This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

TICKET ALERT: BROADWAY WEEK WINTER 2015

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is one of nearly two dozen Great White Way shows offering two-for-one tickets during Broadway Week

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is one of nearly two dozen Great White Way shows offering two-for-one tickets during Broadway Week

January 20 - February 5, buy one ticket, get one free
Tickets go on sale Friday, January 9, 10:30 am
www.nycgo.com/broadwayweek

Tickets go on sale January 9 at 10:30 am for the winter edition of Broadway Week, which runs January 20 to February 5 and offers theater lovers a chance to get two-for-one tickets in advance to see new and long-running shows on the Great White Way. Twenty-two shows are participating, including most of the hottest shows from the current season: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, It’s Only a Play, Disgraced, You Can’t Take It with You, Honeymoon in Vegas, A Delicate Balance, On the Town, and The River. Also on the bill is such recent fare as Cabaret, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Kinky Boots, If/Then, the rebooted Les Misérables, Matilda the Musical, and The Lion King in addition to such longtime mainstays as Wicked, Jersey Boys, Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera, and Mamma Mia! As usual, you can look all you want, but the two-for-one list does not include The Book of Mormon, unfortunately.

IT’S ONLY A PLAY

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Producer Julia Budder (Megan Mullally) and Hollywood star James Wicker (Nathan Lane) are positively giddy at opening-night party for THE GOLDEN EGG (photo by Joan Marcus)

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 29, $72-$147
www.itsonlyaplay.com

Terrence McNally’s latest Broadway show might be titled It’s Only a Play, but oh, what a play it is. In 2012’s Golden Age, the four-time Tony winner (Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!) took us behind the scenes of the world premiere of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, and in 2013’s And Away We Go he took us backstage at six different shows in six different time periods. And now, in the Broadway debut of this uproarious comic farce, the inside-joke-laden It’s Only a Play, McNally invites everyone to the opening-night party of The Golden Egg. The festivities take place in the bright and airy bedroom of first-time producer Julia Budder’s (Megan Mullally) luxurious Manhattan townhouse. Designer Scott Pask (The Book of Mormon, The Coast of Utopia) has put the door to the bedroom at the top center of the stage, allowing each character to make a grand entrance — and exit. A who’s who of the New York scene is at “the party of the year for the play of the season,” all ripe for skewering, which McNally and three-time Tony-winning director Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, Henry IV) handle with outrageous grace, leaving no one unscathed, including the audience itself. As the play opens, former Broadway actor and current television star James Wicker (Nathan Lane) enters the bedroom seeking privacy as he calls California to find out the status of his series, Out on a Limb. He encounters Gus P. Head (Micah Stock), a wannabe “actor-slash-singer-slash-dancer-slash-comedian-slash-performance artist-slash-mime” who is taking care of the coats for the evening, which are being collected on Julia’s bed. The endless stream of rapid-fire jokes rat-a-tat right from the start. “What did you think?” Gus asks James about the play. “Wonderful, just wonderful,” James responds, not really meaning it. Gus: “Too bad you’re not a critic.” James: “Tonight everyone’s a critic. You haven’t seen the play?” Gus: “I’m temporary help. This is a one-night stand.” James: “Tonight is a one-night stand for a lot of people.” They are soon joined by aging doyenne Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing), the drug-addled star of The Golden Egg; Sir Frank Finger (Rupert Grint), its avant-garde director who is tiring of being called a genius; Julia, who is eagerly waiting for the good reviews to roll in so she can add big-time quotes to the marquee; smarmy theater critic Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham), who has his own agenda; and anxious playwright Peter Austin (Matthew Broderick), who believes in the continuing legacy of the theater. “We have a lot to live up to tonight,” he says ever so earnestly. “It depends on us to remind this city that there is more to Broadway than guest appearances or special effects and revivals or another play from London or another Disney movie made live. We are an original American play. We must make that count for something.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Cast, crew, and friends anxiously await the opening-night reviews for new Broadway show, THE GOLDEN EGG (photo by Joan Marcus)

