in July.

The newest play from Donald Margulies, The Country House, makes its debut this week at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, with Blythe Danner heading the cast. Margulies’s plays, including Dinner With Friends, Sight Unseen and Time Stands Still, tend to have long lives around the US and his new show is already poised for the same reception, thanks to a transfer to Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club beginning in early September. Daniel Sullivan directs the run, which continues to July 13.

Sarah Steele, Eric Lange and Blythe Danner in The Country House at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo: Michael Lamont
Sarah Steele, Eric Lange and Blythe Danner in The Country House at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo: Michael Lamont


In San Diego, The Old Globe Theatre is offering the world premiere of a new musical, Dog and Pony, a romantic comedy about screenwriters tempted to become more than professional partners. Beth Leavel, a Tony-winner for The Drowsy Chaperone, tops the cast for the show, with music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker and a book by Jersey Boys’s Rick Elice. Elice also wrote the Broadway play Peter and the Starcatcher, which was co-directed by one-time Nicholas Nickleby Roger Rees, who handles the directing duties at the Globe as well. Read more about the collaboration here.

Jon Patrick Walker, Nicole Parker and Eric William Morris in Dog and Pony. Photo: Jim Cox
Jon Patrick Walker, Nicole Parker and Eric William Morris in Dog and Pony. Photo: Jim Cox


Rees is having is busy summer, as he’ll be headed across the country to the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, where he previously served as artistic director, to appear in the John Kander/Fred Ebb/Terrence McNally musical version of The Visit, which also stars Chita Rivera and Judy Kuhn, for a three week run in August and is directed by John Doyle. Williamstown is fielding its usual bevy of names for its summer season, including the non-musical debut of opera star Renee Fleming in Joe DiPietro’s Living On Love, adapted from Garson Kanin’s Pecadillo. Kathleen Marshall, who, like Fleming, is also better known for productions with singing, directs.

Staying in Massachusetts, the American Repertory Theater’s production of Finding Neverland has revealed its strong cast, including Smash heartthrob Jeremy Jordan, Carolee Carmello, Roger Bart and Laura Michelle Kelly. Even though the show doesn’t begin performances until late July, it will get a strong national launch (rare for a production not yet even announced for Broadway) on Sunday when it is featured among the musical numbers on the Tony Awards broadcast. The retooled show now has music by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham, with Diane Paulus directing.

I don’t want New York to get an inferiority complex (fat chance) so it’s important to note that previews have begun at Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 space for The Who and The What, the newest play by Ayad Akhtar, about a writer whose book about women and Islam puts her at odds with her family. In the meantime, efforts are underway to get Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced a Broadway berth in the coming season, but nothing is confirmed as of yet.

One show that will be on Broadway in the coming season is a new incarnation of Terrence McNally’s comedy It’s Only A Play. As if the return of The Producers partners Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane didn’t already mark this as the closest thing Broadway gets to a sure hit, director Jack O’Brien has stacked the deck by adding Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally and Oscar-winner F Murray Abraham to the cast. You say the title is unfamiliar? Well the show was first known as Broadway, Broadway, but that production closed out of town during its pre-Broadway run in 1978. It reached New York under its current title Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 and managed to move up to Off-Broadway in 1986. It has taken 28 years since then to go the last mile.

Believe it or not, it will be almost three months between the opening of Holler If Ya Hear Me on June 19 and the next Broadway opening, This is Our Youth, on September 11. But the musical featuring the music and lyrics of Tupac Shakur is sure to be a unique Broadway entry, with a strong creative team including director Kenny Leon, choreographer Wayne Cilento and musical director Daryl Waters and a cast featuring Tonya Pinkins, Christopher Jackson and Saycon Sengbloh. It may feature a pre-existing score, but the story of two friends and their families in a mid-western inner city setting seems miles away from the typical jukebox musical.

This week, news of Up Here, the new stage project from the musical masterminds of Frozen, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, has broken worldwide. Though it will debut sometime in the 2015-16 season at the La Jolla Playhouse (look, we’re back in California!), it presumably could delay the much anticipated stage version of the Disney animated phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean Americans won’t soon start seeing Frozen live. Fittingly, the team behind Disney on Ice will have Elsa, Olaf and the rest on skates beginning in September in the icy regions of… Florida.

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