Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily that is e-mailed to subscribers every morning (to subscribe, send message to ShentonStageMailingList@gmail.com), and is also available online here.
This week the newsletter continues to come to you from New York, where I’m on my first trip back in over two years.
COALS TO NEWCASTLE: THE WEST END BRINGS TONY KUSHNER, BOB DYLAN AND SONDHEIM BACK TO BROADWAY
Caroline, or Change — Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s 2003 musical (first seen at the downtown Public Theatre, before transferring to Broadway in 2004) — has returned to Broadway in a coals-to-Newcastle transfer of a production that originated at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, before transferring to London’s Hampstead Theatre and then the Playhouse, with its original Chichester lead Sharon D Clarke reprising her alternately completely contained and then completely furious performance as the domestic servant of part of the title.
Neither the production nor its thrilling star feel anything less than 100% authentically American, despite originating in the UK; Clarke is also joined by a stunning local company that include the extraordinary Caissie Levy (last seen as Anna in the original company of Frozen here, above right) as her employer Ruth Gellman and Broadway veteran Chip Zien as Ruth’s father.
It is part of a slate of West End originated shows, that also include Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country that harnesses the Bob Dylan songbook to accompany a story of small-town American life, and director Marianne Elliott’s reconceived and updated production of Company, Sondheim and Furth’s 1970 musical of being single (and now female) in Manhattan, to grace Broadway this season without showing any strain as they cross the ocean to make a homecoming here. (Company resumes performances at the Jacobs Theatre tonight, after having its original run last year interrupted by COVID during previews; it will now open officially on December 9).
Also already having made the ocean crossing again this year (after COVID interruptions last year) are the successful transfers of the British musical revue Six about much-married Tudor monarch Henry VIII, and Sam Mendes’s National Theatre production of The Lehman Trilogy about the American siblings who founded the investment bank that bore their name and whose calamitous 2008 collapse led to the financial crisis that year, fuelled by failure of the the sub-prime mortgage market that it was over-exposed in. The latter production’s original National Theatre stars Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley are now newly joined by Adrian Lester (to replace Ben Miles, who had to leave to star in his own stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light for the RSC in the West End).
So British-originated shows, productions and actors are a major part of Broadway’s return. These were all, of course, planned in what now seems like another age.
BLACK LIVES MATTER — AND BLACK PLAYWRIGHTS ARE VISIBLE ON BROADWAY AT LAST
Apart from COVID, the biggest social movement to have ignited since Broadway’s closure last March was of course Black Lives Matter, and Broadway has already responded by offering a platform to a previously unheard-of number of plays by black writers. These include Jeremy O.Harris, whose Slave Play — nominated for a record 12 Tony’s earlier this year from its pre-pandemic run — is set to return for a run from November 23 at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre (the only Broadway theatre named after a black artist), where Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over also played a short season in September and October.
Slave Play was from Broadway’s last full season; this season there are at least seven more plays by black writers that have already opened or are planned for Broadway this season. But this being the commercial market place, they are subject to the same pressures — now amplified and complicated by COVID — of whether there’s an audience for them all; already one of them, actor-turned-writer David Lyons’ Chicken & Biscuits, was last week forced to cancel a number of performances when some of its cast tested positive for COVID, and it subsequently announced that it would shutter early on November 28, instead of seeing out its planned run to January 2 at Circle in the Square. Citing “the significant financial impact of the show cancellations,” the producers said in a statement, “We make this decision with a very heavy heart, as this production has brought so much joy into our lives during a very challenging time.”
Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s autobiographically inspired Lakawanna Blues (pictured above) ended its limited run at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel Friedman Theatre on the Friday just gone. But Santiago-Hudson will also be directing Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew at the same address from December 21, prior to an official opening on January 12, that was previously premiered at off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theatre in 2016.
Keenan Scott III’s Thoughts of a Colored Man is now running at the Golden Theatre. About to open is Alice Childress’s Trouble In Mind, which I saw a press preview of yesterday at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, ahead of its official opening this coming Thursday (November 18); it is also about to be produced at London’s National Theatre. I am also this week seeing a press preview of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s at Second Stages’s Hayes Theatre on Wednesday, ahead of its official opening on November 22.
As Nottage recently told the New York Times, “I still grapple with why Broadway matters, and why we are so deeply invested in presenting our work in these commercial realms that traditionally have rejected our stories. But it’s a really big platform. On Broadway, you’re speaking to the world.”
But as Morriseau — who also wrote the book to the recently returned Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud about the Temptations — also said in the same New York Times piece, “We have these seven plays coming when we don’t even have audiences yet, so this can’t be a measuring stick for how to move forward — this has to be the first step on a journey. You don’t get to one-and-done us. None of us wants to be set up like bait, or test dummies, for coming back from Covid.”
DIFFERENT KINDS OF WORK
But if one of the effects of coming back from Covid has been to make Broadway a more inclusive and expansive place for everybody, it has also enabled different kinds of work to be showcased here and in new formats, like the incredibly bold transfer of two shows, previously seen at the Vineyard off-Broadway, to the Lyceum that are currently running in rep there, that respectively run just over an hour each.
Dana H and Is This A Room are both verbatim plays. In the first, the astonishing Deirdre O’Connell lip-synchs (pictured right), with amazing precision, to a tape in which Dana Higginbotham recounts her real-life experience of an appalling odyssey of kidnap in which she was held captive for five months by a man she’d befriended in her work as a chaplain. In the second, Emily Davis (pictured left) plays a woman called Reality Winner — yes, really — an Air Force intelligence specialist who was imprisoned after being charged with leaking proof of Russian interference into the 2016 US presidential election; the script is constructed entirely from the redacted transcripts of the interview tapes that the FBI recorded with her that day.
