“The Real Thing” Opens on Broadway

A Stoppard Play with an All-Star Cast

the-real-thing-pink-and-blackOn October 30, 2014, The Real Thing opened at the American Airlines Theatre, one of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s three Broadway venues. The play, a classic by Tom Stoppard (Arcadia, Rock n Roll, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) originally produced in 1982, was directed by Sam Gold, a relative newcomer who has taken New York theatre by storm with such productions as The Realistic Joneses, Seminar, and many Off-Broadway hits. With such a creative team behind it, the production was able to a number of Hollywood stars. Two are making their Broadway debuts: Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Donnie Darko, White House Down) and Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Big Fish, Star Wars). Furthermore, the show stars Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City, Broadway productions including Wit, Rabbit Hole, Angels in America) as well as Josh Hamilton (Dead Accounts, The Coast of Utopia, Proof). With all of these powerhouse names behind it, the show was destined to be a critical hit. However, something the perfect ingredients do not make the perfect stew, and in this case, the result was sadly underwhelming.

Mixed Reviews from Critics

The most influential of New York theatre critics, Ben Brantley of The New York Times, gave The Real Thing a review that was all but playwright Tom Stoppard event gray whitedisdainful. He called the revival “tinny,” and claimed that the production lacked any real evidence of chemistry between the performers, or any sort of deep feelings in general. The beauty of Stoppard’s work often lies in the fact that his words may be highly complex and intellectual, but there is a deep humanity bubbling beneath the surface. Brantley’s view is that this production (due to a mixture of casting and directing) lacked that crucial underlayer. Other reviewers were less critical, falling prey to the combination of writing and fame onstage that can persuade the audience they are enjoying a well-done production. Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press, for example, thought the revival was thoroughly excellent, and enjoyed the interspersed tunes that Sam Gold opted to include between scenes, often hummed along by the actors. Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly also praised the production, perhaps delighted merely to see his Hollywood favorites onstage. He claimed Gyllenhaal’s performance oozed poise and sophistication, which may be true, but the argument could also be made that the softness beneath was missing. David Rooney from the Hollywood Reporter was more on the fence, correctly praising Ewan McGregor’s Broadway debut for the professional excellence of his performance, but also calling Gold’s direction “hollow.”

Struggling at the Box Office

It is always interesting to follow how the combination of recognizable playwright, famous actors, and critical response has on the box office. In this case, audiences were not moved by the result, certainly not enough to make this show stand out financially. The show has never reached more than 77.56% of its gross potential in any given week, and the weekly numbers have been squarely in the $400,000 range for each week. With stars such as McGregor, Gyllenhaal, and Nixon onstage, this is almost an insult. And for the true theatre aficionados, the fact that a Stoppard play would be given this treatment is just a shame. However, given that the revival is produced by Roundabout, a not-for-profit theatre institution with an endowment and a subscriber base to keep it afloat, the show will likely be able to play out its intended limited run. The show is scheduled to close on January 4, 2015.

Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” Begins Performances

A Legendary Playwright and an A-List Cast

the real thingOn Oct 2, 2014, the second revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing began previews at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway venue, the American Airlines Theatre. The official opening will take place on October 30, 2014. Arguably the world’s greatest living playwright, Tom Stoppard has written countless works for the stage including the Lincoln Center produced trilogy The Coast of Utopia, as well as Arcadia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Indian Ink, which is simultaneously being produced by Roundabout in their Off-Broadway venue, The Laura Pels Theatre. Of the seven actors in the cast, four are household names, and five are making their Broadway debuts. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is known for such films as The Dark Knight, Donnie Darko, Secretary, and White House Down, is making her Broadway debut in the role of Annie. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor, celebrated for his roles in such films as Trainspotting, Big Fish, and Star Wars: Episodes I, II, and III, is making his Broadway debut in the role of Henry. Cynthia Nixon, the beloved “Sex and the City” star whose stage credits are numerous, plays Charlotte, and Josh Hamilton, known for The Bourne Identity, J. Edgar, and Ice Age, plays Max. The remaining three actors – Alex Breaux, Ronan Raftery, and Madeline Weinstein – are all making their Broadway debuts as well.

