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Blood, mud and magic of Shakespeare heads across the Atlantic

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth. Photo: Johan Persson
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Kenneth Branagh will make his long awaited New York stage debut (though he directed The Play What I Wrote on Broadway) when the Manchester International Festival co-production of Macbeth comes to the Park Avenue Armory for a three week run beginning May 31. Branagh and Alex Kingston once again play the thane and Lady M under the direction of Branagh and Rob Ashford, with the production reconfigured for the Armory’s massive drill hall. The seating capacity in New York is more than triple what was available at St Peter’s Church in Manchester: just under 1100 patrons can attend each performance. While the majority of the actors repeat their duties from Manchester, they’re newly joined by Richard Coyle, Tom Godwin, Edward Harrison, Scarlett Strallen and Kate Tydman. The multi-use Armory plays host to everything from photography shows to art installations; previous theatrical residents have included The Machine and a five-play rep from the Royal Shakespeare Company.


While the Macbeths plot and murder inside the battlements of the Armory, Beatrice and Benedick will spar verbally al fresco in the shadow of Delacorte Castle as The Public Theater kicks off its summer season with Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater toplining Much Ado About Nothing for director Jack O’Brien. Both are Shakespeare in the Park veterans, having shared the stage with Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice, and having separately led As You Like It (Rabe) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (Linklater) in recent seasons. The cast also includes John Glover, Kathryn Meisle, and Brian Stokes Mitchell.


The second Shakespeare in the Park show of the summer, King Lear, was already starry with John Lithgow in the title role, as New York’s third major Lear this year following Frank Langella and Michael Pennington. But there was a great deal of buzz generated earlier this week with the announcement that Annette Bening would play Goneril; Jessica Hecht and Jessica Collins play her siblings. While Bening has done frequent theatre work in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse, this marks her first New York stage appearance since Spoils of War at Second Stage in 1988. Daniel Sullivan directs; performances begin in late July.


While a performance by Penn and Teller might not immediately put one in mind of Shakespeare, the silent half of the comic magicians has been embarking on a number of theatrical endeavours. Teller has reunited with his Macbeth collaborator Aaron Posner for a new adaptation of The Tempest, which they co-directed for Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre, playing now through June 15; it previously played at The Smith Center for Performing Arts in Las Vegas. Also in the mix: choreography by Matt Kent of the dance troupe Pilobolus and songs by Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan. “O brave new world, That has such people in ’t,” indeed.


Michael Shannon in The Killer. Photo: Gerry Goodstein
Michael Shannon in The Killer. Photo: Gerry Goodstein

Elsewhere in the realm of classics, Eugene Ionesco’s The Killer is getting a rare high-profile outing to complete the season at Brooklyn’s Theater for a New Audience, in a new translation by Michael Feingold. Michael Shannon, a theatre stalwart who has become well known from film work both big budget (General Zod in Man of Steel) and indie (the agitated homeowner with a dark premonition in Take Shelter), takes the lead role of Berenger under the direction of Hartford Stage’s Darko Tresnjak, currently Tony nominated for his staging of A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder. Shannon has played Berenger once before, in a 1998 production at Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre.


Before David Greig’s The Events begins its summer stint at The Young Vic, the production will first be seen at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven for a five day run, marking the play’s U.S. premiere. But that brief glimpse is hardly the last we’ll see of the play: it will make its New York debut in February at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, which recently mounted Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information and was the birthing place of the musical Rent. Ramin Gray directs in all locations, though no cast is set yet for the NYTW engagement.


After lots of hints and leaks, it has been confirmed that Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher will star in the first Broadway revival of the 1978 musical On The Twentieth Century in February 2015 for Roundabout Theatre Company. While both stars have built their fame through TV and film of late, Chenoweth has returned to Broadway musicals regularly (Wicked in 2003, The Apple Tree for Roundabout in 2006 and Promises, Promises in 2010), but Gallagher has only been seen in plays (The Country Girl in 2008 and Noises Off in 2001). His last musical: the hit Jerry Zaks production of Guys and Dolls, playing Sky Masterson to Nathan Lane’s Nathan Detroit way back in 1992. Roundabout, incidentally, also did the last major NYC revival of the play Twentieth Century, with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche in 2004. The musical replaces Noises Off, to have been directed by Jeremy Herrin, on the Roundabout schedule, though it has been described as a postponement rather than a cancellation.


DeQuina Moore and Jay Klaitz in Chasing the Song. Photo: Kevin Berne.
DeQuina Moore and Jay Klaitz in Chasing the Song. Photo: Kevin Berne.

While Memphis the Musical will take the stage in the West End this fall, the new musical from its creators, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, is receiving a “Page to Stage” workshop production right now at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, where Memphis had a key pre-Broadway run. Memphis’s director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Sergio Trujillo are also reuniting for Chasing The Song, about a young woman songwriter striving “to earn her place in the male-dominated world of the early 1960s music scene, as American rock ‘n’ roll finds itself under siege from the incoming British invasion.” While this incarnation performs for a month, it is not open to critics.


A revival of the musical Titanic, directed by Thom Southerland based on his Southwark Playhouse production, has been postponed, with the producers citing a lack of availability for a suitable Broadway venue. The production was to have debuted in Toronto this summer and then traveled to New York.


The Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has announced a cast – and contrary to conventional wisdom about plays on Broadway, it is not buoyed by star names. Recent Juilliard School graduate Alexander Sharp will play Christopher, joined by Francesca Faridany, Steppenwolf ensemble member Ian Barford and Helen Carey, in the remounting of the National Theatre production, with previews beginning in September.


Finally, it’s unfortunate that Idina Menzel fell ill and was unable to perform at the opening of the 9/11 Museum in lower Manhattan last week. But the substitution of her If/Then castmate La Chanze was more than fitting: the actress lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, as chronicled in this moving report from NBC News.

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