Carly White

About Carly White

Carly graduated University Of Toronto, Theatre and Performance program. She has written for various publications including art-speaks, Pembroke Daily Observer, Toronto Star - Performing Arts Section, The Canadian Post and more recently the Village Voice and the New York Daily News. As a member As a member of the Barrow Group, her specialties include performance stage production and talent casting.

Stephen Colbert Takes Over Letterman in 2015

Exactly one week after David Letterman announced his retirement from The Late Show, a position he has held since 1993, CBS announced that his successor would be Stephen Colbert.  Colbert, who is now 49, has signed a 5 year agreement with CBS.  His premiere date is presently unclear, but it will likely be sometime in the first months of 2015.  The show will continue to be filmed in New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater.

stephen colbert late show david letterman cbs emmysColbert rose to prominence over the course of his comedy television career, and since 2005 he has hosted his own Comedy Central series The Colbert Report.  Where many had postulated that Letterman would be succeeded by others including Craig Ferguson, Ellen Degeneres, or Neil Patrick Harris, the consensus seems to be generally pleased with the network’s decision to select Colbert.  In fact, Colbert is so popular that the largest complaint from the public is bemoaning the loss of The Colbert Report, which is a show very different in tone and style than The Late Show has historically been.  Whereas The Late Show is a late-night talk show consisting of a standard monologue, guest interviews, and live musical performance, The Colbert Report stands out for its satirical tone, most notably due to Colbert’s adoption of an alter-ego persona for the duration of the tapings.

Colbert first began to develop his now-famous onscreen persona in 1996 when he appeared in seven episodes of ABC’s prime time sketch comedy show The Dana Carvey Show, honing his character of a deadpan anchor delivering the news.  From 1997 to 2005, Colbert was a regular correspondent on The Daily Show, which has been hosted by Jon Stewart since 1999.  Throughout this period, he developed his character into a blatantly ignorant correspondent, who is unaware of his own lack of knowledge on the subjects he discusses.  In this way, Colbert was able to strike a genius balance between mockery and deliverance of his true opinion, guarded by the shield of comedy.

With the inception of The Colbert Report in 2005, Colbert became notorious for this alternate persona, leading him to great fame including two Peabody Awards and 27 Emmy nominations, as well as the 2013 Emmy Award for outstanding variety series, among other wins.  He also authored several books in this character, including I Am America (And So Can You!) in 2007, and America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t in 2012.  With the announcement of Colbert’s assumption of Letterman’s position at The Late Show, it became clear that this meant the end of The Colbert Report, and many of the show’s over one million nightly viewers were less than pleased.

It is now clear that Colbert will officially retire his persona along with his Comedy Central series, and that he will adopt a more genuine voice as the host of The Late Show.  Many Colbert Report devotees will need to choose whether they maintain their devotion to the man behind the character, even when he is out of character.  As The Colbert Report offers a news alternative that is truly irreverent, Colbert will now need to finesse his new onscreen presence to satisfy The Late Show viewership along
with his longtime fans.

On this past Tuesday night, April 22, 2014, Stephen Colbert paid a visit to David Letterman as a guest on The Late Show.  Letterman welcomed him very good naturedly, and Colbert appeared in black-rimmed glasses that made it clear his persona was nowhere to be seen.  Unlike when Jay Leno was chosen to succeed Johnny Carson as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, despite Carson’s clear preference of Letterman, this appears to be a case where the host is happily passing the mantle to his chosen successor.  To demonstrate just how supportive he is, Letterman and Colbert even took a selfie.

 

David Letterman and Steven Colbert Take Selfie

“Of Mice and Men” Opens on Broadway

John Steinbeck’s 1937 play Of Mice and Men, based on his 1937 novella of the same name, is presently being revived on Broadway for the second time.  On April 16, 2014, Anna D. Shapiro’s production of this classic story of two displaced migrant workers during the Great Depression opened at the Longacre Theatre.  This production has received a great deal of press, primarily because it stars James Franco, the ever-increasingly famous (with bouts of infamy) multi-hyphenate actor, writer, director, producer, author, teacher, and poet.  He stars alongside Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester, both also stars of the screen making their Broadway debuts.  As such, it has been selling considerably well at the box office, averaging around 96% capacity with an average ticket price of $101.76.  Therefore, though the production received mixed to positive reviews following its opening, this is unlikely to sway ticket-buyers who are more drawn by the star factor of the face on the marquis than by promises of quality.


