“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” Opens

A Unanimous Hit, Now Let the Numbers Roll In

curious incidentOn October 5, 2014, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. A transfer from the National Theatre in London, this clever and heartfelt play won over critics in the U.S. as much as it did in Britain. Unanimous raves began to pour in following the show’s official opening, which occurred after 23 preview performances. Marilyn Stasio of Variety alerted readers to “believe the buzz,” as the show is spectacular. Ben Brantley of The New York Times was so rhapsodized by the play’s immersive effect that he declared it a Critic’s Pick. Extremely positive reviews also came in from Time Out New York, the Associated Press, the Hollywood Reporter, NY Daily News, and NPR. As for box office performance, the last reported numbers are from the week ending October 5, 2014, which does not take into account any performances since the reviews all came out. Therefore, the next few weeks will be crucial to determine whether this play’s positive notices will translate into dollars, in a way only British plays seem to be particularly adept at.

The Route to Broadway

Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 award-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time premiered in the Cottesloe Theatre in London’s National Theatre on August 2, 2012, and ran there until October 2012. A month prior to closing, the National Theatre Live programme screened a taping of the play, live to movie theaters around the world. In March of the following year, the production transferred to the West End (the commercial sector of London theatre), with the intent to run for years. However, just over a year later, part of the Apollo Theatre’s roof collapsed and performances had to be suspended until after the winter holidays. In the new year, it was announced the balcony would need to undergo thorough restoration, rendering the continuation of performances impossible. Over the course of months, the cast kept fresh by giving free performances in schools. In June, the play finally re-opened at another West End venue, the Gielgud Theatre. Fortunately, it had already won acclaim in the spring 2013 awards season; it earned the most Olivier Award nominations with eight, and it won seven of them: Best New Play, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Sound, Lighting, and Set.

Creative Team and Cast

alex sharp

Alex Sharp

The play is directed by Marianne Elliot, whose production travelled from London to New York where it found a new cast. The lead role of Christopher Boone is played by Alex Sharp, a Juilliard grad making his Broadway debut. The set is a black box with three sides, and a network of lines break up into smaller boxes lined in white. Whenever anyone intrudes into Christopher’s world, the perfectly orderly arrangement goes berserk with light and sound and video. The scenic designer is Bunny Christie, who collaborated with Paule Constable on lights, Finn Ross on video, and Ian Dickinson for Autograph on sound. The story involves a 15 year-old boy, unspokenly with Asperger’s disease, who goes off to search for the murderer of his neighbor’s dog. In the meanwhile, he encounters facts about his family that lead him on an altogether unexpected journey. His mother Judy is played by Enid Graham, and his father is played by Ian Barford. His teacher Siobhan is played radiantly by Francesca Faridany. The show is slated for an open-ended run.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” Begins Performances

An Eventful London Run

the curious incident of the dog in the night-timeA new import from London’s National Theatre has begun performances on Broadway.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time took London by storm, first playing at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre from August 2, 2012 until late October 2012, when it transferred to the West End’s Apollo Theatre.  It ran at the Apollo until December 19, 2013, when the theatre’s roof collapsed, forcing performances to be postponed until June 24, 2014, when the show re-opened at the West End’s Gielgud Theatre, where it is still presently running.  These incidents aside, the show has been proved a veritable hit.  It was nominated for eight Olivier Awards (the British equivalent of the Tonys), winning seven: those for Best New Play, Best Director for Marianne Elliott, Best Actor for Luke Treadaway, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Nicola Walker, Best Sound Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Set Design.  Now beginning September 10, 2014, this production under the helm of Marianne Elliott has transferred to Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  Its official opening night is scheduled for October 5, 2014.

A Sense of Wonder

Adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens (Punk Rock, Pornography, On the Shore of the Wide World), the play is based on a novel of the same name written by Mark Haddon in 2003.  It is the story of a 15 year-old boy named Christopher John Francis Boone, who is supposed to have some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, although this is never referred to in the play.  Rather, the character exhibits the characteristic asocial behavior of this condition, coupled with a remarkable sense of wonder regarding everything he experiences.  The incident denoted in the play’s title involves the murder of the dog of one of Christopher’s neighbors.  A sort of self-made Sherlock Holmes, Christopher takes it upon himself to solve this mystery.  Along the way, he ends up discovering facts about his own family that take him on an unexpected journey.  The play received intense acclaim for its delicate performances and brilliant design and staging.  It looks poised to perform as well in the transatlantic transfer as did its National Theatre predecessor, War Horse.

The American Cast

alex sharp

Alex Sharp

As the show is still running in the West End, it has transferred to the United States with an entirely new cast.  The principal role of 15 year-old Christopher is portrayed by 25 year-old recent Juilliard graduate Alex Sharp, making his Broadway debut.  Sharp has been documented saying that this was one of his mother’s favorite books, and thus he has long been very familiar with its story.  The rest of the main cast members are Helen Carey (Tony nominated for London Assurance), Ian Barford (August: Osage County), Francesca Faridany (Man and Boy), and Enid Graham (Dinner at Eight).  Additional cast members include Ben Horner (War Horse), Mercedes Herrero (The Laramie Project), Jocelyn Bioh (Off Broadway’s An Octoroon), Richard Hollis (Hit-Lit), and David Manis (War Horse).  Furthermore, the role of Christopher will occasionally be played by Taylor Trensch (Matilda the Musical).  Like in London, the show is directed by Marianne Elliott, who also directed War Horse.

