Broadway Box Office Warms To $33M; ‘Burn This’, ‘Hillary And Clinton’ Arrive

Read on: Deadline.

Another slate of high-profile Broadway arrivals hit the street last week, with much anticipated productions like Burn This, Hillary and Clinton, What the Constitution Means to Me and Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus adding both money to the till and …

‘Kiss Me, Kate’ Broadway Review: Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase Are So in Love

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Cole Porter has suddenly grown a heart as big as Rodgers & Hammerstein. It’s just a guess, but musicals like “Oklahoma!” and “The King and I” receive more revivals than ones by Porter because they’re musical romances. Porter, on the other hand, wrote musical comedies, not that he didn’t know how to write a terrific love song. Take “So in Love” from “Kiss Me, Kate,” which opened Monday at Roundabout’s Studio 54. It comes early in the show, and as sung by Kelli O’Hara in this revival, it makes the next two and a half hours glow with the wistful longing and sweet desperation of a diva in love.

Despite her Tony Award and long career on Broadway, the word “diva” has never quite fit O’Hara. Indeed, she’s an odd choice to be playing a movie star who’s returning to the theater to play opposite her former husband in a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The only word less appropriate than “diva” for O’Hara would be “shrew.”

Her masterful rendition of “So in Love” is so heartfelt that we may overlook her rather genteel take on the Bard, but maybe not. O’Hara plays the movie star Lilli Vanessi for real, turning her into a cool Veronica Lake complete with long, sometimes peekaboo, blond hair. There’s nothing send-up or buffoonish about this performance; in fact, she sometimes conveys the impression that her Lilli is slumming a bit in this less than first-rate production of a musical “Shrew” that’s opening in Baltimore. (David Rockwell’s sets are appropriately seedy looking.).

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What O’Hara is is in love. When Lilli’s ex-husband Fred Graham (Will Chase) sends a bouquet to his current paramour, the chorus girl Lois Lane (Stephanie Styles), and the flowers end up in the star’s dressing room by mistake, O’Hara’s meltdown when she learns the truth is a heartrending reversal of her singing “So in Love.” By the way, O’Hara is in great voice throughout and has never sounded more thrilling.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and Chase presents a red-hot lover on the rebound. He eschews playing the impresario-actor Fred Graham as a big ham. He’s actually an excellent Petruchio in the musical-within-a-musical scenes, and his pursuit of Lilli backstage is tinged with just enough recklessness to make it real. It’s a little odd to hear this character’s music, originally written for a bass-baritone, to be sung by a lighter voice. Chase’s best notes are up there in tenor territory, but at least they’re good notes.

Scott Ellis can be credited with keeping his two leads playing from the same slightly jaded Valentine’s Day poem. He wisely keeps the more manic comedy to the show’s secondary couple, Lois Lane and her boyfriend, Bill Calhoun. Playing that chronic cuckold, “High School Musical” and “Dancing With the Stars” alum Corbin Bleu leads a spectacularly danced “Too Darn Hot,” with choreographer Warren Carlyle in top form.

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Slightly more droll are the twin vaudevillians John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams as two gun-toting gangsters. The shtick is expertly handled and marred only by the  inclusion of a 21st-century joke about gun control.

The other misfire is the handling of “From This Moment On,” delivered by Lilli’s fiance, Gen. Harrison Howell (Terence Archie), in a way meant to show the character’s dictatorial approach to love. (The 1999 Broadway revival of “Kate” turned Harrison into a general, and that revision of Sam and Bella Spewack’s 1948 book stands here.) Archie’s under-pitch singing brings a certain levity to the number, but sometimes his horseplay with O’Hara borders on physical abuse.

In that 1999 revival, Marin Mazzie gave the audience a big wink at show’s end to assuage any sexist taint. O’Hara’s wry retreat with Chase is much more sophisticated.

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‘Kiss Me, Kate’ Broadway Review: Will Chase, Kelli O’Hara Stay True To Cole Porter’s Fashion – In Their Way

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Like last season’s Lincoln Center production of My Fair Lady, the Roundabout Theatre Company’s current Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Scott Ellis and opening tonight at Studio 54, had its share of finessing to do, bringing a…

Amy Schumer to Star in Film Version of Tony-Winning Play ‘The Humans’ for A24

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Amy Schumer is set to star in “The Humans” at A24, an adaptation of a Tony-winning play from Stephen Karam, an individual with knowledge of the project tells TheWrap.

Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, Richard Jenkins and Jane Houdyshell, who is reprising her role from her Tony-winning Broadway run, are starring in the film adaptation. A24 is developing it with IAC and Scott Rudin and Eli Bush producing for Scott Rudin Productions.

Karam is also writing and directing the film adaptation of his Broadway show.

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“The Humans” is set at Thanksgiving and follows the Blake family in their run-down Manhattan apartment as they argue and deal with aging family members, illnesses, economic woes and frustrations over religion.

“The Humans” was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2016, and it won the Tony Award for Best Play along with three other Tonys, including Best Featured Actor Reed Birney and Featured Actress Houdyshell. The play premiered in Chicago in 2014, went to Off-Broadway in 2015, and then transferred to Broadway in 2016.

Schumer most recently starred in “I Feel Pretty” and is repped by WME and Maverick Management.

The news of the film adaptation was first reported by Deadline.

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Hugh Jackman to Star as Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man’ Broadway Revival

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Hugh Jackman will return to Broadway to star in the 2020 revival of “The Music Man,” producer Scott Rudin said on Wednesday. Jackman will play the beloved and coveted role of Professor Harold Hill in the latest version of the Meredith Wilson classic.

This “Music Man” will be directed by Jerry Zaks with choreography from Warren Carlyle. Performances are slated to begin on Sept. 9, 2020, with the official open set for Oct. 22, 2020. We’re not sure yet which theater the new “Music Man” will inhabit, but it’ll be a Shubert.

Jackman, who has played Wolverine in the “X-Men” films and starred in the 2012 big screen adaptation of “Les Miserables,” won a Tony Award for 2003 play “The Boy From Oz.” He was also the centerpiece of 2017 musical movie “The Greatest Showman,” portraying P.T. Barnum.

Additional casting, including the role of “Marian,” will be announced later, producers said.

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“The first musical I was ever a part of was the phenomenal ‘The Music Man,’” Jackman said on Wednesday. “The year was 1983, and I was at Knox Grammar School in Sydney, Australia. I was one of the traveling salesmen, and I think I can actually (almost) remember that unforgettable opening number! That was probably the moment when the magic of theater was born in me.”

“The idea of bringing ‘The Music Man’ back to Broadway has been lurking in the back of my brain for a long time, maybe even for 35 years, and when Scott Rudin called me with that very idea, I was floored,” he continued. “To finally be doing this is a huge thrill.”

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“There is just no way to accurately describe the level of excitement I feel about the opportunity to present Hugh in what I think is the best role ever written for an actor in all of Broadway musical theater,” Rudin said. “Although I have spent a lot of time and energy wishing there was a way to stop the passage of time, this is the one moment when I wish it would just move faster. I can’t wait for us to begin working on this together in earnest.”

“The Music Man” debuted on Broadway on Dec. 19, 1957. It went on to win five Tony Awards, including the prize for Best Musical, and ran for 1,375 performances.

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‘The Mother’ Theater Review: An Empty Nest Imprisons Isabelle Huppert

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

In Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” which played on Broadway three years ago, an older man suffers from dementia. In Zeller’s “The Mother,” which opened Monday at the Atlantic Theater Company, a middle-aged woman suffers from a debilitating depression.

Is Zeller advising us all not to have children? In “The Mother,” the kids clearly return no favors to mom or dad upon leaving the nest. The adult daughter never appears and the son (Justice Smith) crashes one night in his parents’ house after a fight with his girlfriend (Odessa Young), only to take off the following day when she appears with promises of wild sex. How can any mom compete with that?

In the two Zeller plays, the title characters’ state of mind is painfully jumbled and the playwright leaves us guessing as to what has really just taken place or been said, and scenes are sometimes repeated but altered in the ways our memory reshapes events in the past. Curiously, Zeller does include in each play one scene where the title character is off stage and the other characters deliver important information about the respective parent’s mental state.

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Those scenes help to ground our perspective — until then, we may be floundering as to what’s real or not — but they also rob us of what otherwise is most riveting about “The Father” and “The Mother.” For 90 minutes or so, we experience what it is to have our mind completely unravel. It’s not unlike the vicarious thrill you get watching a 1970s disaster movie: How do somebody live through an earthquake or a tsunami? The difference is, Zeller takes us on a journey far more frightening because it’s far more common and no one survives.