Ben Brantley of The New York Times is by far New York’s most influential Broadway theatre critic.  Producers flaunt positive quotes with his byline, and they live in fear of his negative responses to their shows.  In an era where people are reading fewer newspapers than ever before, New York City has become a one-paper town, where Brantley rules the theatre section.  James Franco, though new to the Broadway scene, has clearly picked up on the sensitivity of this one man’s opinion to his show’s fate, and in the fashion of any egomaniac on a quest for world domination, he decided to publicly flaunt his distaste for Brantley’s less than positive review.  Of course, Franco’s medium of choice for this proclamation was none other than Instagram.  (Lest we forget, this is the same place that Franco made an utter fool of himself two weeks ago for blatantly hitting on a Scottish 17 year-old whom he had met outside of the Of Mice and Men stage door.)  After Brantley published a critical review of Franco’s stage demeanor and level of acting effort, Franco posted to Instagram a link to the positive Variety review, then commenting that Brantley is a “little bitch” whom the theatre community hates for good reason, as he is an “idiot”.  Though he has since taken down this post, it only further illustrates Franco’s lack of grace and dangerously swollen ego.

Other reviewers were more positive in their reviews of the play.  Variety, Time Out New York, NBC, and the Hollywood Reporter all praised the revival and Ms. Shapiro’s direction.  The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, was more in line with Brantley.  Charles McNulty reviewed Franco as being in “CliffsNotes mode,” which is not surprising as he is flying to L.A. to teach a class on his one day off, while also working on his innumerable other projects, when most other Broadway stars would be focused on their stage performance.  Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Franco’s success in merely dialing it in.  However, it is more likely that the greater world will continue to swoon for his celebrity, excusing his madness and even finding it endearing, and allowing him to take credit for wild success when his biggest achievement seems to be just showing up.  It is time we acknowledge that James Franco has become a brand.  We generally look for a soul in our Broadway performers, and it seems Franco’s has long been buried by his ever-growing success.

Of Mice and Men is scheduled to run until July 27, 2014.

‘The Realistic Joneses’ Opens on Broadway

It’s not an easy time for a new play to thrive on Broadway.  The Realistic Joneses, which opened on April 6, 2014 to largely positive reviews, is still struggling to stay afloat at the box office.  This is the Broadway debut for playwright Will Eno, who is known for his less accessible but equally quirky Off-Broadway works such as Thom Pain (based on nothing) and Middletown.  The play premiered in May 2012 at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.  Both the regional and Broadway productions are directed by Sam Gold, whose remarkable career rise has confirmed him as the go-to director for adventurous new plays, especially those that feature a casual, realistic writing style.  Of the four actors in the cast, only one has remained for the transfer – Tracy Letts, who is the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of August: Osage County as well as the Tony Award winning actor from last year’s revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway

The other three roles are played by Toni Collette, who has been on Broadway once before in The Wild Party, Michael C. Hall, who has played Broadway musical leads in both Cabaret and Chicago, and Marisa Tomei, who has previously appeared in three Broadway plays: Top Girls, Salome, and Wait Until Dark.  Though all three actors are much better known for their film work, these names are by no means box office gold of the likes of Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, or James Franco, who are presently competing for audience attention on Broadway, also in straight plays.  Whereas musicals can often survive on Broadway without Hollywood stars, especially if they feature a familiar title, plays rarely enter the greater national consciousness without a special boost.

Although The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood gave the play an unqualified rave, marking it as a Critics’ Pick, the box office was actually worse for this past week than the one preceding it.  For the week ending in April 6, 2014, gross ticket sales were $410,334, down $51,902 from the previous week.  However, it must be noted that the week leading up to a show’s opening includes numerous performances designated as “press performances,” for which complimentary tickets are offered to critics from a wide array of publications.  This would partly explain the lower gross, especially in light of the fact that the average ticket price also went down that week to $67.88 from $82.62 the week before.

The play is scheduled to run until July 6, 2014.  Its producers, Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, often take gambles with shows that are not guaranteed slam dunks.  In this same season, they also are producing All the Way, a new play but with the box office support of its star Bryan Cranston, The Bridges of Madison County, a musical with a familiar title that is struggling to stay alive, and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, which features Broadway favorite Audra McDonald as the timeless favorite Billie Holiday.  Though The Realistic Joneses may be this producing team’s most risky show on Broadway right now, they have made a habit of mounting shows by recognized playwrights, which may or may not have stars.  In any case, it is to their credit that they manage to support new writing in a climate where few dare to take such ventures, seeking to overcome the bias against plays without megastars.

“The Velocity of Autumn” Begins Previews

On April 1, 2014, previews began for The Velocity of Autumn, a new play by Eric Coble that also played in the fall of 2013 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.  The Broadway transfer was originally announced for last spring, but a lack of theatre availability necessitated the delay.  The play has now found a home at the intimate 780 seat Booth Theatre, one of the smallest houses on Broadway, which will allow the subtle performances to resonate with the audience.  The two-hander stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella, who both received strong notices from the Washington D.C. production.  Molly Smith, the artistic director of Arena Stage, serves as the director for the play.

Estelle Parsons, lively and witty at age 86, plays 79 year-old Alexandra, who barricades herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with explosives in response to her children’s plea that she leave her home.  When her estranged yet beloved son Christopher (Stephen Spinella) climbs a tree and hops in her window, they are forced to confront the issues at the heart of their family dilemma, as well as what it means to get older.  According to reviews from the Arena Stage production, the play is not as strong as the performances, but the slightly contrived set-up evolves into a touching story as the two actors brilliantly portray their characters.

Stephen Spinella won an Obie Award last year for his moving performance in the New York Theatre Workshop production of An Iliad, and he also appeared in the Public Theater’s 2011 production of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.  In addition, Spinella has won two Tony Awards for his role in Kushner’s Angels in America.  Estelle Parsons has been nominated for four Tony Awards, stemming back to her first nomination in 1968 for The Seven Descents of Myrtle, and she has recently appeared on Broadway in Nice Work if You Can Get It, August: Osage County, and Good People.  Furthermore, she won an Academy Award in 1967 for her role as Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde.

The Velocity of Autumn is produced by Larry Kaye of Hop Theatricals, in addition to Van Dean of the Broadway Consortium.  As for the creative team, scenic design is by Eugene Lee, costume design is by Linda Cho, lighting design is by Howell Binkley, and sound design is by Darron L. West.  The play has had several pre-Broadway runs, with its premiere at the Boise Contemporary Theater in Idaho in April 2011, and then a follow-up April 2012 production at Cleveland’s Beck Center for the Arts in Ohio, prior to the Washington D.C. run.  The capitalization amount of the Broadway production is reported to be $2.5 million, which is fairly low for a play due to its small cast.  Though this play may still have a tough time earning profits without top Hollywood names or a recognizable title, the producers may be gearing for Tony Award nominations for its actors, both of whom are awards favorites and were praised by critics for the Arena Stage production.

Broadway’s Anna Kendrick to Host SNL on April 5

Anna Kendrick, the multi-talented actress and singer, has been tapped to host Saturday Night Live on April 5, 2014.  This will be her SNL hosting debut.  The telecast will also feature Pharrell, the seven-time Grammy Award winner known for his recent hit “Happy” from the animated film Despicable Me 2.  Created and executive produced by Lorne Michaels, SNL is filmed in front of a live studio audience at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

anna kendrick on SNL Saturday Night LiveAnna Kendrick made her Broadway debut at the age of 12, when she played Dinah Lord in the 1998 production of High Society.  She was nominated for a Tony Award for this performance, but she has not appeared on Broadway since.  Subsequently, her career has mostly been focused on film, yet she has not forgotten her musical roots.  Her screen debut was 2003’s Camp, where she played nerd turned surprise diva Fritzi Wagner.  More recently, her fame skyrocketed due to her role in the a cappella themed film Pitch Perfect, as her performance of the song “Cups (When I’m Gone)” became the number 2 hit on Billboard’s Adult Pop Song Chart.  Furthermore, she has just finishing filming two musical screen roles: Cathy Hyatt in The Last Five Years and Cinderella in Into the Woods, both of which will be released later this year.

