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King Kong heads home, Hugh Jackman helms the Tonys

King Kong
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It wasn’t unexpected, but it was still big news when producer Gerry Ryan of Global Creatures Inc. announced that the musical King Kong would make its way from Australia to Broadway in December of this year. The technically intricate show will make its home at the Foxwoods Theatre, which previously housed the much discussed Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. There’s a certain irony in Kong traveling from a distant land to be displayed in the show biz capital of Manhattan, paralleling the plot of the original film, but in this case the massive puppet should behave better than the legendary ape – or so the producers hope. The Foxwoods will be dark for almost all of 2014, as the theatre is restored from the significant alterations made for Spider-Man and then fitted out for the needs of Kong.


Producer Scott Sanders has confirmed that he is in conversations with media mogul Oprah Winfrey to appear in a production of Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother in the 2015-16 Broadway season. Winfrey, whose film acting appearances include The Color Purple and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, has been known to be seeking a theatrical vehicle for her stage debut. She previously “presented” the musical The Color Purple on Broadway, a production led by Sanders, and was a producer of From The Mississippi Delta Off-Broadway more than two decades ago. While nothing is confirmed, George C. Wolfe has been named as director for the project and multiple Tony-winner Audra McDonald did a private reading of the play last year with Winfrey.

The halls must be buzzing around Disney Theatrical Productions these days. While there’s no word on future life for Mary Zimmerman’s stage adaptation of The Jungle Book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame will make its belated US debut this fall at the La Jolla Playhouse by special arrangement with the House of Mouse. Produced in Germany in 1999 as Der Glockner von Notre Dame, under the direction of James Lapine, the new staging will be by Scott Schwartz, son of Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the songs with Alan Menken. In the meantime, Disney CEO Robert Iger has read the box office receipts for the studio’s most recent animated film, Frozen, and said it will, at some unspecified point in the future, find its way to the stage as well. And while it’s more Oscar campaigning than backer’s audition, the film’s cast recently performed the score in Hollywood, adding to the rapidly expanding catalogue of Frozen material online. Next up in the Frozen juggernaut: Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let It Go” at this year’s Oscars.

I first saw Barry Manilow’s Harmony in 1997 at the La Jolla Playhouse, when the musical was being touted as a Broadway contender, though it never did come east. But proving that some shows never truly go away, Harmony – the story of the German singing ensemble The Comedian Harmonists, whose success was curtailed by the rise of Hitler and World War II – resurfaced in the fall at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and it reopens in a few weeks at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum. Broadway did see a competing musical about the Harmonists in 1999, the extremely short-lived Band in Berlin, which used recreations of the original vocals; Manilow’s score is new.

It’s not uncommon to hear of an actor leaving a production during rehearsals over artistic differences, but at an institutional company, the role is simply recast and the show goes on. But that wasn’t the case at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse when actors Steven Berkoff and director William Friedkin reached an impasse – after Berkoff walked, Friedkin said he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) replace the actor forcing the production to shut down completely. Geffen ticket holders will get Neil LaBute’s Reasons To Be Pretty this summer to complete the schedule.

Speaking of departures, Diahann Carroll has left the upcoming Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, with the demands of the role on the 78-year old actress cited; this was to have been Carroll’s return to Broadway after some three decades. She has been replaced by La Tanya Richardson Jackson as the Younger family matriarch, even though Jackson is only five years older than Denzel Washington, who’ll play her son Walter Lee, the role that made Sidney Poitier a star when the play debuted.

Short takes: Hugh Jackman will return as the host of The Tony Awards this June, having previously hosted in 2003, 2004 & 2005. Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted the last four broadcasts, will be on Broadway this season in Hedwig And The Angry Inch, though that doesn’t disqualify him as a host, since Jackman won a Tony for The Boy From Oz in 2004….

No sooner does Andrea Martin land a leading role in this spring’s Act One than we learn about her next starring role on Broadway, playing Dottie Otley in a revival of Noises Off for the Roundabout Theatre Company in January 2015, directed by Jeremy Herrin…

Preceding Martin at Roundabout, Maggie Gyllenhaal will make her Broadway debut opposite the previously announced Ewan McGregor in Stoppard’s The Real Thing, directed by Sam Gold. Gyllenhaal is no theatrical novice: her Off-Broadway appearances include Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters for Classic Stage Company….

Philip Quast and Christian Borle have joined Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel in the New York Philharmonic’s Sweeney Todd concert, playing five performances in the first week of March….

Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information makes its American premiere via New York Theatre Workshop, home to a number of previous Churchill debuts stateside. James Macdonald once again directs, as he did at the Royal Court, but with an American cast of stage stalwarts including Jennifer Ikeda, Kellie Overbey, Karen Kandel, James Waterston and Maria Tucci….

The electro-pop opera Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 will wrap up its run on March, but the producers are hoping to preserve its immersive, under-a-tent experience on film, seeking $500,000 to record the show under the big top, currently located on 45th Street in the heart of the Broadway district.

The Brits Off-Broadway festival at 59 East 59 Theatres has announced its ninth season of US debuts running from April through June at the three-theatre Off-Broadway venue. Among the productions scheduled are Harry Melling’s one-man show Peddling, David Rudkin’s play The Love Song of Alfred J. Hitchcock, Jessica Walker’s Pat Kirkwood is Angry, and Alan Cox in Playing With Grown Ups by Hannah Patterson. Capping the fest will be The Ayckbourn Ensemble – comprised of Arrivals and Departures, Time of My Life and Farcicals – in repertory; Ayckbourn productions from the Stephen Joseph Theatre have been regularly featured in the festival, including Intimate Exchanges, Private Fears in Public Places, My Wonderful Day and Neighbourhood Watch.

Think Google Street Images are too intrusive? Well here’s a positive use for it that leaves the street and goes inside a theatre for the first time: a 360 degree searchable view of Broadway’s Gershwin theatre, longtime home to Wicked. Go explore!

Finally, it appears that celebrities are coming out of the woodwork to audition television’s next live theatre broadcast, following the success of The Sound of Music in December. While he might not be at the top of most casting lists for the title role, Bill Murray used the platform of The Late Show with David Letterman to showcase his potential to be America’s next Peter Pan.


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