“A Raisin in the Sun” Concludes Performances

An Unequivocal Success

Kenny Leon’s acclaimed revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun played its final performance at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre last night: Sunday, June 15, 2014.  Starring Denzel Washington as Walter Lee Younger, this production took home three Tony Awards last weekend: those for Best Revival of a Play, Best Director of a Play (Kenny Leon), and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sophie Okonedo).  This was the most wins for any straight play at this year’s Tony Awards, and the show was also nominated for an additional two acting awards: those for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Anika Noni Rose).  Though Denzel Washington was not nominated, Kenny Leon, in accepting his Tony Award, made it clear he believed this was a snub.  After all, Washington received unqualified praise for his performance, and he furthermore won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for 2010’s Fences, also directed by Leon.

Successful Recoupment of Capitalization

The run was by all measures successful, as the producers announced last week that the play managed to recoup its entire a raisin in the sun castcapitalization, which is reported to be $4.25 million.  This is a very large cost for a straight play with a limited engagement, but the investment, as well as the profit potential, was significantly upped due to the star casting of Denzel Washington, whose innumerable fans reliably flock to the theatre for the opportunity to see him in live performance.  The recoupment is especially impressive given the briefness of the play’s run, which totaled only 85 performances in addition to 27 preview performances since it began on March 8, 2014 (the official opening was April 3, 2014).  This achievement was only possible due to the high demand for tickets, which allowed premium pricing and very limited discounting.  The entire run was sold out, the average ticket price each week was generally over $140, and the top ticket price for premium seats was $348.  In general, the weekly gross reached around 110% of its potential (due to premium pricing), and each weekly gross was almost without exception over $1.1 million.

Solidifying Its Place In History

This is the third time A Raisin in the Sun has played on Broadway.  The premiere was in 1959, marking the first time a play written by a black woman was seen on Broadway.  The first revival was in 2004, also directed by Kenny Leon.  Though that production won two Tony Awards (Best Actress for Phylicia Rashad, and Best Featured Actress for Audra McDonald), it did not win the award for Best Revival (though it was nominated), nor was Kenny Leon nominated for the award he would win in 2014: Best Director.  Critics discussed how this production was a significantly more mature achievement than Leon’s first attempt, which may justify the difference in awards reception.  This production also had the honor of being attended by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his family.  On Friday, April 11, 2014, West 47th Street was swarming was security guards, as the first family made its way to the theatre.  Barack and Michelle Obama also had attended a revival of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 2009, and Michelle had taken her daughters to the musicals Memphis and The Addams Family.

All in all, this production was a crowning achievement for its producers, who make up a great selection of the producing society of Broadway, including Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Jon Platt, Scott Delman, Roy Furman, Stephanie McClelland, Ruth Hendel, Sonia Friedman, and Daryl Roth.  In this light, it was actually a success for the Broadway community as a whole, pumping much needed blood into the life of quality-driven productions on Broadway.

“A Raisin in the Sun” Opens on Broadway

On April 3, 2014, a new revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun opened at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, the same house where the play ran in its first production.  Directed by Kenny Leon, who has become the go-to theatre director for African American content, the play received largely unqualified rave reviews from critics far and wide.  With a superb cast led by mega movie star Denzel Washington as Walter Lee Younger, the production succeeded in proving the timelessness of Hansberry’s masterwork.

A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington on BroadwayThis is the play’s second revival on Broadway, following the original 1959 production.  In 2004, Kenny Leon also served as director for the show.  According to The New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley, Leon made new choices in the 2014 revival, justifying his return to directing the same play only a decade later.  He stated that this production “feels far more of a whole” than the 2004 revival, as the relaxed approach he takes in the new revival is emotionally very compelling.  Furthermore, in 2012, Bruce Norris’ clever riff off of this play, Clybourne Park, played on Broadway to great acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award for Best Play.

The 2004 production of A Raisin in the Sun was the Broadway directing debut for Kenny Leon, who served as the artistic director of Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre Company from 1988 to 2000.  Since his first Broadway credit, Leon has directed numerous Broadway shows featuring a primarily African American cast, including three plays by August Wilson: Gem of the Ocean in 2004-5, Radio Golf in 2007, and Fences in 2010, the last of which also starred Denzel Washington in a sold-out hit run.  Furthermore, he helmed The Mountaintop starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett as well as Stick Fly, both in the 2011-2 fall season.  Following A Raisin in the Sun, Leon will direct a second show also in this spring season, the musical inspired by the songs of Tupac Shakur, Holler If Ya Hear Me.

When Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, she was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.  The play was nominated for four 1960 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Direction.  It was also named the Best Play of 1959 by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.  This new revival holds promise to match up to the success of the play’s premiere.  In addition to receiving laudatory notices from a slew of major publications, the play is well on its way to entering financial profits.  The play has reached 100% capacity for every week thus far, crossing the million dollar mark for its past two weeks of grosses, which is a serious feat for a straight play.  After all, Mr. Washington is not your average Hollywood star.  He has consistently garnered well-deserved respect due to his extreme talent along with his humility, a rare combination at his level of fame.