anna kendrick on SNL on 04/05/14 on NBC Saturday Night LiveSince its original airing in 1975, NBC’s weekly late night variety and sketch comedy show has often been a place for celebrities to let loose and stretch their versatility.  As such, there has often been an overlap between Broadway actors and SNL hosts.  The record for having hosted SNL the most number of times is held by Alec Baldwin (he hosted 16 times since 1990), who has been on Broadway 5 times.  His Broadway debut was Loot in 1986, and he was recently seen on stage in the 2013 production of Orphans.  Furthermore, many individuals who have hosted the Tony Awards over the years have also served as SNL hosts.  These include Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, Bernadette Peters, and Rosie O’Donnell, to name a few.  Even Seth MacFarlane, who hosted last year’s musical themed Academy Awards show, has also hosted SNL.

Anna Kendrick at the Toy Awards Red Carpet 2013

The list of Broadway performers who have hosted SNL does not end there.  Many A-list actors have been featured both in Broadway shows and also as the host of SNL.  For example, the stars of The Producers, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, have both served as SNL hosts.  So have Martin Short and Jason Alexander, who played those same roles in the Los Angeles production and US National Tour.  The stars of the film version of Chicago, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, have both hosted SNL.  Furthermore, there are several famous Hollywood actors who are presently appearing on Broadway, who have also served as SNL hosts.  These include James Franco, Alan Cumming, Daniel Radcliffe, and Bryan Cranston, among many more in recent years.

Anna Kendrick may not have been on Broadway since she was 12 years old, but she is nonetheless a beloved star of stage and screen, whose singing chops make her memorable as a musical theatre star.  After she makes her SNL hosting debut, and then appears back-to-back in two major musical film releases, we may see her on the Great White Way once again before too long.

‘The Book of Mormon’ Inks Deal with StubHub.com

The Book of Mormon now officially sells tickets on StubHub.com.

Since its opening in 2011, the Broadway production of The Book of Mormon has been selling out its houses at the 1,006 seat Eugene O’Neill Theatre.  With rampant demand for the satirical musical written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Avenue Q writer Bobby Lopez, the show has regularly seen premium ticket prices as high as $477.  The show’s lead producers Scott Rudin and Anne Garefino have often been at the cutting edge of strategies to maximum their ticket revenue, utilizing dynamic pricing to vary ticket prices throughout the house in line with demand.  As of just week ago, they have announced a new partnership that changes the game for the Broadway ticket marketplace: they will now sell tickets on StubHub.com.

Book of Mormon and Stubhub join forces

Book of Mormon and StubHub.com  join forces

StubHub.com, an online ticket marketplace owned by eBay, has grown from America’s largest secondary-market ticket marketplace to the world’s largest ticket marketplace.  The secondary market for tickets refers to when tickets are re-sold, often at a higher amount than their original price, especially when the primary ticket sellers have sold out their inventory.  Another example of a secondary-market ticket site is TicketsNow.com, which is an acquired subsidiary of Ticketmaster.  Ticketmaster often redirects its customers to TicketsNow.com when the original inventory is sold out, which is effectively the same thing as selling tickets at a higher price through the same outlet.  Critics of secondary market ticket sites consider them to be just another form of scalping, and thus the legality of such sites is often questioned.

In an unprecedented move for Broadway, The Book of Mormon has decided to utilize StubHub.com as another outlet to sell their higher priced premium tickets.  In this way, StubHub will not be functioning as a secondary ticket marketplace, but rather a primary ticketing outlet.  Presently, the primary ticketing outlet for Broadway shows is more often than not Telecharge.com, which is owned by the Shubert Organization, one of the major Broadway landlords.  Therefore, this decision will present StubHub as a direct competitor to Telecharge.

It is common for producers to turn to additional outlets to help move their inventory, yet this is generally done in the form of discount ticket sales.  When sales are slow for a certain show, producers will often offer lower priced tickets either by direct mail to potential ticket buyers’ homes, or through online promotions by email or on websites.  However, the decision to sell premium seats for this hot-ticket show specifically through StubHub is an interesting maneuver, especially as the StubHub customer base may not be accustomed to seeing theatre options on the site.  StubHub’s biggest business comes from the music and sports industries, and this will present a Broadway option to this largely untapped audience.  On the other hand, the advantage from StubHub’s point of view is that it will help shift their reputation from that of a glorified online scalper to a more legitimate ticket sales outlet.