Isabelle Huppert is the mother, and she brings her signature icy hauteur to the role. In the beginning, it’s a delight to watch Huppert be a total bitch to her husband (Chris Noth) well before we know she’s suffering severe depression — as if the many discarded bottles of orange plastic pill bottles littered under the mile-long white sofa aren’t a major clue (set design by Mark Wendland).

She says things a wife may think but isn’t supposed to say out loud — like wishing him dead. Even more outrageous, she says things about her children a mother may think but isn’t supposed to say — like how much she prefers her son to her daughter. Those whoppers are only the tip of her compelling acidity, which recedes rapidly as soon as she gets her eager hands on that long-absent son, an obvious lover substitute. There’s no longer any semblance of affection between wife and husband, who is forever running late and off to yet another seminar in Buffalo, of all places. The son is another matter, and Huppert’s weaponizing of a dangerously short red dress (costumes by Anita Yavich) to steal her son’s attention away from his girlfriend is both hilarious and pathetic.

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Huppert spends more time looking at and talking to us than anybody on stage. She even waves away the cigarette smoke so that we’ll get a better look at her face. It’s a showy performance, but it allows the actress to cut through her own steeliness, grab us by the hand and explore together a mother’s madness.

Noth, Smith and Young are uniformly blunt in their approach, and that lack of nuance only helps to distance them even further from Huppert. Trip Cullman’s direction makes the contradictory performance styles work. He also puts on a real spectacle. In addition to Huppert’s manic depression, there’s lots of razzle-dazzle in Ben Stanton’s lighting, Fitz Patton’s sound and original compositions and Lucy Mackinnon’s projections. We hear as well as see the brain synapses as they ignite and set off sparks before completely burning out.

The English translation, from the French, is by Christopher Hampton.

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‘If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhf–a’ Theater Review: That Title Is a Problem

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Tori Sampson takes a West African fable and turns it into an all-American cartoon geared for the afterschool-special crowd. Too bad that few adolescents will be attending a play titled “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhf–a,” which opened Sunday at Playwrights Horizons. Urban Dictionary and Wiktionary give no synonyms for “muhf–a,” except the word’s unprintable definition. For clarity’s sake, let’s substitute “real bummer” or “bringdown,” which gives a much better idea of Sampson’s gentle cautionary tale. Those theatergoers expecting something edgy or provocative from “Muhf–a” will be disappointed.

Since Broadway and the major non-profits aren’t producing Neil LaBute this season, it’s appropriate that someone has taken up the body-image problem. In the village of Affreakah-Amirrorikah, a teenager named Akim (Nike Uche Kadri) is the undisputed beauty, which turns her into the natural rival of the stout Kaya (Phumzile Sitole), the overly petite Adama (Mirirai Sithole), and the callipygous Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), who loses her boyfriend, Kasim (Leland Fowler), to the aforementioned prettiest girl in town. Somehow, Akim’s being slightly taller than Kasim is not a “muhf–a,” making this place very different from any middle school in America — excuse me, Amirrorikah.

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The most fascinating aspect of “Muhf–a” is how Sampson misleads us into thinking the play is about one character, the pretty one, when it’s really about one of the other young women. That singular pleasure, however, can’t be savored until the evening is almost over.

Until then, you have to deal with confusing plot twists that turn Akim’s father (Jason Bowen) into the villain because he overprotects his daughter so she won’t end up with guys like Kasim.

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Leah C. Gardiner has directed the cast to scream their lines; louder is inherently funnier until it’s downright painful. The exception is Mirirai Sithole, who turns Adama’s every appearance into a charming, delightful respite from the noise around her, which includes Louisa Thompson’s set and Matt Frey’s lighting. The two designers have re-created a 1970’s discotheque on stage, and it’s presided over by a rhinestone-bedecked Chorus, if one person (Rotimi Agbabiaka) can be called a chorus, who narrates the play. The poster and program for “Muhf–a” depicts a young woman wearing bejeweled sunglasses, but it is the Chorus who wears them in the play.

Dede Ayite’s costumes are kind of African — excuse me, Affreakahn — except for the Chorus, who is made up to look like a Joel Grey with bling from “Cabaret.” Maybe the Chorus should extend his duties of giving plot points (almost every plot point) to tell the young women how he manages to be so fabulous, beautiful, and happy with himself.

