PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 15-21: Neil Patrick Harris to Play Hedwig, Comedy of Errors Opens and Frank Langella to Play Lear
By Robert Simonson
That Neil Patrick Harris loves Broadway and the theatre is made readily apparently by the effusive sincerity of his praised turns hosting the annual Tony Awards ceremony. That passion, however, has not translated into an actual stage performance in nearly a decade. His last appearance on Broadway was in the 2004 revival of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins.
That dry spell will end this spring when Harris stars in the Broadway premiere of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's landmark 1998 rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The production will be directed by Michael Mayer.
Mayer is good choice for the job, as he was the director of Spring Awakening and American Idiot, two Broadway musicals that arguably owe a great deal artistically to Hedwig.
Hedwig, which ran over two years at the Jane Street Theatre beginning in February 1998, tells its story through fictional rock concert of a band fronted by a transgender singer. The musical won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, and both John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask won Obies.
Harris has experience playing sexually ambiguous figures, having stepped into the role of the Master of Ceremonies in the 1998 revival of Cabaret. The remaining creative team members, additional casting and the theatre will be announced at a later date.
The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park summer got underway this week as The Comedy of Errors opened. The first production of the early Shakespeare comedy at the Delacorte Theatre in nearly 30 years, it stars Hamish Linklater and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, two actors who have recently become Central Park regulars.
The production is directed by Daniel Sullivan, who, in a twist, cast Linklater and Ferguson as both sets of long-lost twins in the play. Typically, theatres have cast the parts with two pairs of actors who bear some resemblance to one another.
The New York Times called it "brisk and buoyant," adding, "Mr. Sullivan and his top-to-bottom terrific cast have brought enriching measures of warmth and style to this oft-undervalued play." The Hollywood Reporter applauded Sullivan for turning the simple, often-tiresome comedy into "an ideal summer night’s entertainment."
Maggie Gyllenhaal was announced as the star of the American premiere of Penelope Skinner's The Village Bike, which will be part of MCC Theater's 2013-14 season. The play, about a restless pregnant woman, received its premiere at London's Royal Court in 2011 to critical acclaim. Sam Gold will direct.
Also part of the MCC season will be the return of Robert Askins' irreverent puppet comedy Hand to God, which bowed at Ensemble Studio Theatre last year to high praise. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel will again helm the production that features original star Steven Boyer as a devout young man whose sock puppet takes on a shocking, foul-mouthed personality.
Not yet open at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, the world premiere of The Jungle Book is already a popular hit. Originally scheduled to play through Aug. 4, performances have been extended to Aug. 11. The production will then transfer to Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, running Sept. 7-Oct. 6.
Based on Rudyard Kipling's 1893 collection of stories set in the Indian jungle and Walt Disney's 1967 animated film, the musical is directed by Mary Zimmerman. Aside from ten-year-old Akash Chopra, who playes Mowgli, a "man cub" lost in the jungle, most of the cast will — Lion King-like — all play animals, including a panther, a wolf, a bear, a snake, an orangutan and a tiger.
The Jungle Book is produced by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, which is providing financial support, creative consultation and access to song material never before heard onstage. Richard M. Sherman is collaborating on this production, providing music director Doug Peck with access and permission to adapt songs that Sherman and his late brother, Robert, wrote for the film and unused songs written for the film, plus new lyrics written for this production.
Three-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella will ascend an acting Everest this fall when he stars in the Chichester Festival Theatre production of King Lear. American audiences will get to see how high he climbs when the production comes to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in early 2014.
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