In any case, this novel approach presents an interesting dilemma for the Shuberts, who own Telecharge.com.  If premium tickets can be sold directly though secondary outlets commonly known for scalping tickets, there is a grey area between the primary and secondary market ticket outlets that had not previously existed for the Broadway marketplace.  If they neglect the opportunity to invest in secondary outlets, like Ticketmaster did with TicketsNow, then they might very well be losing profits in the long run.  Still, for now, The Book of Mormon’s new partnership will be a noteworthy case study to see if the StubHub customer base opens up new avenues for premium Broadway ticket sales.

The Rockettes’ ‘Heart and Lights’ Postpones Its Run

Heart and Lights, the new Rockettes show that was slated to begin performances on March 27, 2014 at Radio City Music Hall, has cancelled its run less than week before its first scheduled show.  The producer, MSG Entertainment, part of the Madison Square Garden Company, cited narrative issues as the reason for postponement until 2015.

heart and lights

Though traditionally successful with their Rockettes Christmas extravaganza in the winter season, MSG Entertainment has often struggled in attracting tourists during the spring and early summer season. They were attempting to turn that trend around with Heart and Lights, a love affair to New York City in which two cousins explore the city of their grandmother’s youth.  With choreography by Rockettes artistic director Linda Haberman, Heart and Lights has a story written by Doug Wright, the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning writer of the 2004 Broadway play I Am My Own Wife.

While narrative problems were the officially stated reason for the delay, the musical must not have been doing stupendously in terms of advance ticket sales.  Though MSG Entertainment claimed 100,000 tickets were sold out of the 350,000 tickets available, the show did show up on discount sites such as Groupon a week ago.  In any case, because of back-to-back booking at Radio City Music Hall following the scheduled 5-week run, Heart and Lights has needed to delay until 2015.  This decision left the 40 Rockette performers, not to mention the entire crew, jobless at the last minute.  It was reported that several of the dancers broke out in tears in hearing the news.  Furthermore, the producers were estimated to have incurred a loss of at least $5 million from foregone ticket sales alone.

For the final dress rehearsal of Heart and Lights, MSG executive James Dolan invited film impresario Harvey Weinstein, as well as producers Jane Rosenthal and Daryl Roth, to pipe in.  Though these individuals’ opinions have not been stated publically, it is clear that their advice was one of the final straws in Dolan’s decision to cancel the show.  Doug Wright commented only that Linda Haberman is a pleasure to work with, and that the rest of the heartbreaking tale of the deferment would be saved for his memoirs.  While the story was not ready, the intensive special effects and expert Rockettes dancing were said to be in top shape.  Fortunately, the groundbreaking 3-D technology and innovative puppetry will only be put on hold, as audiences will be able to witness their delights when the book has been revamped.

The postponed performances dates have not yet been determined, but MSG will make an announcement when they have reached a decision.  All purchased tickets will be refunded at point of purchase, except Ticketmaster purchases which will be refunded automatically.

James Franco in ‘Of Mice and Men’ Begins Previews

Of Mice and Men with James Franco and Chris O'DowdFor the first time in 40 years, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men will hit the Broadway stage this evening: Wednesday, March 19, 2014.  Adapted by Steinbeck from his novella of the same name, this play first premiered on Broadway in 1937, after which it was chosen as Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.  In addition to a short-lived run from 1974 to 1975, this is the play’s second Broadway revival.  The new production, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (The Motherf**ker with the Hat, August: Osage County), is playing at the Longacre Theatre on West 48th Street.

This production is unique in that the cast is led by three young Hollywood stars making their Broadway debuts.  James Franco, the multi-talented actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher, and author (Freaks and Geeks, James Dean, Oz the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers), stars as George, and Chris O’Dowd, known for the film Bridesmaids as well as the HBO / BBC series Family Tree, plays opposite Franco as his friend Lennie.  Furthermore, Leighton Meester, who rose to fame by starring as Blair Waldorf on the CW’s Gossip Girl, plays Curley’s wife. The cast is rounded out by Tony Award winner Jim Norton as Candy, Ron Cephas Jones as Crooks, Alex Morf as Curley, Joel Marsh Garland as Carlson, James McMenamin as Whit, Jim Ortlieb as the Boss, and Jim Parrack as Slim.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two migrant field workers in California during the Great Depression, holding onto their dream of becoming landowners one day.  However, they encounter a menacing situation, confronted by the Boss’ small-statured son Curley and his flirtatious wife.  When Candy, an older one-armed ranch hand, offers to pitch in for the land in exchange for living on it, they think their future is set, but the tragic bonds of friendship interfere, and they fail to achieve the elusive American dream.

