PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 24-30: Miss Firecracker Is Heading to Broadway; Dead Accounts Opens

By Robert Simonson
November 30, 2012

A surprise addition to the Broadway season arrived this week.



The play was a surprise. It's Beth Henley's 1980 comedy The Miss Firecracker Contest, which nobody has given much thought to since it was made into a 1989 film featuring its original star, Holly Hunter. Henley hasn't been on Broadway in 30 years; she's hasn't been Off-Broadway much either, for that matter.

The revival's director, Judith Ivey, was less of a surprise. Though still known mainly as an actress (witness her fine work in the current The Heiress), she has accrued some director cred of late. But this will be her Broadway directorial debut.

A bigger surprise is the star, Amber Tamblyn. The daughter of movie-musical semi-legend Russ Tamblyn, this will also be her Broadway debut. She is perhaps best known as the star of the television series "Joan of Arcadia," about a teenage girl who gets visited by God a lot.

The Broadway staging will be produced by HOP Theatricals and lead producer Larry Kaye, who is also the producer of the upcoming Broadway play The Velocity of Autumn, another production that came out of nowhere.

***

Opening on Broadway this week were Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes in Theresa Rebeck's new black comedy Dead Accounts, about an Ohio family whose prodigal son (Butz) returns flush with money and secrets. Jack O'Brien directed.

Despite lacking leading man good looks, or a gainly name, Butz has arguably turned into the leading stage actor of the day, excelling both in plays and musicals. To my knowledge, critics have never not loved his work—at least not in the last several years. Such, again, was the case here. Butz "pulls out all the stops in the play's leading role," wrote the L.A. Times. "He delivers a performance of frenetic gusto as Jack."

Norbert Leo Butz
photo by Joan Marcus

About the play itself, they were less impressed. "Thin" was the word used again and again. Backstage called it a "lazy and predictable comedy…that wouldn’t even pass muster as a Lifetime movie." Hollywood Reporter intoned, "The play suffers from the same shortcomings that often cramp the theater work of Rebeck...Dead Accounts is all surface polish and minimal depth. It has lively dialogue, well-drawn characters and a smattering of smart observations about contemporary life. But it never acquires thematic coherence." The Post quipped, "While the producers were busy signing up Katie Holmes and Norbert Leo Butz, playwright Theresa Rebeck forgot to write a show."

After those reviews, the casting of Holmes may be the only thing that will keep this account open.

***

To scattered interest and not a little confusion, it was announced that a planned stage musical based on the life and music of late singer Amy Winehouse, which was to debut in Copenhagen early next year, had been canceled.

The new musical, called Amy and set to premiere Jan. 30, 2013, at the Danish Royal Theatre, was scuttled after rights to utilize Winehouse's music were pulled by a Danish copywright agency. Hard to do a Winehouse musical without any Winehouse music.

Winehouse died 18 months ago. The singer's family was not involved in the production.

Holland Taylor in Ann.
Photo by Digitalegacy

Holland Taylor, a fine actress who has been a bright spot in many a bad play (Moose Murders) and bad television shows ("Two and a Half Men"), is going to get some well-deserved star treatment. Taylor is the star of Ann, a biographical play about late Texas Governor Ann Richards. It will begin Broadway previews Feb. 18, 2013, prior to the previously announced opening date of March 7 at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Bob Boyett and Harriet Newman Leve will produce the play in association with Lincoln Center Theater. Benjamin Endsley Klein directs. Taylor herself wrote the play.

Ann previously played successful runs at Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House in the summer of 2010, San Antonio's Empire Theatre in fall 2010, Austin's Paramount Theatre in spring 2011, Chicago's Bank of America Theatre in fall 2011, and Washington, DC's Kennedy Center in winter of 2011-12.

Ann Richards, who died in 2006, was Texas' second female governor, serving from 1991 to 1995. She was beaten out of a second term by some guy named Bush. Or, as Richards herself said, "some jerk" named Bush.

***

Arye Gross and Isabella Acres in Coney Island Christmas.
photo by Michael Lamont

Coney Island Christmas, billed as a "Jewish Christmas show," by Donald Margulies, opened Nov. 28 following previews from Nov. 20 at Geffen Playhouse. The play tells of a young Jewish girl who, much to her immigrant parents' exasperation, is cast as Jesus in the school's Christmas pageant. The resident theatre hopes it will become an annual seasonal production.

So, will it? Variety thinks so, saying, "It turns out to be a present no one will want to take back. As with many gifts, the wrapping isn't much to speak of, in this case a weak framing narrative taken from a Grace Paley short story. But what's inside - not one but two kid pageants superbly staged by Bart DeLorenzo, and a pan-denominational message - is a jewel to be cherished."

***

Has playwright Sarah Ruhl written a The Barretts of Wimpole Street for the 21st century?

This week, Ruhl's Dear Elizabeth, a play in letters from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell, debuted at the Yale Repertory Theatre.

Bishop and Lowell were both Massachusetts-born poets. They became friends in 1947 and stayed friends until Lowell died in 1977. Bishop died two years later.

Jefferson Mays and Mary Beth Fisher co-star in the world premiere.

***

Finally, one climbs the Chrysler Building. One climbs the Empire State. They both want the climb inside the Foxwoods.

The New York Times reported that the producers of the Australian-bound King Kong are eyeing the Foxwoods Theatre, which currently houses the high-flying musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, as an ideal venue for the large-scale production. The producers of Spider-Man say they ain't budging, however. A 2014 New York bow for King Kong is being discussed.

Spidey vs. King Kong. Sounds like a good story. Maybe they could share the theatre?