The Playbill Vault Celebrates Tony Award Winner Frank Langella
By Megan Dekic
Three-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella is currently starring in the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Shakespeare's King Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Playbill Vault looks back at memorable roles from his five decades on Broadway.
After appearing on Broadway in Yerma and A Cry of Players, Langella starred in the original production of Edward Albee's Seascape. This Pulitzer Prize-winning play deals with the communication between two couples — one, an American couple contemplating retirement; the other, a pair of human-sized lizards growing tired of the sea. The four-member cast comprised Langella, Maureen Anderman, Barry Nelson and Deborah Kerr.
Directed by Albee himself, the production opened Jan. 26, 1975, at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 65 performances. Langella received his first Tony Award for his role as the talking lizard Leslie.
Two years later, Langella took on the title role in a Broadway revival of Dracula. Based on the classic novel by Bram Stoker, the production also starred Jerome Dempsey as Abraham Van Helsing. It opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on Oct. 20, 1977.
Richard Eder of the New York Times called the production "elegant" and "visually stunning." Of Langella's performance, he wrote: "He is a beautiful and sensual Dracula...but he notably lacks terror." The production received the 1978 Tony for Most Innovative Production of a Revival, and Langella was nominated for Best Actor in a Play. He went on reprise his role in the 1979 film version with Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing.
In 1987, Langella portrayed the famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes in Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case, opposite Donal Donnelly as Doctor Watson. The production opened its 124-performance run at the Nederlander Theatre on Aug. 20, 1987.
The New York Times' Frank Rich had nothing positive to say about the production, which he called another "botched attempt to retool Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction for contemporary audiences," but he did note that "the evening's one tenuous hold on life is Frank Langella, whose sonorous voice and graying matinee-idol flamboyance make him an ideal candidate to play Holmes."
In 2002, Langella appeared in the first Broadway mounting of Ivan Turgenev's 1848 play Fortune's Fool, about a down-on-his-luck Russian aristocrat who clashes with his wealthy neighbor. Directed by Arthur Penn, the production starred Alan Bates and also featured Enid Graham and Benedick Bates (Alan's son).
In his review for the New York Times, Ben Brantley praised the leading actors' performances and said it was "a thrill to watch how Mr. Bates and Mr. Langella translate writerly finesse into actorly language." Langella won his second Tony Award for his role as Flegont Alexandrovitch Tropatchov.
On April 22, 2007, Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon, a dramatization of the events surounding David Frost's 1977 television interviews with Richard Nixon, opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Langella starred as former President Nixon opposite Michael Sheen as journalist and television host Frost.
The production was directed by Michael Grandage, who at the time was the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, where Frost/Nixon had its world premiere. Critics responded favorably; the New York Times' Ben Brantley commended Langella's "truly titanic performance" and described his portrayal of Nixon as "one of those made-for-the-stage studies in controlled excess in which larger-than-life seems truer-to-life than merely life-size ever could."
Langella earned his third Tony Award for his performance in Frost/Nixon. In 2008, he and Sheen reprised their roles for a film adaptation directed by Ron Howard.
Langella was last seen on Broadway in a Tony-nominated turn in Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy. Click here to read more about his theatrical history in the Vault.
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