McNally, O’Brien, and the outstanding cast make that count for a lot in It’s Only a Play, a tongue-in-cheek, and out-of-cheek, riotous evening of theater about theater. The play has been seen in various off-Broadway productions since its 1982 Manhattan Theatre Club premiere, with all-star lineups that have included Christine Baranski, Dana Ivey, Joanna Gleason, and Eileen Brennan as Julia, James Coco and Charles Nelson Reilly as James, David Hyde Pierce and Paul Guilfoyle as Sir Frank, Paul Benedict as Ira, and Željko Ivanek and Mark Blum as Peter. McNally continues to tailor the dialogue to fit his brilliant actors, such as this stinger from the end of James’s early soliloquy: “What’s the word for a mercy killing? Euthanasia? They do it for people, why not plays? But what do I know? What do any of us old gypsies know? I liked The Addams Family.” Lane, of course, played Gomez in that show, a musical adaptation of the television hit, so McNally will likely change that line when Martin Short replaces Lane beginning January 7. (In addition, Katie Finneran will take over the role of Julia, and Maulik Pancholy will play Sir Frank.) It’s a blast to see Lane and Broderick together again, having last lit up the Great White Way as a duo as Bialystock and Bloom, respectively, back in 2001 in The Producers. (As an added bonus, even Lane’s Harvey Fierstein references relate to Broderick too, as Broderick appeared as Fierstein’s adopted son in Torch Song Trilogy.) Abraham (Teibele and Her Demon, A Life in the Theatre) is deliciously droll as the none-too-beloved critic, Mullally (Grease, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) is charming as the ditzy, wide-eyed producer, Channing (Grease, Other Desert Cities) is a joy as the bitter former star, Grint (Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is a barrel of energy as the crazed director, Broderick (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, Brighton Beach Memoirs) is dryly effective as the serious playwright, up-and-comer Stock (The Capables, McNally’s And Away We Go) is appropriately quirky as the newbie on the scene, and Lane (The Nance, The Iceman Cometh at BAM next month) is, well, Lane as the Broadway actor who sold out to make it in Hollywood. “We need new faces in the theater. New voices, new visions,” Ira says. It’s Only a Play, which is rife with sensational double-takes at all the inside references and hysterical self-needling by its actors (it even pokes fun at The Elephant Man, which is at the Booth next door), might not exactly be filled with new faces and new voices, but its vision is more than welcome in its spectacular Broadway debut.

THE ELEPHANT MAN

(photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Bradley Cooper contorts himself into character as Dr. Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola) explains the physical deformations of the real John Merrick (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Booth Theatre
222 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Through February 22, $79 - $169
www.elephantmanbroadway.com
www.shubert.nyc

The first time we see Bradley Cooper in director Scott Ellis’s strong revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 Tony-winning hit, The Elephant Man, he is whole, perfectly formed, standing on the left side of the stage, wearing only a pair of shorts, a specimen on display for the audience. (There might be no applause at his initial appearance, but there is an audible gasp from appreciators of a fine male physique.) At stage right, Dr. Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola) is explaining the deformations that Cooper’s character, John Merrick, suffers from, pointing at enlarged photographs of the real Merrick, a nineteenth-century British resident of London. As Treves mentions each body part, Cooper contorts his shape, curling a hand, tightening a foot, twisting his mouth. Without makeup, he has turned himself into the sideshow spectacle known as the Elephant Man, and the transformation becomes complete when he speaks, grunts that soon flow into more eloquent language emerging from his misshapen mouth. In David Lynch’s 1980 film, an Oscar-nominated John Hurt played Merrick in full, disturbing makeup, but in the play Cooper — like such previous Merrick stage portrayers as the Tony-nominated Philip Anglim in the 1979 original, David Bowie as one of his replacements, and the Tony-nominated Billy Crudup in the 2002 Broadway revival — turns Merrick into a grotesque yet elegant and graceful character, a man whose inner beauty shines through as he goes from circus freak to a respected human being. But even as Merrick is accepted by high society, the medical community, and royalty, he still can’t escape being an attraction, eliciting a strange combination of revulsion and attraction, as Ellis (You Can’t Take It with You, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) cleverly uses the most basic theatricality to investigate what is revealed and what is hidden, changing scenes merely with curtains pulled across the stage by various minor characters.

(photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Dr. Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola) and Mrs. Kendal (Patricia Clarkson) befriend John Merrick (Bradley Cooper) in powerful Broadway revival (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Despite a few treacly moments of oversentimentality, Pomerance’s play is a profound exploration of what makes us all different — as well as what makes us very much the same. Two-time Oscar nominee Cooper (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) is extraordinary as Merrick (whose real first name was Joseph), a severely disfigured man who just wants to be “normal.” Nivola (The Winslow Boy, A Month in the Country) is outstanding as Treves, a doctor who sees Merrick as more than just a difficult case, becoming a kind of proud yet seriously overprotective parent. And Patricia Clarkson (The House of Blue Leaves, Eastern Standard) is lovely and charming as the lovely and charming Mrs. Kendal, a popular actress who is more than a little intrigued by Merrick, ready to reveal herself in unexpected ways. The excellent cast also includes two-time Tony nominee Anthony Heald (Anything Goes, Love! Valour! Compassion!) as Bishop Walsham How, who wants to make sure that Merrick receives the proper religious education; Henry Stram (Inherit the Wind, Titanic) as hospital head Carr Gomm, who realizes that taking care of Merrick can be good for business; and Tony nominee Kathryn Meisle (Tartuffe, Outside Mullingar) as both Princess Alexandra, who takes an interest in the oddity that is the Elephant Man, and Miss Sandwich, a caretaker who is horrified by Merrick. Timothy R. Mackabee’s set is suitably spare, consisting of just a table at one time, a bathtub at another, matching Cooper’s courageous soul- and body-baring performance. Once upon a time, people flocked to see the Elephant Man for all the wrong reasons; now they are flocking to see The Elephant Man for all the right ones.

SIDE SHOW

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) and Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik) try to convince conjoined twins Daisy (Emily Padgett) and Violet (Erin Davie) to leave their Texas freak show for vaudeville stardom in SIDE SHOW (photo by Joan Marcus)

St. James Theatre
246 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 4, $49 - $145
www.sideshowbroadway.com

Oscar-winning writer-director Bill Condon makes a rousing Broadway debut with Side Show, a wonderful revival of the Tony-nominated 1997 musical about real-life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. In Depression-era Texas, the daring, outgoing Daisy (Emily Padgett) and the shy, reserved Violet (Erin Davie) are the stars of a freak show run by a controlling ringmaster they call Sir (Robert Joy), who considers them his daughters while also overseeing the rest of his wild menagerie, which includes the 3 Legged Man (Brandon Bieber), the Geek (Matthew Patrick Davis), Venus di Milo (Lauren Elder), Dog Boy (Javier Ignacio), Reptile Man (Don Richard), the Half Man/ Half Woman (Kelvin Moon Loh), the Bearded Lady (Blair Ross), the Fortune Teller (Charity Angel Dawson), and the small Cossack Male (Josh Walker) and Cossack Woman (Jordanna James). When talent agent Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) sees the twins, who are joined at the hip, he instantly visualizes them becoming stars on the vaudeville circuit. He has his partner, Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik), teach them song-and-dance routines, but when they’re at last ready and willing to leave the side show, the dastardly Sir stands in their way, and a thrilling tabloid-tale court battle ensues, also involving Sir’s right-hand man, Jake (David St. Louis), who serves as the twins’ protector. After the court’s decision, Buddy is soon falling for Violet, who Jake also deeply admires, while Daisy sets her sights on Terry. The romantic pentagon comes to a climax at an extravagant New Year’s Eve celebration that has the talented twins wondering if they might just be better off living separately, risking all on a potentially deadly operation.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Jake (David St. Louis) tells Daisy (Emily Padgett) and Violet (Erin Davie) that the devil they know might be better than the devil they don’t in stirring revival (photo by Joan Marcus)

Padgett (Rock of Ages, Legally Blonde) and Davie (Grey Gardens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) are terrific as Daisy and Violet, respectively, beautifully displaying the characters’ emotional hopes and fears as a new world opens up to them that threatens their unique relationship. Joy (The Nerd, Hay Fever) is deliciously dastardly as Sir, while Silverman (Passion) and Hydzik (West Side Story) make a fine duo, the former full of smooth-talking charm, the latter sweet melancholy. St. Louis (Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar) brings down the house early on with a powerful rendition of “The Devil You Know” that shakes the rafters. Bill Russell’s lyrics and Henry Krieger’s (Dreamgirls, The Tap Dance Kid) music flow nearly imperceptibly from the exemplary book, which was written by Russell with new material by Condon, wisely never overdoing the idea that’s it’s okay to be different. The score, which contains additions and subtractions from the original production, features such moving numbers as “Cut Them Apart / I Will Never Leave You,” “Stuck with You / Leave Me Alone,” and the gorgeous “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” while such words as “connected,” “ties,” “bind,” “join,” “glue,” etc., become sly nods to the conjoined-twins aspect of the tale. David Rockwell’s eye-catching set has a sweet Gothic touch, while Paul Tazewell’s costumes, from the Hilton sisters’ gowns to the freaks’ general appearance, are simply fab. Condon and choreographer Anthony Van Laast do a marvelous job of keeping the twins together through most of the show, except for one breathtaking, memorable moment. If you want to find out more about the Hilton sisters after seeing the show, seek out Leslie Zemeckis’s 2012 documentary, Bound by Flesh, which includes plenty of archival photographs and film footage.