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Universal Pictures Makes Key Changes to Production Development Team

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Universal Pictures announced on Friday that it has upped veteran studio executive Erik Baiers to senior executive vice president of production development.

The promotion, announced by Universal president Peter Cramer, is part of a number of key moves in the studio’s production development group made on Friday.

In addition to Baiers, Jay Polidoro and Sara Scott were promoted to senior vice presidents of production development and Lexi Barta was promoted to director of development. Baiers, Polidoro, Scott and Barta will all report to Cramer at the top.

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“These promotions reflect Erik, Sara, Jay, and Lexi’s invaluable contributions to Universal Pictures over many collective years of experience,” Cramer said in a statement. “They have been key members of a strong creative group that consistently helps deliver a wide range of quality, successful films for global audiences, and we are thrilled to continue building the studio’s exciting future with them.”

With his promotion to senior executive vice president, Baiers will expand his responsibilities in the production group to include an active role in strategic slate planning. Baiers joined the company in 2005 and most recently served as executive vice president of production development, working closely to develop titles with Judd Apatow and Working Title producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, among other high-profile filmmakers.

Baiers was instrumental in a wide range of hit films in recent years, including “Bridesmaids,” “Trainwreck,” “Neighbors,” “Sisters” and “Les Misérables.” He is currently overseeing production on highly anticipated 2019 releases including “Little,” “The Hunt,” “Yesterday” and the big screen adaptation of the musical “Cats.”  Prior to Universal, Baiers was an executive at MGM.

Polidoro and Scott joined Universal in 2010 as creative executives, and have steadily risen through the studio’s ranks.

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Polidoro was instrumental in projects such as the billion-dollar “Fast & Furious” franchise, overseeing production on the last four titles including the highly anticipated spin-off starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” which is set to hit theaters August 2. Polidoro is currently overseeing development on the next “Fast & Furious” film.

Scott has shepherded some of the studio’s most successful films and franchises, including the breakout comedy “Girls Trip,” and films in the “Pitch Perfect,” “The Purge” and “Jurassic World” franchises. Prior to joining Universal, Scott was an executive at Harpo Films.

Barta has been with the studio since 2014, having previously worked at CAA for four years. At Universal she has worked on projects including “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” and “Skyscraper.”

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In January, newly appointed sole Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley promoted a number of key executives and brought another back to the studio to serve in upper management — Cramer being one.

Langley tapped Peter Levinsohn to continue to serve as Universal’s president and chief distribution officer, Jimmy Horowitz to serve in an expanded role as president and vice chairman of Universal Pictures, Abhijay Prakash as president, UFEG, and Cramer as president of Universal Pictures, responsible for the creative strategy of Universal Pictures’ live-action film slate.

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‘Fleabag’ Theater Review: Phoebe Waller-Bridge Creates a Millennial Update on Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

There’s a relatively short list of stage plays that have been successfully adapted into TV series: Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” of course, as well as Christine Houston’s “227,” Tracy Letts’ “Superior Donuts” (canceled last year by CBS) and most of Tyler Perry’s cable comedies. But that distinguished list now includes Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s 2013 one-woman dramedy “Fleabag,” which the creator and star is giving a sensational and spirited revival at Off Broadway’s Soho Playhouse following a sold-out run in London.

The stage version suggests a cunning prototype for the brilliant 2016 BBC TV series — whose six half-hour episodes offer a delicious one-night binge on Amazon Prime, by the way — while still standing on its own as a standalone showcase for Waller-Bridge.

The 33-year-old British actress and writer has emerged as a millennial avatar for a certain kind of dry-witted, straight-talking, sex-positive antiheroine. (She’s also the creator of the hit series “Killing Eve,” which provides another surfeit of satisfyingly complex, mold-breaking female roles.)

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But the character Fleabag is a singular creation, an updated version of Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw who is both sharper-edged to the point of being abrasive as well as oddly more relatable. She’s the owner of a failed guinea-pig-themed cafe (and yes, there’s a story there) who is mourning the loss of her best friend and business partner, smarting at her sister’s more settled married life and generally stumbling through the ups-and-downs of twentysomething relationships.

