Mark Rylance Enchants Critics and Audiences
On December 17, 2017, Farinelli and the King had its official opening night at the Belasco Theatre, where the play had been running in previews since December 5, 2017. A new play written by Claire van Kampen, Farinelli and the King is the story of King Philippe V of Spain (Mark Rylance), whose unsteady mental health shook an already unstable Europe in the early 18th century. In this story, the King cannot bear to live without the melodic voice of a young Italian opera star named Farinelli, who was castrated by his musician brother at the age of 10. In this play, Farinelli is embodied by two individuals, paralleling the divide the character feels between himself and his talents, which steer his course more than he does himself. The man of Farinelli is played by Sam Crane, making his Broadway debut, while the melodious voice of Farinelli is sung by British countertenor Iestyn Davies, also making his Broadway debut. With the cast led by the accomplished three-time Tony Award winning actor Mark Rylance (Jerusalem, Boeing-Boeing, Twelfth Night / Richard III), the additional actors include Colin Hurley, Huss Garbiya, Melody Grove, James Hall, Lucas Hall, and Edward Peel. The show is directed by John Dove, with music arranged by Claire van Kampen.
Upon viewing the show leading up to opening night, Ben Brantley of The New York Times declared Farinelli and the King a Critics’ Pick, stating that you won’t want to take your eyes off of King Philippe V as portrayed by Mark Rylance, as the play is a “strangely enchanting…shimmering fairy tale for grown-ups,” and Mark Rylance is “one of the greatest actors on the planet.” Jeremy Gerard from Deadline was also a big fan, reporting how Rylance has “the star’s gift of playing to the cheap seats without actually playing to the cheap seats,” and how his performance is “meticulously off-handed” in this “totally engaging little triumph of a show.” Chris Jones from the Chicago Tribune called it a “fascinating new Broadway play” and “a strange and slow-burning theatrical experience” that “turns out to be a remarkably complicated exploration of the most important question in the arts.” David Rooney from the Hollywood Reporter was not quite as effusive, admitting Rylance is an “extraordinary stage actor,” but does critique the play’s construction for failing to sustain a narrative arc. Joe Dziemianowicz from the New York Daily News was also on the fence, enjoying the play as “a richly theatrical reminder of what art can do,” but criticizes its meandering and “poky first half.”
A Promising Start at the Box Office
As Farinelli and the King transferred intact from London, the decision was made to open after less than 2 weeks of preview performances. Therefore, only two weeks of box office figures have yet been reported. Those numbers, however, are promising. It is clear that Rylance has amassed a hearty contingent of diehard fans on Broadway, who rushed to buy tickets in the first weeks of his show. Whether those numbers sustain remains to be seen. In the first partial week of seven preview performances, Farinelli and the King brought in a weekly gross of $767,377, which represents 94.34% of its gross potential. Then, in the week ending December 17, 2017, the show brought in $712,364 over eight performances, which represents 76.78%. With these positive reviews and having been declared a Critics’ Pick, it is possible that the grosses will remain on the higher end. Nevertheless, this show may turn out to be a difficult sell, given the period setting, the fact that Mark Rylance is still no Al Pacino at the box office, and the lack of a recognizable title. The show is currently scheduled to run until its closing night of March 25, 2018.
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