2009 Broadway

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The first revivals of the season came from two classic musicals which have enjoyed success all over the world. Guys and Dolls opened at the Nederlander Theatre on March 1 starring Oliver Platt, Lauren Graham and Craig Bierko in a new production by director Des McAnuff. Despite being one of the most popular musicals of the 20th century, this revival was described as being flat and uninspired, featuring a distinctly average cast. The critics hated the show, praising the material but finding numerous faults with the production. Producers allowed the show to try and find an audience, but on June 14 the plug was pulled on the show after only 113 performances. Over at the Palace Theatre the Arthur Laurents directed revival of West Side Story was met with more praise, thanks to the fresh lens the writer put on the show. Opening on March 19 after a preview period in Washington the show featured a bi-lingual libretto, incorporating the Sharks’ native Spanish language into the show. Laurents drew on the experience of Lin-Manuel Miranda, author of In the Heights who helped transform Sondheim’s lyrics into their Spanish alternatives: “Un Hombre Asi” (A Boy Like That) and “Me Siento Hermosa” (I Feel Pretty). Many criticised the move but Laurents defended it saying that in this modern age it was appropriate to see the Sharks communicate in their native language which would ultimately bring a new life to the relationship between Tony and Maria. Despite winning a Grammy Award for Best Show Album, the creative team replaced the Spanish lyrics with the original English ones in August 2009. Karen Olivo starred as the feisty Anita, winning the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, alongside unknown Josefina Scaglione as Maria. The production rattled up 748 performances, selling over a million tickets before closing in January 2011.

 

Angela Lansbury (wikipedia Amicon)

The most successful plays of the season were also revivals. Noel Coward’s classic play Blithe Spirit opened in March at the Schubert Theatre starring Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati alongside Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett. The production was praised mainly due to Lansbury’s interpretation of the role and she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a play. Studio 54 presented a production of Waiting for Godot that ran between April and July starring Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin, receiving rave reviews and played to sell out audiences. Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart played at the Broadhurst Theatre from April to August with a brand new production directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The play is a thrilling account of the relationship between Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and their battle for England’s Throne. Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer brought both characters to life, playing for a sell out run. The Roundabout Theatre Company brought a revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler to the American Airlines Theatre at the beginning of the year, starring Michael Cerveris and Mary-Louise Parker as the ill-fated Tesman couple. The production, directed by Ian Rickson, received mainly positive reviews, although many felt that Parker’s portrayal of the tragic heroine was far from definitive.

 

Short lived revivals of Bye Bye Birdie and Finian’s Rainbow filled the fall gap on Broadway but failed to inspire much audience reaction, closing at a loss after only a couple of months. The biggest victim was the beautiful revival of Ragtime which transferred from Washington to the Neil Simon Theatre, playing from November – January 2010. The production featured a spectacular 28 piece orchestra along with an energetic cast of 40, resulting in high running costs across the run. Unlike the London production, the show was a full spectacle with beautiful scenic design by Derek McLane. Despite fans of the show fighting to keep it alive the demand was not met, and the show closed prematurely, despite wide critical appeal.

Memphis Poster (wikipedia GorillaWarfare)

Two West End transfers managed to create their mark on Broadway in different ways. The first was The Norman Conquests trilogy which had previously played at London’s Old Vic. The full cycle was presented at the Circle in the Square from April to July to rave reviews for Alan Ayckbourn’s comedic masterpiece. The Menier Chocolate Factory struck gold again as its production of Sondheim classic A Little Night Music found a home on Broadway. Directed by Trevor Nunn the show transferred with many of the West End cast including Alexander Hanson. British actress Catherine Zeta Jones headed the new production as Desiree Armfeldt, opening at the Walter Kerr in December, alongside Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt. This was the first revival of the 70s musical on Broadway, and Nunn’s Chekhovian inspired production ran into 2011, with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch joining the cast after the show closed for a brief hiatus.

The biggest new show of the year opened in October at the Schubert Theatre. Memphis the musical by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro is based on the Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips, who was one of the first white DJ’s to play black music in the 1950s. This powerful show features a superb score of musical hits charting the birth of Rock and Roll in America. The production was directed by Christopher Ashley and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2010.

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