PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 19-25: Julie Taymor's Next Project; Brits on Broadway; Aladdin Will Rise
By Robert Simonson
Playing in repertory. Classic plays given regular top-tier productions. Film stars taking on challenging stage parts without making a big to-do about it. It's all very English, and Broadway will get a taste of it this autumn.
Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart will return to Broadway in fall 2013 in a limited engagement of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Directed by Sean Mathias, the productions will be performed in rep.
As McKellen said, "British actors are used to playing in repertory, whether for the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company. We enjoy the challenge of variety, and audiences, myself included, enjoy watching a group of actors in contrasting roles. We hope, at least once a week, to give Broadway audiences the chance of seeing Beckett and Pinter on adjacent nights, perhaps even on the same day."
Waiting for Godot played a critically acclaimed, sold-out run in London's West End in 2009. Prior to Broadway, No Man's Land will play an out-of-town engagement this summer.
Both plays are essentially two-man shows, with key visitations from two other characters. In the Pinter — about the querulous, mysterious meeting of two writers — Stewart will play Hirst and McKellen will be Spooner. In the Beckett, Stewart is Vladimir and McKellen Estragon.
In another bit of Anglo-American theatre news, Kevin Spacey, the Yankee movie star who has been artistic director of London's Old Vic since 2003, revealed his plans to step down from the venue in 2015. Before he does so, he is seeking to put in place a 20 million pound endowment fund before that to secure the building's future.
Spacey's appointment as the venerable old theatre's new head was received with considerable publicity — not all of it positive — when announced a decade ago. It seemed odd to many that an American be put in charge of so English an institution. He promised at the outset to appear in a couple productions every season. His track record as producer in the first few seasons was checkered, with as many successes as failures. A particular debacle came when he lured film director Robert Altman back to the theatre to direct movie stars Neve Campbell and Matthew Modine in Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues. But he fared better with productions of A Moon for the Misbegotten and Richard II
In another changing of the guard at a major British theatre institution, new Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Gregory Doran announced his first season.
As part of it, David Tennant will return to the RSC to play the title role in Richard II in October 2013. Richard II will also see the RSC returning to its previous London home of the Barbican Theatre when it transfers there in December.
Richard II will begin a new cycle of Shakespeare History plays that Doran will direct over the coming seasons. The collaboration between Doran and Tennant follows their 2008 teaming on Hamlet.
With the new success of Newsies, Disney Theatrical seems to have a new spring in its step — and renewed ambitions.
Disney's stage adaptation of the 1992 animated film Aladdin will play a pre-Broadway engagement at Toronto's Mirvish Theatre this fall prior to a Broadway bow at the New Amsterdam Theatre in 2014.
The stage production, which expands the 90-minute film into a two-act format, has music by Alan Menken, lyrics from the film by the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, as well as new book and lyrics by Chad Beguelin
An earlier pilot version of Aladdin premiered at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in the summer of 2011. Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw, who directed and choreographed that staging, will return for the upcoming Broadway-bound production. No casting of the story's various flying-carpet-riders and animal sidekicks has been announced.
Mary Poppins, the current tenant at the New Amsterdam, will take its umbrella and go on March 3.
Jujamcyn Theaters president Jordan Roth, already the youngest power broker on Broadway, now has more power to broker with.
Roth, 37, is now majority shareholder in the private company. Former co-owner Rocco Landesman — who spent the last four years manning the NEA in Washington — has sold most of his stake in the company to Roth, but will retain a small interest in Jujamcyn. Landesman is now president emeritus. Roth's stake since 2009 has been 50 percent of the company, sharing it with Landesman.
Roth has climbed the ladder of success several rungs at a time. He started with Jujamcyn in 2005 as resident producer. He became vice president in 2006. In 2009, he became president.
Nina Raine's hit family drama Tribes, about a young deaf man who must face leaving his own dysfunctional clan in order to secure his own future, ended its extended Off-Broadway run Jan. 20 at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Off-Broadway runs end all the time. And Off-Broadway critical hits are far from uncommon. But Tribes is notable for also being a financial hit. It recouped its entire investment. The production, which played 19 previews and 391 regular performances, grossed over $2.5 million by the time it closed. It will resurface in Los Angeles.
It's good to know that Julie Taymor can still get work.
Taymor, whose last stage credit was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, will return to the New York stage to direct a new fall 2013 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which will be the inaugural production in Theatre for a New Audience's new permanent home in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District.
Taymor's longtime collaborator Elliot Goldenthal will compose original music for the show. Performances at TFANA will begin Oct. 19. Opening night is Nov. 2.
Taymor and TFANA has a history. In 1986, the company's artistic director Jeffrey Horowitz invited Taymor to stage The Tempest. It was the first play by Shakespeare she directed. Goldenthal composed the original music. Taymor and Goldenthal later directed and composed productions of The Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus and in 1996, Carlo Gozzi's The Green Bird.
This will be Taymor's first Off-Broadway production since The Green Bird. It will also be her first play in decades not to have the name of an animal in the title.
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