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Chicago picks up the slack for Broadway’s summer lull

‘Joltin’ Joanne’ Kaufman bragged about leaving The Last Ship at the interval. Photo: Joan Marcus
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As awards season in New York theatre has wound down, the summer reduction on Broadway begins – whether according to the schedule of limited runs or shows just running out of steam at the box office. The revival of A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington, Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose shuttered as planned last weekend; this weekend will see the departure of Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, which never really caught fire at the box office; and it will be followed one week later by the musical revue After Midnight, which apparently didn’t receive a sufficient bump from its prominent placement early in the Tony Awards broadcast to counteract its moderate sales despite excellent reviews. More closings are on tap, but consistent with dates announced at the beginning of runs, with Tony winner for Best Play and Best Actor, All The Way, ending its LBJ campaign on June 29, as does Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina (which actually managed a short extension). The Realistic Joneses bows out on July 6, and The Cripple of Inishmaan wraps up on July 20. However, Audra McDonald has extended her run as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill twice, now running until August 31. But, overall, if you’re looking for plays on Broadway this summer, your options are dwindling over the next several weeks.

First mentioned in this column as a Broadway contender back in October 2013, Andrew Bergman and Jason Robert Brown’s musical version of Bergman’s film Honeymoon in Vegas now has a firm berth, taking over the Brooks Atkinson Theatre from After Midnight. The leads from the acclaimed production at the Paper Mill Playhouse, including Tony Danza and Rob McClure, will be reprising their roles, with previews beginning in mid-November to capitalise on the influx of visitors for the holiday season and an official press opening on January 15. It’s a notable one-two punch of shows for Brown, whose Bridges of Madison County may have had a short run earlier this year, but brought him Tony gongs for score and orchestrations.

While Broadway is entering a cyclical lull in new shows, there’s a lot going on out in Chicago right now of note. The Steppenwolf Theatre Company has already begun performances of This Is Our Youth, the Broadway-bound revival with Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, playing until July 27 before it starts New York previews on August 18. It will be joined on Steppenwolf stages by the world premiere of Bruce Norris’s The Qualms beginning on July 3. Norris’s play, directed by his Clybourne Park collaborator Pam McKinnon, concerns the changed dynamic when newcomers join a group of friends for “food, drink, drugs and partner-swapping.”

Elsewhere in Chicago, the Goodman Theatre is mounting Brigadoon using a streamlined, but not reinterpreted, book. The show, produced infrequently in the US of late, has already been extended until August 10, even though performances don’t begin until next week. At the Victory Gardens Theatre, Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden is drawing attention for its casting of Gray’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh, though it’s hardly a stunt, given Oh’s extensive theatre background prior to the medical drama and the film Sideways. The company’s artistic director Chay Yew directs. And also in the Broadway-bound Chicago contingent is Sting’s The Last Ship, with a press opening next week for the commercial out of town run prior to the start of Broadway previews on September 30. The book is by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, with Joe Mantello directing and Stephen Hoggett choreographing. See Sting performing Last Ship at the Tony Awards below.

http://youtu.be/P_cpUN7eHmE

 

Flying surprisingly under the radar this month is the stage adaptation of Michael Chabon’s acclaimed novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which has been much discussed as a film project over the past decade and as recently as last summer touted by Stephen Daldry as a television mini-series. But 14 years after publication, the novel has quite literally made it to the stage of Book-It Repertory in Seattle. I employ the overused ‘literally’ because Book-It, a company dedicated to stage versions of literary works, mounts their shows as abridgements, with all dialogue drawn directly from the original texts. Kavalier and Clay is also noteworthy for running roughly five hours (including two ten minute intervals and one 40 minute meal break). Continuing in Seattle until July 10, could this be the next Gatz?

David Goldstein, Opal Peachey and Frank Boyd in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Photo: John Ulman.
David Goldstein, Opal Peachey and Frank Boyd in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Photo: John Ulman.

 

While New York’s Signature Theatre began by focusing on the work of a single playwright each season, intrepid theatregoers can recreate that experience for themselves with just a few subway rides if they’re interested in the plays of Neil LaBute, Terrence McNally or Simon Stephens. MCC Theatre will mount the world premiere of the newest work from their playwright-in residence, LaBute, when The Money Shot debuts in September under Terry Kinney’s direction; then fans can head to Second Stage in 2015 for the world premiere of LaBute’s The Way We Get. Simon Stephens lands on Broadway with The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time in with September previews in advance of an October 5 opening; then they can check out the US premiere of Stephens’ Punk Rock at MCC beginning October 29. As for McNally, his progressively more star laden It’s Only A Play will be on Broadway from September to January, now with the added attraction of Harry Potter star Rupert Grint in his US stage debut; it overlaps with the first major NYC revival of McNally’s Lips Together Teeth Apart at Second Stage beginning in October. In an ironic turn, a Broadway revival of Lips Together shut down in 2010 when Megan Mullally departed late in rehearsals; she’s now set for It’s Only A Play with Nathan Lane, who starred in the original production of Lips Together. Got that?

Laura Benanti’s pristine voice and acting prowess have led to her the top of the Broadway food chain, but they often overshadow her wicked sense of humor, which is just as formidable. Fortunately, the internet is the playground where her comic imagination runs free, most recently in this extended online audition for the upcoming live television version of Peter Pan – that is to say, an audition for every role in Peter Pan.

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