“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

sam gold director

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.

‘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.