She’s the sort of woman who shows up drunk at her father’s home in the wee hours of the night and declares, “I have a horrible feeling I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, mannish-looking, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” (Dad, meanwhile, who married her godmother after the death of his first wife, is the sort who responds: “Well, you get all that from your mother.”)

What centers Waller-Bridge’s show is not only her razor-sharp wit, and her gift for narrative and comedic surprise, but also her performance. She sprinkles her monologue with the voices of other characters, delivered both by her and in offstage recordings, and she maintains a presence on stage that is rivetingly authentic in its bundle of contradictions — gawky and sexy, insecure and poised, old-fashioned (in its harkening-back to classic screwball comedies) and utterly modern.

Vicky Jones, a frequent collaborator, directs with well-timed precision.

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Waller-Bridge has a special gift for the pregnant pause, as when she prepares to deliver a sarcastic greeting to her sister.

“I can’t resist,” she confides — and then we watch as she reconsiders, more than once, whether she can (once again) be so cruel to her flesh-and-blood. (Spoiler alert: She can.)

For fans of the TV series, it’s fun to see how certain characters — like Olivia Colman’s hilariously solipsistic godmother-turned-stepmother — exist only in the periphery in the stage version, which runs just over an hour. Others, like her on-again-off-again boyfriend Harry, have been altered in ways both subtle and significant. Both versions work. Brilliantly.

And both work in part because Waller-Bridge never tries to over-explain her character’s complexity. We never learn her real name, or even the origin story behind that title nickname. Instead, we meet a vaguely unlikable woman who so desperately wants to be liked that she would embrace a seriously unflattering moniker, even treat it as a perverse badge of honor.

In that respect, “Fleabag” is a role model for insecure singeltons everywhere.

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‘The Cake’ Theater Review: ‘That ’70s Show’ Mom Debra Jo Rupp Plays a Lovable Bigot

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Debra Jo Rupp, best known as the mom for all eight seasons of “That ’70s Show,” is a bizarre cross between Barbara Harris and Mitzi Gaynor. Add a Southern accent to that intriguing amalgam and you have her lovable bigot named Della in Bekah Brunstetter’s new play, “The Cake,” which opened Tuesday at MTC’s City Center Stage 1.

Rupp makes Della very much worth watching in her opening monologue as she tells us how to bake a cake. She’s a baker and her cake shop is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Della is funny, homespun and thoroughly committed to the art of turning us all into diabetics. When Della’s talking butter and sugar, “The Cake” tastes just right. When Della segues to the Bible, the play is very underbaked.

A note-taking reporter named Macy (Marinda Anderson) sits in Della’s bakery. Why a journalist would find Della of interest is never revealed, but that doesn’t stop Macy from asking about that colorful Noah’s ark cake in the bakery’s display case. Della quickly apologizes. She would have added dinosaurs to the boat’s menagerie if the little plastic critters hadn’t sold out at the local Hobby Lobby or some such excuse.

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Yes, this sweet-tooth baker is a white Christian literalist and homophobe who finds herself suddenly too busy to bake a cake for Macy’s impending wedding to her fiancée, Jen (Genevieve Angelson), who is an old friend of Della’s family.

Let the tired Old Testament debates begin! Macy, of course, is having none of it and she wants to know: If marriage is only to procreate, why is the childless Della still married to her plumber husband, Tim (Dan Daily)?

Much more intriguing is why a smart lesbian of color like Macy would marry, much less ever date, a simpering Southern white magnolia like Jen, who is a repressed lesbian hellbent on spending $30,000 on a wedding that must take place in her hometown despite the fact she’s hesitant even to introduce her black girlfriend to Della?

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How repressed is Jen? Her description of heterosexual sex turns out to be even more chilling than the Devil’s rape of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby.” To its credit, Jen’s screed does take up, albeit inadvertently, the pressing issue of heterophobia.

Speaking of straights, the play also addresses the state of Della and Tim’s marriage. In addition to being childless, it’s also sexless. Apparently, all this lesbian talk with Macy and Jen pushes Della to get creative in bed with her own mate. The following remark may come off as ageist, but as a senior citizen myself, I don’t want to see actors of a certain age — almost any age, for that matter, unless they workout 24/7 — slather frosting or mashed potatoes on their body and request that someone else lick it off.

Lynne Meadow directs this odd sermon of a play.

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