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NEW YORK – Veterans Tom Hanks and Bette Midler drew legions of adoring fans, Scarlett Johansson and Orlando Bloom got stranded in botched productions, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz explored the dark side of marriage, Emilia Clarke faded in the shadow of Audrey Hepburn, and Alec Baldwin couldn’t escape the pall of Shia LaBeouf. But Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart showed that X-Men’s archenemies could also make beautiful bedfellows.
Those were some of the high and low points marking the annual intersection between Broadway and Hollywood. But stardom in movies or television doesn’t automatically translate to being a major draw onstage, and as always, some theater moonlighters fared better than others.
The excited mob outside the Broadhurst Theatre stage door on any given night this spring looked like the middle-aged equivalent of a swarm of Beliebers. Fans jostled for a handshake or an autograph from Hanks after each performance of the late Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy, with some even chasing the actor’s SUV down West 44th Street. His Tony-nominated performance as scrappy New York news columnist Mike McAlary evoked the 1980s tabloid wars with infectious nostalgia and lifted Hanks into an elite pantheon of movie stars – alongside Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman and Julia Roberts – who have spun box-office gold on Broadway.
One fellow club member is Craig, last seen on a New York stage opposite Jackman in the sellout cop drama A Steady Rain. Taking a break from 007 duty, Craig teamed with his offstage wife Weisz to trace (in reverse chronology) the complicated devolution of an adulterous romantic triangle in Mike Nichols’ scorching revival of the Harold Pinter drama Betrayal. Also starring Rafe Spall in a knockout Broadway debut, the combination drew mixed reactions from critics, but that didn’t keep audiences away from the fall’s hottest ticket.
Right star, wrong production
In her first Broadway outing, in the 2010 revival of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, Johansson proved she had ample stage presence, winning a featured actress Tony. While her magnetic qualities remained in evidence, she was seen to lesser advantage the second time around, stepping up to the lead role of Maggie in another mid-century American nugget. Despite the cast’s best efforts, Rob Ashford’s over-emphatic staging of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof drowned the musicality of Tennessee Williams’ language and dimmed the vitality of his desperate characters.
Bloom chose one of the most challenging roles in the classical canon for a young male lead, making his first foray into Broadway in Romeo and Juliet. From his entrance astride a vintage motorcycle, the Lord of the Rings actor acquitted himself respectably. But the chemistry was off with Condola Rashad as the other half of Shakespeare’s star-crossed love match, in a modern-dress production from David Leveaux that lacked both heat and tragic grandeur.
Zachary Quinto segued from Star Trek Into Darkness to a superlative Broadway debut in another Tennessee Williams classic, The Glass Menagerie. Hurt and angry, broken and yet determined, Quinto’s portrayal of Tom Wingfield erased the lines separating the playwright from his most autobiographical creation. He etched in achingly real human emotion the character’s corrosive ties with Cherry Jones’ magnificent, maddening Amanda in John Tiffany’s revelatory production.
The untidy exit of LaBeouf early in rehearsals for the spring revival of Orphans — and the actor’s prickly exchanges with co-star Baldwin and director Daniel Sullivan — made the actual play seem almost anticlimactic by the time it opened. Critics were sharply divided on an approach that favored savage comedy over the more brooding tones of the original Steppenwolf production of Lyle Kessler’s Pinter-esque 1985 play, and despite dynamic work from Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge, the production closed ahead of schedule.
Playwright Richard Greenberg’s stage treatment and director Sean Mathias’ production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s were such a blundering mess that it’s hard to say whether Clarke, better known as the dragon-taming Dothraki queen on Game of Thrones, has any stage chops to speak of. But the evidence of her charm-deprived Holly Golightly was unpersuasive.
Mary-Louise Parker’s theater credits have demonstrated her ability many times over. But in her post-Weeds return to Broadway she made one mystifying choice after another, emotionally distancing the audience from the early 20th century widow at the center of Sharr White’s leaden Chekhov homage, The Snow Geese.
Who would have expected a musty 1946 Terrence Rattigan drawing-room drama, The Winslow Boy, to be one of the year’s most affecting pleasures? But Lindsay Posner’s exquisitely calibrated revival delivered the goods, with theater veteran Roger Rees flanked by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Alessandro Nivola, both of whom reminded us they’d been absent from Broadway for far too long.
Pretty but unmemorable
The intoxicating lure of romance, danger and escape from stifling small-town inertia was a touch too muted in Sam Gold’s revival of the 1953 William Inge melodrama, Picnic. As the lovebirds at the center of the Labor Day turmoil, Maggie Grace and Sebastian Stan both supplied ample eye candy; she was the picture of the peaches-and-cream blonde goddess while his oiled muscle tone and period-inappropriate abs lent credibility to his character’s cocky swagger. But somehow they were never as interesting as the melancholy figures on the sidelines, notably those played by Ellen Burstyn and Mare Winningham.
Side by side
Sci-fi, fantasy and action franchises from X-Men to Star Trek to Tolkien have been kind to McKellen and Stewart. So the knighted Brits this year gave back to their classical theater roots, reaffirming their skill for probing text and character, along with their offstage friendship, in a superbly acted double bill of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Pinter’s No Man’s Land. The repertory pairing also allowed director Mathias to redeem himself for Breakfast at Tiffany’s earlier in the year.
OK, so Ethan Hawke is a more natural fit for Hamlet than for Macbeth. But the shortcomings – and they went far beyond the leading man – of director Jack O’Brien’s facile creepy-crawly take on the Scottish play were amplified by opening just a week after Mark Rylance and company gave a nonpareil master class. They made Shakespeare joyously accessible with neither empty gimmickry nor audience condescension in the Globe Theatre’s brilliant Elizabethan stagings of Twelfth Night and Richard III.
A royal return
Cicely Tyson returned to Broadway at age 88 after a three-decade absence, picking up a lead actress Tony for one of the most beloved female roles in 20th century American theater. As the homesick matriarch Carrie Watts in Horton Foote’s 1953 play The Trip to Bountiful, Tyson hit every note with grace and clarity, be it humorous or sorrowful, elegiac or proud. She had solid support in Michael Wilson’s race-reversed comfort-food revival from Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr. But feeling the collective audience response when Tyson struck up a spiritual at a lonely bus stop left no doubt about who owned the show.
One of a kind
It takes personality, as well as stellar material, to fill a stage singlehandedly at Broadway prices. Barely moving from the plush salmon sofa of a Beverly Hills home circa 1981, Midler wielded those requirements in abundance in John Logan’s affectionate ode to Sue Mengers, I’ll Eat You Last. Her incarnation of the superagent and New Hollywood society maven just as her rule was nearing its end was both hilarious and poignant. The sellout New York run was followed later in the year by a rapturously received stop in the production’s natural home: Los Angeles.
Billy Crystal’s solo show, 700 Sundays, a paean to growing up in Eisenhower-era America and a warm tribute to the comic’s parents, had its first smash Broadway exposure in 2004. The theatrical memoir has since been seen in extensive tour dates and adapted into best-selling book form. Yet there was no sign of audience fatigue in the box-office bonanza of Crystal’s nine-week return engagement.
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