THE RIVER

The Man (Hugh Jackman) and the Woman (Cush Jumbo) discuss life over dinner in THE RIVER (photo © 2014 Richard Termine)

The Man (Hugh Jackman) and the Woman (Cush Jumbo) discuss life and love in THE RIVER (photo © 2014 Richard Termine)

Circle in the Square Theatre
1633 Broadway at 50th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 8, $35 - $175
www.theriveronbroadway.com

British playwright Jez Butterworth has followed up his brilliant, Tony-nominated Broadway hit, Jerusalem, with The River, a perplexing, comparatively slight tale in both length and scope. Hugh Jackman is superb as the Man, who has brought the Woman (Cush Jumbo) to his family’s fishing cabin on a cliff above a river stuffed to the gills with trout. On ULTZ’s rustic set that cuts through the audience, the Man and the Woman discuss fishing, poetry, sunsets, and interior design. She sings W. B. Yeats’s “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” and he removes a splinter from her using a rather large knife. She disappears during a nighttime fishing excursion and he desperately calls the police until she finally shows up, this time as the Other Woman (Laura Donnelly), both she and the Man acting as if nothing has changed, picking up the narrative as easily as a stream progresses down a mountain. Over the course of a lean eighty-five minutes (Jerusalem clocked in at three hours), the Woman and the Other Woman keep replacing each other as they individually explore the meaning of their relationship with the Man, who may or may not be a true romantic. But there is no doubt that, above all else, he is indeed a man, proud of his fishing heritage, swilling whiskey, and having fun with sharp objects.

The Man (Hugh Jackman) and the Other Woman (Laura Donnelly) discuss life and love in THE RIVER (photo © 2014 Richard Termine)

The Man (Hugh Jackman) and the Other Woman (Laura Donnelly) discuss life and love in THE RIVER (photo © 2014 Richard Termine)

Originally performed in London’s tiny Royal Court upstairs theater with Dominic West (The Wire, The Affair) as the Man, Miranda Raison as the Woman, and Donnelly as the Other Woman, The River is more like a Raymond Carver-esque short story filtered through the labyrinthine mind of Jorge Luis Borges than a fully realized theatrical production. That said, what there is of it is, for the most part, intimate and entertaining, until things get out of control in the last twenty minutes, resulting in too much obfuscation, confusion, and mystery in an attempt at philosophical grandeur. The Australian Jackman could barely be any more manly as the Man, waxing poetic over the art of fishing in long soliloquies while wearing thigh-high Wellingtons, a smartly nuanced performance worthy of his ever-growing stature. The English Jumbo (Josephine and I) and the Irish Donnelly, (Judgment Day; Philadelphia, Here I Come!) are fine foils for Jackman, going head-to-head and toe-to-toe with him as various truths come out — or remain hidden. Butterworth, who has also written such plays as The Winterling and The Night Heron and is an in-demand screenwriter as well (Edge of Tomorrow, Get On Up), has cast his line far into the water, but he doesn’t reel in quite the catch he could have. The night we went, there was an extra bonus, as after the play, Jackman auctioned off his shirts and a trip to the backstage bedroom for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, raising more than ten thousand dollars as he thoroughly enraptured the adoring crowd with his natural elegance and charming sense of humor.

THE REAL THING

(photo by Joan Marcus)

An all-star cast revive Tom Stoppard’s THE REAL THING on Broadway (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 4, $67-$142
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

In 1984, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing won the Tony for Best Play, with stars Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, and Christine Baranski taking home Antoinette Perry statues as well. In 2000, the story of love and infidelity was named Best Revival of a Play, with Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane also honored for their roles. Lightning is unlikely to strike thrice in the latest Broadway revival of The Real Thing, a strangely cold and dispassionate version running at the American Airlines Theatre. In their Great White Way debuts, Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal never catch fire together, while Josh Hamilton and Cynthia Nixon don’t warm up either in this play about playwrights and actors. Henry (McGregor) is a successful scribe married to hoity actress Charlotte (Nixon), but he has the hots for another actress, the more earthbound Annie (Gyllenhaal), married to Max (Hamilton), who is suspicious of his wife’s possible infidelity. The tale alternates between real life and scenes from Henry’s plays with overlapping story lines and self-referential banter that sometimes makes it hard to differentiate between the two. In between scenes, members of the cast happily sing pop tunes out of character, as if they’re gathered around a campfire sharing wine and roasting marshmallows. But then it’s right back to Stoppard’s innately clever, refreshingly adult dialogue, which unfortunately falls flat under Sam Gold’s rather standard direction on David Zinn’s icy set. Madeline Weinstein adds some life as Debbie, Henry and Charlotte’s daughter — a role originated on Broadway by Nixon, who at the time was also appearing in David Rabe’s Tony-nominated Hurlyburly, dashing between the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and the Plymouth — but no sparks ignite as Annie’s costar, Billy (Ronan Raftery), and daft playwright Brodie (Alex Breaux) enter the fray. A well-known soda company once had a jingle that proclaimed, “There ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby”; in the case of this Broadway revival, that’s unfortunately not quite true.

DISGRACED

DISGRACED

A dinner party goes seriously wrong in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning DISGRACED (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 15, $37.50 - $138
www.disgracedonbroadway.com

Ayad Akhtar’s searing Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced, which had its New York premiere in 2012 at Lincoln Center’s tiny 131-seat Claire Tow Theater, has made a terrifically successful transition to Broadway’s 950-seat Lyceum Theatre. Akhtar’s poignant and powerful drama about identity and racism feels right at home on the Great White Way, led by a strong cast, smart, energetic direction, and razor-sharp dialogue. Hari Dhillon stars as Amir Kapoor, a bold corporate lawyer who is hiding his Pakistani background to help him rise in his firm. His wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol), is a white painter using Islamic imagery in her work. Jewish curator Isaac (Josh Radnor) is considering including some of Emily’s canvases in an important upcoming show. Isaac is married to Jory (Karen Pittman), a black lawyer who works with Amir. Problems arise when Amir’s nephew, Pakistani-born Abe (Danny Ashok), who changed his name from Hussein in order to fit in better in America, asks his uncle to meet with his imam, who has been imprisoned for suspected ties to terrorism. At first, Amir resists becoming involved, but Emily helps convince him that it’s the right thing to do. Yet Amir’s attendance at a hearing for the imam is a serious mistake, setting in motion a cascade of events that culminates in a dinner party where all of the characters let loose on one another in a ricochet of revelations that surprises even themselves.

DISGRACED

Abe (Danny Ashok) and his uncle Amir (Hari Dhillon) discuss heritage and assimilation in searing Broadway drama (photo by Joan Marcus)

As Disgraced opens, Emily is painting a portrait of Amir inspired by Velázquez’s portrait of Juan de Pareja, his slave of Moorish descent, immediately setting up the ethnocentric boundaries the play investigates. Dhillon, who starred in the West End production (the role was originated in Chicago by Usman Ally and in New York by The Daily Show’s Asif Maandvi), plays Amir with a fire building in his belly, ready to explode at any minute. Mol is warm and appealing as Emily, who might not really understand her deep-down motivations, serving as a kind of onstage stand-in for the liberal Caucasians who tend to populate Broadway theaters. Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) and Pittman (the only returning member from the LCT3 cast) do a splendid job playing a couple representing social factions that do not always get along very well, Jews and blacks. (Think Crown Heights, for example.) And in the middle of it all is Ashok as Abe/Hussein, debating the ultimate value of assimilation and its cost. John Lee Beatty’s Upper East Side apartment set is elegant and welcoming, even as the story turns angry, and Senior (Akhtar’s The Who & the What, 4000 Miles) keeps it all moving smoothly through a fast-paced eighty-five intermissionless minutes. Disgraced is one of those plays that hits you in the gut, forcing you to look inside yourself at your own biases and predispositions, and it’s not necessarily a pretty picture. The Staten Island-born Akhtar is clearly a writer to watch; he has also written a novel (American Dervish) and acted in several films, including one that he cowrote and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay. His follow-up play, The Invisible Hand, begins previews November 19 at New York Theatre Workshop.