Cynthia Nixon Returning to Her Groundbreaking Roots

In the original Broadway production of The Real Thing in 1984, Cynthia Nixon was cast as the witty young Debbie. This was her second Broadway role, following The Philadelphia Story in 1980. That production of Stoppard’s play was directed by Mike Nichols, who was so impressed with Nixon’s performance that he suggested she play a role in David Rabe’s Hurlyburly, when The Real Thing had only just opened. She took the opportunity and traveled to Chicago to premiere Hurlyburly, leaving the role of Debbie to her understudy. When she returned to New York for Hurlyburly’s Broadway transfer, she was informed that her replacement in The Real Thing was not doing very well, so she did an unprecedented thing. She made Broadway history by being the first and only person ever to play two non-repertory Broadway roles simultaneously. This was possible because her role in Hurlyburly only appeared in two scenes – the first and one near the end – and her role in The Real Thing only came on for one scene-stealing performance at the beginning of the second act. It also helped that her character in Hurlyburly had undergone a significant transformation – from innocent to depraved – between her two scenes. Now, decades later, Nixon returns for this revival to play the more principal role of Charlotte.

Sam Gold Continuing His Young Success Story

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Sam Gold

The director of this production of The Real Thing is Sam Gold, who directed his first Broadway show in fall 2011, and this marks his fifth Broadway credit. This is in addition to numerous high-profile Off-Broadway directing credits. A graduate of the Juilliard directing program, Sam Gold stormed onto the scene and immediately was credited with a new type of directing: one defined by a certain stilted awkwardness. Though this does not necessarily imbue all of his work, it does connect him to the millennial generation and let him stand out as an original artist. His five Broadway credits to date are Seminar (2011-2) by Theresa Rebeck starring Alan Rickman, Picnic (2013) by William Inge starring Ellen Burstyn, The Realistic Joneses (2014) by Will Eno starring Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Marisa Tomei, The Real Thing (2014), and the upcoming Broadway transfer of Fun Home (2015). It is rare for such a young director to be given so many early opportunities to showcase his talents, and this pairing with Tom Stoppard is a whole new level of achievement in his career.

“Violet” Opens at the American Airlines Theatre

Sutton Foster has long been considered to have the potential to become one of the great musical theatre performers of our time.  Her big break occurred in 2002, when she was cast as the last minute replacement star of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  When the show transferred to Broadway, the consistently laudatory reviews and 2002 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical proved that she had begun to pave her way to theatrical stardom.  Her most recent Broadway star turn was in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, where Sutton played Reno Sweeney and took home her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  Despite this success, however, Sutton had yet not proven her invincibility as a surefire star – until now, with the recently opened Roundabout Theatre Company production of Violet.


Violet CD ImageViolet
is the story of a young disfigured woman who travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma in search of healing treatment.  Based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, it has music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline or Change) and libretto by Brian Crawley (A Little Princess).  Violet first premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1997, receiving seven Drama Desk nominations and winning the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.  On July 17, 2013, the Encores! Off-Center Series at New York City Center mounted a one-night production of Violet, this time starring Sutton Foster in the title role.  The creative team at Roundabout must have been impressed by her performance, for they decided to bring the show to one of their Broadway houses, the American Airlines Theatre, for a run this spring to summer 2014.  The production is directed by Leigh Silverman (Chinglish, Well) and choreographed by Jeffrey Page (Fela!).

When the musical opened on April 20, 2014, it received unanimously positive reviews.  Charles Isherwood at The New York Times remarked that this was a “career-redefining performance.”  Whereas Sutton has often appeared in light-hearted musicals such as Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Anything Goes, here she takes a darker turn and embraces issues of self-delusion and in security.

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Similarly, Time Out New York stated that this was the “darkest and richest” part that Sutton has ever played, congratulating her on her seamless ability to portray both the optimistic and bitterly anguished elements of her character.  NBC New York also observed that this performance of Sutton’s is “a star being reborn.”  Despite the low-key sets and less than elaborate spectacles involved with the production, critics far and wide praised the ambition and the seriousness of the storyline.

The musical is slated to run until August 10, 2014.  Although this is the first time the show has appeared on Broadway, it is still considered a “revival” for the purposes of Tony Award consideration.  This is not the only show this season to premiere on Broadway after having had an Off-Broadway production years ago; Hedwig and the Angry Inch is similarly considered a “revival” though this is the first time it has been on Broadway.