These are hardly the usual sorts of stories to be told on Broadway; let alone the ways they are being told. It’s thrilling that they’ve been given house room on Broadway — and although both have had their planned runs cut short, their closing performances which were to have taken effect this last weekend saw both extended to run to the weekend of November 28, following an upsurge in bookings.
These are challenging times on Broadway — but challenging times have been met by challenging work, as it should be. Now is not the time to play safe anymore.
BABY IS RE-BIRTHED OFF BROADWAY
While Broadway is embracing Off-Broadway shows on an unprecedented scale right now, my favourite show of my trip so far has been a trip to an off-Broadway loft space on West 36th Street (near the new Hudson Yards development) that seats just 60 people to see a rare revival of Maltby and Shire’s 1983 Broadway show BABY. that opened officially las tnight
Following the travails of three couples trying to have a baby, Ethan Paulini’s production for Out of the Box Theatricals (where he is associate artistic director) gives it a bold make-over, with authorial approval (Maltby was there the night I was there) that includes one couple now being lesbian and another (pictured below in rehearsal) played by a legally blind woman (Elizabeth Flemming) and a partly deaf man (Johnny Link).
This casting is as thrilling and revolutionary as we saw on Broadway a couple of seasons ago with the reinvention of Oklahoma! at Circle in the Square, whose casting included Ali Stroker as a a wheelchair-bound Ado Annie. Her real-life disability was simply integrated into the action, effortlessly and without comment; ditto here, the actors’ challenges are just part of who they are, uncommented on, as they shouldn’t be since they are no impediment to their charming and completely effortless performances.
And yet here I am drawing attention to them; only because it proves how utterly UNREMARKABLE it should be. So a show all about the utterly normal human impulse to have babies — and the difficulties that sometimes come in its way — embraces yet more of those experiences in this tenderly beautiful production.
OPENINGS IN LONDON THIS WEEK
- Monday November 15
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Charing Cross Theatre) November 5-January 8, 2022, press night November 15. Christopher Durang’s Broadway comedy — originally due to have received its London premiere here in March 2020, but cancelled after rehearsals had already begun owing to COVID, finally arrives, with Janie Dee. MIchael Maloney and Rebecca Lacey amongs the cast of Walter Bobbie’s production. Press contact: Kevin Wilson. https://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/
- Tuesday November 16
Rare Earth Metal (Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, November 10-December 18, press night November 16) Al Smith, whose plays include Harrogate that was seen at the Royal Court, returns with what is described as a epic new play exploring risk, delusion and power. Press contact: Anoushka Warden at the Royal Court. https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/rareearthmettle/
Also opening Tuesday November 16:
Straight White Men (Southwark Playhouse, November 10-December 4, 2021, press night November 16) Korean American playwright Young Jean Lee’s play, seen on Broadway in 2018, comes to Southwark for a four-week run, in a production featuring Charlie Condou and Simon Rouse Press contact: Anna Arthur. https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show-whats-on/straight-white-men/
- Wednesday November 17:
The Wife of Willeden (Kiln Theatre, November 11-December 24, press night November 17) Novelist Zadie Smith’s debut play based on Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath finally premieres, with Clare Perkins in the title role. Press contact: Kate Morley. https://kilntheatre.com/whats-on/the-wife-of-willesden/
ONGOING PREVIEWS THIS WEEK
- Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Piccadilly Theatre) Previews from November 12, press night December 8. The hit 2019 Broadway version of the iconic 2001 Baz Luhrmann film transfers to the West End, with Liisi LaFontaine as Satine, Jamie Bogyo as Christian, and Clive Carter as Harold Zidler. Press contact: David Bloom at Storyhouse PR. https://www.moulinrougemusical.co.uk/
- A Christmas Carol (Old Vic, November 13-January 8, 2022, press night November 24). Matthew Warchus’s now perennial stage version of Dickens returns once again, with Stephen Mangan starring this year as Scrooge. Press contacts: Hannah Stockton, Kitty Greenleaf, Jo Allan at Jo Allan PR.https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2021/watch-at-the-theatre/a-christmas-carol-5
NEW PREVIEWS THIS WEEK
- Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre, from November 15) Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley star in Rebecca Frecknell’s new production of Kander and Ebb’s 1960s musical, set in 1930s Berlin, in an entirely reconfigured Playhouse Theatre, transformed into an in-the-round auditorium with re-imagined spaces. Press contacts: Simon Raw/ Emily Webb/ Stacey Pedder at Raw PR. https://kitkat.club/
- Life of Pi (Wyndham’s Theatre). November 15-February 27, 2021, press night December 2. Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage version of Yann Martel’s epic story of endurance and hope, first seen at Sheffield’s Crucible in 2019 in a production directed by Max Webster, transfers to the West End, after being delayed by COVID-19. https://www.lifeofpionstage.com
- Manor (National’s Lyttelton Theatre) November 16-January 1, press night November 23. Moria Buffini’s new play stars Nancy Carroll as the owner of a rundown manor house. Press contact: Katie Marsh at National Theatre. https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/manor
- The Comedy of Errors (Barbican Theatre) November 16-December 31, press night November 23. The RSC’s new production, seen outdoors at Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer, transfers indoors. Press contact: Kate Evans at The RSC. https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/event/royal-shakespeare-company-the-comedy-of-errors
- Four Quartets (Harold Pinter Theatre) Ralph Fiennes transfers to the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre for 36 performances only from November 18 to December 18 2021, in his own solo production of TS Eliot’s poem. Press contact: Lewis Jenkins at Storyhouse PR. firstname.lastname@example.org. https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/four-quartets/harold-pinter-theatre/
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS