“The King and I” Begins Previews on Broadway

A Lincoln Center Production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Hit

the king and iOn March 12, 2015, the 2015 revival of The King and I will play its first performance at the Vivian Beaumont Lincoln Center. Opening night is scheduled for April 16, 2015. This is the fifth time this musical will have played on Broadway, the original having premiered on March 29, 1951. With music by Richard Rodgers, and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the show is based on a novel called Anna and The King of Siam by Margaret Landon. At the time of its premiere, the musical was a huge hit and won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress (Gertrude Lawrence in the role of Anna Leonowens) and Best Featured Actor (Yul Brynner as the King of Siam). It was then revived in 1977, 1985, and 1996. The 2015 production therefore marks the fourth Broadway revival. This production is produced by Lincoln Center Theatre at their Vivian Beaumont Broadway venue. It is directed by Bartlett Sher (The Bridges of Madison County, Golden Boy, South Pacific), and the choreography is the original by Jerome Robbins, with the revival’s musical staging by Christopher Gattelli (Newsies, Godspell, South Pacific). The production stars Kelli O’Hara (Nice Work if You Can Get It, South Pacific, The Bridges of Madison County) as Anna, and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha) making his Broadway debut as the King of Siam.

A Classic Story for a Modern Audienceken watanabe kelli o'hara

The timeless tale of Anna and the King revolves around a British schoolteacher in 1862, who is hired by the King of Siam (now Thailand) to come to Bangkok and tutor his children. The King has many wives and has other traditional customs, but he has hired Anna to help modernize his country. Still, he is very resistant to this effort, and at first there is great tension between the two. Nevertheless, Anna is persistent, and she not only succeeds in introducing some Western customs to Siam, but she and the King ultimately also fall in love. The show includes many timeless and beautiful songs such as “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “A Puzzlement,” “Getting to Know You,” “Something Wonderful,” and “Shall We Dance?”. This Lincoln Center production is sure to let its audiences relive the original magic of this gorgeous show, complete with the original choreography and elaborate traditional costumes.

A Déjà Vu of “South Pacific” at the Vivian Beaumont

In spring 2008, Lincoln Center mounted another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre: South Pacific. This production shares much more than the composer and librettist in common with this revival of The King and I. First of all, the director is the same: Bartlett Sher. Secondly, the same leading lady will take center stage: Kelli O’Hara. What’s more, Sher has reunited his entire creative team from that production: set designer Michael Yeargan, musical director Ted Sperling, lighting designer Donald Holder, costume designer Catherine Zuber, and sound designer Scott Lehrer. Fortunately, South Pacific was such an enormous hit that this bodes well for The King and I. In 2008, South Pacific brought home a phenomenal seven Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Director (Bartlett Sher), Best Actor, and all four design categories: costume, set, sound, and lighting. Therefore, The King and I is sure to be a delightful and magical production, reuniting a team who know each other well. There won’t be too much “Getting to Know You” necessary at the first rehearsal.

“Disgraced” Concludes Its Run

Last Performance March 1st at the Lyceum

disgraced posterWhen Disgraced began performances on Broadway on September 27, 2014, the production did not announce its closing date. After it opened on October 23, 2014, critics received it with warm praise. It was a New York Times Critics Pick, and Christopher Isherwood began his review with “Bon appetit!” However, despite these laudatory remarks, it never was a sell out at the box office. In January, it was announced that the last performance would be March 1, 2015. The play, written by Ayad Akhtar, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Obie Award and the Joseph Jefferson Award. The play had its New York premiere at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theatre, through their LCT3 program to support new writing. Prior to that, it premiered in Chicago at American Theatre Company directed by Kimberley Senior, who has steered the production all the way to Broadway, thereby making her Broadway directorial debut.

A Mixed Cast of Originals and TV Starsdisgraced

The cast stars Gretchen Mol (the smoldering Madame of a brothel on Boardwalk Empire) in the role of Emily, an artist specializing in Middle Eastern imagery. She is married to a successful Pakistani-American lawyer, played by Hari Dhillon, a British actor, who made his Broadway debut in this role. Josh Radnor (from the TV show How I Met Your Mother) plays Isaac, the Whitney curator who is supporting Emily’s work. Karen Pittman plays his wife Jory; she made her Broadway non-understudy debut in this role, after having premiered the part at LCT3. Jory and Isaac are a mixed race couple who come over to dine with the protagonists, and the dinner conversation gets personal, dealing with concepts of race and identity. The fifth and final cast member is also making his Broadway debut: Danny Ashok plays Abe, Amir’s nephew. Unlike the very Western justice-based viewpoint of Amir, Abe is a bit more radical. He urges his uncle to help defend an imam who is under accusation of supporting Hamas.

Mediocre Box Office Performance

Despite accolades, praise, and acknowledgment that this was a truly great play and production, it still struggled to become a financial success. At the height of its weekly grosses, Disgraced brought in $512,646, which represents 65.92% of its gross potential. With a top ticket price of $198.00, the average paid admission was never over $85.87. And yet, in its highest earning week, the average paid admission was $78.87, so clearly discounting paid off to some degree for this production. At the Lyceum Theatre, Disgraced had a weekly gross potential of about $778,000. A straight play without Hollywood A-list stars or a recognizable film or brand name, Disgraced just couldn’t compete with all the other attractive fare on Broadway. The big blockbuster musicals or hot star on the marquee would surely beat out in mass the diehard locals and intellectuals who visit Broadway in order to see a Pulitzer Prize winning play on topics of interest regarding racial, religious, and national dynamics. And for those who haven’t read the literary press, that title isn’t very encouraging. Still, though this play may not have made profits, it did make history.

“Act One” Opens on Broadway

The Vivian Beaumont Theatre is the 1,105 seat Broadway house run by Lincoln Center, which also operates two smaller houses in their beautiful West 65th Street complex.  This revolving stage is presently occupied by the set of Act One, a play written and directed by James Lapine, based off the memoir of the same name by Moss Hart.  As the set by Beowulf Boritt revolves, the audience is able to glimpse the past, present, and future scenes of Hart’s life at once, which sets the tone for the multi-generational time-hopping play.  Though many critics gave positive reviews to this story catering to the theatrical die-hards, other reviewers found it lacking drama, despite being a recounting of the ultimate drama success story.

Without fail, critics praised the performances of the two main actors.  Santino Fontana, who has increasingly come into the Broadway consciousness of late due to his star turns as the Prince in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella as well as the lead in the Off-Broadway play Sons of the Prophet, plays Moss Hart as a young man.  Tony Shalhoub, well-known to the public through the television show Monk,and a Lincoln Center favorite recently seen in Golden Boy, has multiple parts to play: Moss Hart as an older man, his father Barnett, and also his great collaborator, George S. Kaufman.  Throughout most of the first act, Shalhoub juggles the first two of these roles, generally serving as narrator when playing Hart as an older man, while Fontana simultaneously serves as a second narrator.  Finally at the end of Act I, Shalhoub re-enters, this time as Kaufman, who joins forces with Hart to create some of the great musical collaborations of Broadway history, such as You Can’t Take it With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and the play Merrily We Roll Along, which later served as the source for the musical of the same name whose score was written by Stephen Sondheim.

James Lapine knows a thing or two about collaboration himself, as he is best known for his musical theatre collaborations with Behind the Curtain of Act One! Chart Theater Legend Moss Hart’s Extraordinary Journey to Broadwaythe Stephen Sondheim.  Their work together includes Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, and Passion.  It therefore must have been very close to Lapine’s heart to tell this rags-to-riches story of a young theatre artist looking for his big break, only to find a collaborator in a more experienced individual.  For the most part, Lapine manages to adapt Hart’s memoir with a significant degree of wit and a great deal of humor.  However, it is extremely difficult to adapt an entire book into a play of manageable length, and this play does trail on the long side.  Whereas the first act was critiqued as being a bit cliché, for which any story of a struggling artist could have filled in, the second act suffers from the lack of dramatic tension and over-exposition.