Though the novella is often featured as required reading in many school curricula, it has also been the frequent target of censorship due to accusations of vulgarity.  The book has also been adapted to the screen several times, in 1939, 1981, and 1992.  The first film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Musical Score, and Best Sound Recording.

The present production is lead produced by David Binder, with scenic design by Tony Award winner Todd Rosenthal (August: Osage County), costume design by Suttirat Larlarb, sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, and lighting design by Japhy Weideman.

Rocky Opens at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre

Rocky, a new musical based on the 1976 film of the same name, had its official opening last night on Broadway.  With an original score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, Anastasia), and a libretto by Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Hairspray, Annie) in collaboration with Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is directed by Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher). 

rocky the musical on BroadwayProduced by the international theatre powerhouse Stage Entertainment, Rocky premiered in Hamburg, Germany in 2012 in a German language production, where it is still running today.  In its newly translated English version, the Broadway production now occupies the Winter Garden Theatre, where Mamma Mia! played from 2001 to 2013 (Mamma Mia! is now continuing its run at the Broadhurst Theatre).

When the film came out in 1976, Sylvester Stallone was relatively unknown.  After writing the script and starring as the fictional boxing hero Rocky Balboa, Stallone launched to fame, and went on to write, star, and also direct four subsequent sequels.  (The first film as well as Rocky V were directed by John G. Avildsen.)  The original Rocky, which was made on the shoestring budget of under $1 million, became the highest grossing film of 1976, and the franchise has since earned over $1.1 billion worldwide.  Sylvester Stallone is also the second billed producer after Stage Entertainment of Rocky the Musical, which has a production budget of approximately $15 million.  Because of its successful run in Hamburg, whose budget of $20 million included development expenses, Rocky the Musical was able to avoid an American pre-Broadway tryout and economize for a lean Broadway budget.

Starring Andy Karl as Rocky, Margo Seibert as Adrian, Terence Archie as Apollo Creed, Dakin Matthews as Mickey, and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Paulie, this musical is not relying on A-list Hollywood stars to sell its tickets, a luxury generally reserved for musicals rather than plays.  The director Alex Timbers, who is only 35 years old, is often referred to as the “boy genius” of theatre, as his whirlwind career thus far includes two Tony Award nominations and four Broadway directing credits, including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for which he also wrote the book.  As for his writing, Timbers is known for a quirky and often irreverent style, but for Rocky which he only directs, his skills are most visible in terms of the magic of technical design employed onstage, especially in the adrenaline-charged closing number bolstered by the choreography of Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.

In fact, Ben Brantley of The New York Times praised this closing number and little else, going as far as to claim the show doesn’t even begin until over 2 hours after its curtain time.  Reviewers were generally mixed – Entertainment Weekly and The New York Post gave it raves, but the Hollywood Reporter called its score “unmemorable” and AM New York made fun of how its musicality undermined the serious story at its core.  Still, the success of the show’s last 15 minutes was basically unanimous, and critics also largely agreed that Alex Timbers’ direction was innovative, the technical elements were unique, and the emotional impact of the classic underdog story was indestructible.

In terms of box office sales, the show has not been knocking it out of the park.  In the last week of previews, the average discount ticket price was a low $66.29, though premium seats were sold for as high as $248.00, reaching only 43.65 percent of its gross potential.  Still, national awareness has just been augmented by wide press coverage, and the brand power of this movie franchise will most likely overshadow any ambivalence in critical praise.  In any case, it is undoubtedly one of the more buzz-generating Broadway shows opening this season, and we may expect to see these numbers increase in the coming weeks.

