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Re-revivals and Icelandic oddities

Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way closed on June 29 after winning the Tony Award for Best Play and with Bryan Cranston capturing Best Actor for his portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson.

Earlier this week, the second part of Schenkkan [1]’s LBJ saga opened at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival [2] in Ashland Oregon, where All The Way began its journey east. Many of the cast members who appeared at OSF in the first play have returned for the second, thanks to OSF’s repertory company, including Jack Willis as LBJ. The first play focused on the president battling for the landmark Civil Rights Act, while The Great Society portrays Johnson waging both a war on poverty and coping with the ramifications of the war in Vietnam. Both plays will be seen in repertory later in the year at Seattle Repertory Theatre, which co-produced with OSF with largely the same acting company; each of the theatres commissioned one of the plays. In addition, HBO has announced that Cranston will reprise his presidential gig in a television film adaptation.

Jack Willis in The Great Society. Photo: Jenny Graham [3]
Jack Willis in The Great Society. Photo: Jenny Graham

When the Encores! [4] series at New York’s City Center began, its presentations were script-in-hand, staged concert versions of vintage musicals that hadn’t had the benefit of a major revival in decades. Over time, the scripts all but disappeared and the production values grew. Some of the productions transferred to Broadway runs – most famously Chicago, but also Wonderful Town and Finian’s Rainbow. Then, less obscure shows, such as Follies, were undertaken, as well as original musical revues, like After Midnight (which began as Cotton Club Parade). But with The Band Wagon, just announced for the coming season, Encores! enters new territory. Instead of mounting the original 1931 revue, Encores! will present a new stage version based on the 1953 MGM movie, with Douglas Carter Beane adapting the Betty Comden and Adolph Green screenplay with additional Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz songs added from their considerable catalogue. Brian Stokes Mitchell will star, with the show running from November 6 to 16.

If fans of Ryan Molloy as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys [5] couldn’t get enough of him during his six-year stint in the West End, he began performances this week in Broadway company. He must be impressive – after all, Jersey is just across the Hudson River, not the Atlantic Ocean.

Ryan Molloy in Jersey Boys on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus [6]
Ryan Molloy in Jersey Boys on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus

For those who missed Andrea Martin’s airborne, Tony-winning performance as Berthe in Pippin [7] on Broadway, she’s returning to the show for just 24 performances in September, sure to be a boost during what’s historically a slow month on Broadway. The national tour of Pippin launches at the same time, with Lucie Arnaz as the feisty grandmother, though Martin will return to the role yet again during the three-week Los Angeles engagement.

Michelle Williams has extended her run in the Sam Mendes/Rob Marshall re-revival of Cabaret [8] at Studio 54, continuing to November 9. Alan Cumming is contracted until the end of the show’s limited run on January 4, but given the six year run of this Roundabout production from 1998 to 2004, one can’t help but wonder whether there will be more life in Cabaret beyond the dawning of the new year.

While it might seem counterintuitive to be avidly awaiting theatrical fiascos, that’s not the case when it means two New York productions from the inventive Fiasco Theater. The company’s Into The Woods [9], which debuted at the McCarter Theater and is now enjoying an extended run at San Diego’s Old Globe (where the musical premiered in 1986 prior to its Broadway debut) will be landing in New York in December at Roundabout’s Off-Broadway venue. Does a big Sondheim in a 400-seat house seem impossible? Not when it’s done with only 10 actors and one piano. The second Fiasco, just announced, will be the company’s six-actor production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona [10], first seen at Washington DC’s Folger Theatre, coming to Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience. Into The Woods plays December until March, while Two Gents follows in April and May.

Emily Young as Little Red Ridinghood and Noah Brody as Wolf in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods. Photo: Jim Cox [11]
Emily Young as Little Red Ridinghood and Noah Brody as Wolf in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods. Photo: Jim Cox

The casting of John Lithgow as King Lear [12], and then Annette Bening as Goneril, grabbed successive headlines for The Public Theater’s Central Park production, but a deeper look into the cast reveals a very strong ensemble assembled by director Daniel Sullivan. Among them – Clarke Peters as Gloucester, Jessica Hecht as Regan, Chukwudi Iwuji as Edgar, Jessica Collins as Cordelia, Jeremy Bobb as Oswald and Steven Boyer as The Fool. The show’s press opening is on August 5.

I cannot speak with certainty, but I would hazard a guess that the number of Icelandic musicals that have made it to the New York stage is extremely small. Whatever the count may be, it will go up by one with the opening of The Revolution In The Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter [13] at Off-Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theater on August 13. Described as a “sonic journey through the heart and soul of Elbowville” from writer, composer and lyricist Ivar Pall Jonsson, it stars musical theatre veterans Cady Huffman [14] and Kate Shindle [15] in what might well be the most unique theatrical offering of the summer.

AR Gurney [16]’s two-character, minimally-staged Love Letters [17], first seen at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre in 1988 prior to a long life Off-Broadway in regional theatres and in am-dram, will reach Broadway for the first time this fall with a sequence of starry couples. Currently announced for four week stints each, beginning in September, are Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow, Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg (in her first Broadway role in two decades), and Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen. I’ve seen the play many times with many casts, the most memorable being, in their final stage appearance together, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. The production coincides with Signature Theatre’s production of Gurney’s early work, The Wayside Motor Inn, beginning in August and running through September 28.