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Howard Sherman’s US theatre round-up: March 20

Nehal Joshi and Anthony Warlow in Man of la Mancha. Photo: Scott Suchman Seth Numrich and Laura Linney in Switzerland, Photo: Michael Lamont
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Laura Linney plays Patricia Highsmith at the Geffen Playhouse

Patricia Highsmith stands among the pantheon of great thriller writers, notably for her series of books about the mysterious Tom Ripley and for the novel Strangers on a Train, which became an Alfred Hitchcock classic. But thanks to playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, Highsmith gets to star in a thriller herself as she plays cat and mouse with an underling from her publisher’s office in Switzerland, receiving its US premiere at Los Angeles’s Geffen Playhouse. Laura Linney plays Highsmith opposite Seth Numrich as the emissary from New York who may have a touch of Ripley in him, under Mark Brokaw’s direction, through April 19 (pictured, above).

Anthony Warlow tilts at windmills in Washington DC Man of la Mancha

Nehal Joshi and Anthony Warlow in Man of la Mancha. Photo: Scott Suchman
Nehal Joshi and Anthony Warlow in Man of la Mancha. Photo: Scott Suchman

Australian actor Anthony Warlow is pretty much the go-to guy for major musicals down under, where he’s appeared in everything from Les Miserables, My Fair Lady and The Phantom of the Opera to the operas Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and The Tales of Hoffmann. He made his US and Broadway debut in 2012 in a revival of Annie as Daddy Warbucks, a role he played to acclaim several times in Australia. Now he’s revisiting another one of his Australian roles, Don Quixote in Man of la Mancha, for the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC, opening next week and playing through April 26, just as a role he created in Australia reaches Broadway in the hands of another another actor – the title character in Doctor Zhivago.

Fingersmith adapted at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Terri McMahon, Erica Sullivan and Sara Bruner in Fingersmith. Photo: Jenny Graham
Terri McMahon, Erica Sullivan and Sara Bruner in Fingersmith. Photo: Jenny Graham

Sarah Walters’s popular 2002 novel Fingersmith has made its way to the stage in an adaptation by Alexa Junge, an Emmy Award-winner for the sitcom Friends, now in its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in repertory through July. A cast of 14 populates Victorian London at OSF’s bucolic Ashland home, under the direction of the company’s artistic director Bill Rauch. Fingersmith shares the stage with, among others, productions of Much Ado About Nothing and Guys and Dolls in the 11 play OSF season.

Soon at Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia

A scene from Soon. Photo: Teresa Wood
A scene from Soon. Photo: Teresa Wood

Nick Blaemire managed a remarkable achievement in 2008, when his musical Glory Days reached Broadway – while he was making his Broadway performing debut in another musical, Cry-Baby. Glory Days ultimately was very short lived, but he’s gone on to write A Little More Alive, which premiered at Kansas City Rep last year, and he’s now returned to Arlington, VA’s Signature Theatre, the original home of Glory Days, with Soon, for which he’s written book, music and lyrics. The story of a woman who has retreated to her apartment as the world experiences its hottest day ever, it may well be the first US global warming musical. It runs through the end of April.

39th Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville

Often a launching pad for works to other regional companies as well as New York

The first wave of premieres is underway at the 39th annual Humana Festival of New Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, with more works joining the repertory over the course of the next 10 days. Often a launching pad for works to other regional companies as well as New York, this year’s festival includes The Roommate by Jen Silverman, about two older woman rooming together; I Will Be Gone by Erin Courtney, the story of a teen sent to live with her aunt near a ghost town after the death of her mother; The Glory of the World by Charles Mee, a reflection on the life of Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton; and Dot, a family comedy from the protean actor-playwright Colman Domingo, recently seen in The Scottsboro Boys in the West End. The festival runs through April 12.

Sweeney Todd explorations in Washington DC and Denver

Andrew Lloyd Baughman as Sweeney Todd and Nina Osegueda as Mrs Lovett. Photo: Brandon Penick Photography
Andrew Lloyd Baughman as Sweeney Todd and Nina Osegueda as Mrs Lovett. Photo: Brandon Penick Photography

There are so many things for which to thank Stephen Sondheim, but this week I’ll limit it to applauding the flexibility he affords artists to explore new approaches to his shows, rather than wanting them forever fixed as they were in their premieres. I wrote last year of the Landless Theatre Company’s prog metal version of Sweeney in Washington DC, and word comes that it will make a return engagement this summer, so it must have met with the master composer’s approval. That news came almost concurrently with the announcement that the Denver Center Theatre Company would mount Sweeney in 2016 with the score interpreted by revered local band DeVotchKa, perhaps best known outside Denver for its score to the film Little Miss Sunshine, for which they received a Grammy Award nomination. The Denver Center calls the band’s sound “a Latin and Slavic aural amalgam that is often described as ‘mariachi polka punk’”. That should put a new twist on the dark tale when it takes the stage in a year’s time.

Tallest Tree in the Forest at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Daniel Beaty in The Tallest Tree in the Forest. Photo: Craig Schwartz
Daniel Beaty in The Tallest Tree in the Forest. Photo: Craig Schwartz

In the late 1970s, Philip Hayes Dean wrote a one-man play about Paul Robeson that was the subject of controversy for its depiction of the legendary singer and actor, but it nonetheless secured James Earl Jones for the central role and was revived a decade late starring Avery Brooks. Now a new version of Robeson’s story, Tallest Tree in the Forest, written by and featuring Daniel Beaty, reaches New York in a production from the estimable Tectonic Theatre Project, under the direction of that company’s leader Moises Kaufman. It plays for only a week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, having previously been seen in regional productions at the La Jolla Playhouse and Arena Stage, among others. It will be fascinating to see, over time, whether the two versions both remain in the standard repertory, or whether one supersedes the other.

Smash’s Bombshell to play Broadway benefit concert

In the earliest days of the launch of the backstage TV series Smash, rumors were floated that the main show within the show, the bio-musical Bombshell about Marilyn Monroe, might ultimately reach Broadway as a genuine production. While that talk faded as the series progressed, managing only two seasons, Bombshell is going to find its way to Broadway at long last. A one-night-only concert version, to benefit The Actors Fund, will take place on June 8, scheduled to feature many of the stars of the TV series, including Christian Borle, Will Chase, Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee and Debra Messing performing the score by the team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who also wrote the scores for Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Could the benefit be a backdoor backers audition to see if Bombshell really has Broadway chops? Will McPhee and Hilty still be fighting over the role of Marilyn, as their characters did on the series? Did anyone write a book for Bombshell or are the songs all there is? Will those involved refuse to answer such difficult questions because they’re “in tech”? We’ll find out the day after The Tony Awards.

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