All The Way, With Bryan Cranston, Opens on Broadway

bryan cranston on broadway as Lyndon B Johnson in all the wayAll the Way, Robert Schenkkan’s bio-play about Lyndon B. Johnson, opened last week at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre. After Bill Rauch, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed its premiere at OSF in 2012, he partnered with Diane Paulus of the American Repertory Theater to mount the political drama this past fall for a limited engagement in Boston.  Further to this, he partnered with the commercial producer Jeffrey Richards to bring it to Broadway, where previews began on February 10, 2014.  At A.R.T. as well as now on Broadway, the role of Lyndon Johnson is played by Bryan Cranston, whose fame has recently skyrocketed due to his starring role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad.  Between Cranston’s viscerally talented portrayal of Johnson, Schenkkan’s masterfully realistic script, and Rauch’s poised and polished direction of the ensemble cast, All the Way received wide critical praise and is stirring a lot of buzz among theatregoers.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan has declared the play to be the first half of a two-part series, with its action focused on the years leading to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As exemplified by the biographer Robert Caro’s lifelong project to chronicle Johnson’s career in what will be five massive volumes, the story of LBJ is a rich and detailed one.  It therefore makes sense that Schenkkan would choose to break up his story into two plays.  All the Way, in focusing on the years 1963-4, includes not only Johnson’s perspective, but also gives us an inside look into the experience of Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Brandon J. Dirden), Coretta Scott King (played by Roslyn Ruff), J. Edgar Hoover (played by Michael McKean), Senator Hubert Humphrey (played by Robert Petkoff), Governor George Wallace (played by Rob Campbell), Robert McNamara (played by James Eckhouse), Senator Strom Thurman (played by Christopher Gurr), and Johnson’s long-time aide Walter Jenkins (played by Christopher Liam Moore).  This is therefore a democratic portrayal of history, with insight not only into the presidential podium but also the experience of African Americans as well as homosexuals during the time period.

bryan cranston on broadway as Lyndon B Johnson in all the way

As for the latter, Christopher Liam Moore – who is the real-life partner of director Bill Rauch, as well as the only cast member to remain from the original Oregon production – plays Walter Jenkins, whose tragic story is honored by Schenkkan’s inclusion of his narrative, though it could easily be over-shadowed by the other events of this dynamic era.  Weeks before the 1964 political election, Jenkins was caught in an elicit act with another man in the public restroom of the YMCA.  Though Jenkins was forced to resign and leave Washington, Johnson never faltered in his support of his close friend, showing the man’s compassion despite his rough political exterior.  It is the presence of tales like this one alongside major political events that make Schenkkan’s play a personal and compelling theatrical experience.

Marilyn Stasio in Variety called the play’s style “Expressionism Lite,” referring to how the characters are not entirely realistic, nor fully caricatured, with the one exception of Cranston’s LBJ who succeeds in feeling fully authentic.  This is to the play’s credit, for it is a tricky balance to fictionalize history onstage, and the blend between rigorous detail and abridgment helps the audience to navigate this complex tale.  The cohesion of the piece also stems from Rauch’s clever direction, which stylizes the story just enough to make it artful while allowing the actors to exercise a grounded approach to their characters.  The cast of 20 remain in sight, either sitting on upstage benches designed by Christopher Acebo or by marching through the aisles of the theatre.  This lends the show a vibrant energy and a structural integrity.

Bryan Cranston in all the way on broadway

Johnson is known as a great manipulator, and this play allows us to see his Machiavellian expertise.  Bryan Cranston embodies the towering figure of Johnson despite his less-than-enormous height, partially with the help of hidden risers in his shoes, but more so due to his ferocious energy and commitment to the character.  Throughout the play, we see how Johnson bent Congress to his needs, which in this case was to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  On the other hand, we also see how the black freedom fighters acted as a counterbalance to Johnson’s own agenda, as they make up a significant part of his constituency, and we are given an inside look into Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own political savviness.  Alongside NAACP director Roy Wilkins (played by Peter Jay Fernandez) and the SNCC head Stokely Carmichael (played by William Jackson Harper), we see the other side of the story of the passing of the Civil Rights Act, allowing for a balanced take on this historic struggle.

Despite its rave reviews, All The Way has not yet been selling out its houses.  Last week, it averaged an audience capacity of 81.94% with an average paid admission of $79.04, grossing a total of $736,790 for the week.  With the reviews having determined it to be a skillful and entertaining production, the audiences may become more confident in their choice to see their beloved Cranston in his Broadway debut in such a competitive Broadway marketplace.  As the post-opening numbers start coming in, we will soon see if this becomes a commercial as well as a critical success.