The play also features excellent supporting performances by Matthew Saldivar (Peter and the Starcatcher), Will Brill (Tribes), and Will LeBow as both Jed Harris and Augustus Pitou.  Despite fabulous work from the cast, however, the production is overblown and the storytelling at times flavorless.  Though it makes perfect sense that this biography of a modern theatre icon would find its home on the Vivian Beaumont stage, the theatrical adaptation of this theatre master’s life story does not quite match up to his legacy.

James Lapine’s ‘Act One’ Begins Previews

Last night, a new play began previews at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center’s Broadway house.  Written and directed by James Lapine, Act One is a stage adaptation of the 1954 memoir of the same name by Broadway playwright, director, and lyricist Moss Hart.

act one

James Lapine brings to this project his own vast experience as a director and librettist, having won three Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical (Into the Woods, Falsettos, Passion), as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Sunday in the Park with George).  Lapine is a frequent collaborator with the renowned composer Stephen Sondheim, having written the libretto for many of his scores and having served as director for many of his productions.

Act One tells the story of Moss Hart’s life, from his early years in the Bronx to his ascent to Broadway royalty, detailing his collaborations with the theatre multi-hyphenate George S. Kaufman.  When the memoir was published in 1954, it remained on The New York Times Bestseller List for 41 weeks, and the celebrated theatre journalist Frank Rich has called it “the greatest showbiz book ever written.”  In this new stage adaptation, Tony Shalhoub (Golden Boy, Lend Me a Tenor) plays both Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman in their later years, and Santino Fontana (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Sunday in the Park with George) plays Hart as a younger man.  The cast is rounded out by Andrea Martin, Chuck Cooper, Matthew Saldivar, Bob Stillman, Amy Warren, Bill Army, Will Brill, Laurel Casillo, Steven Kaplan, Will LeBow, Mimi Lieber, Charlotte Maier, Deborah Offner, and Matthew Schechter.

Several individuals in the cast and creative team are frequent faces at Lincoln Center.  James Lapine returns to LCT after having written the book for the musical A New Brain, with music composed by William Finn, which played in 1998 at LCT’s Off-Broadway house, the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre.  Furthermore, LCT produced a revival of Lapine’s play Twelve Dreams, which he also directed, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre in 1995.  Tony Shalhoub returns to LCT after his acclaimed performance last year as Mr. Bonaparte in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy.  Though this is Santino Fontana’s first time performing at Lincoln Center, he is a quickly rising Broadway star, having been nominated for a Tony Award for his originating starring role as Prince Topher in the still-running Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

For Lincoln Center to premiere a new play at their Broadway house, they must have confidence that it is of superb quality.  Their website coverage is certainly enthusiastic, detailing how wildly popular the memoir has been for the last half century, and explaining how Moss Hart’s tale is the classic New York story – not only because he ended up making it big, but also because he truly struggled in his early years.  After the play officially opens on April 17, 2014, it will be discernible whether James Lapine’s production succeeds in matching up to the stupendous career of the man it profiles.

Broadway Favorites To Honor Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand

The Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced that it will be honoring stage, film, and recording legend Barbra Streisand at the 40th Annual Chaplin Award Gala on April 22, and some of Broadway’s brightest will be on hand to pay their respects through performance. Liza Minnelli and Kristin Chenoweth will be among the Broadway favorites offering up their musical talents during the ceremony.

The tribute to Barbra Streisand, which will culminate in the famed artist being presented with the Chaplin Award by President Bill Clinton, will also include performances from luminaries like Tony Bennett and Wynton Marsalis. Many film stars will be in attendance at the gala, such as Kris Kristofferson, Pierce Brosnan, Richard Dreyfuss, Amy Irving, and Blythe Danner.

“The Board is very excited to have Barbra Streisand as the next recipient of The Chaplin Award,” stated The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s board chairman Ann Tenenbaum. “She is an artist whose long career of incomparable achievements is most powerfully expressed by the fact that her acclaimed Yentl was such a milestone film.”