Original Broadway Production: 1983
What I’ve Seen: Both, plus the 1992 film version
What’s New? Nothing–nor should there be. Michael Frayn’s Tony-nominated farce is airtight and bulletproof, the perfect armament against winter’s chill. It’s pretty much the only “old” play that I can recall seeing in all its Broadway productions. (If you’ve only seen Peter Bogdanovich’s movie, you’ve never seen Noises Off, which needs to be experienced in a theater, with your eyes, and not the deadening camera, darting about the stage to see the onstage and backstage action.) I saw it with my family–my mom and my sister, impervious to “British humor,” were only mildly amused, but my dad and I, enthralled by Fawlty Towers, Terry-Thomas, etc., thought it was the funniest thing we had ever seen. And it still is. I’ve never laughed so hard, or so long, at a play, and I’m in awe of actors who can go through its tightly choreographed slapstick paces performance after performance.
The original cast was tip-top: Dorothy Loudon, Brian Murray, Victor Garber, Linda Thorson, Paxton Whitehead, and Amy Wright were among the cast. A Tony-winning Katie Finneran, plus Faith Prince, Richard Easton, and Peter Gallagher, were no slouches in the 2001 revival, but something was off–its kind of knockabout humor didn’t come easily to star Patti LuPone, and maybe it had dated. (Frayn had gone on to write the more serious-minded Copenhagen, a Tony winner in 2000.) I’m pleased to report that my doubts were unfounded. With absolutely the right cast, led by the incomparable Andrea Martin and including Megan Hilty (Smash) and Campbell Scott falling all over themselves with plates of sardines, telephones, and newspapers, Noises Off, directed with a fine madness by Jeremy Herrin, is as good as new.
Original Broadway Production: 1964
Revived: 1976, 1981, 1990, 2004
What I’ve Seen: The 2004 revival, plus the 1971 film version
What’s New: Every musical revival should be directed by Bartlett Sher. The taste and sensitivity he brought to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I is very much in evidence throughout this Fiddler–once it gets past an awkward framing device linking its tale of immigration to our own times. (The “red coat” motif, seen in a different context in Schindler’s List, confuses matters that are abundantly clear in the text.) The show, so beautifully written and scored, is exquisitely served thereafter. In interviews Sher seemed to be poring over the piece with a Talmudic intensity, which was worrisome. It sounded like a no-fun Fiddler was at hand. But it’s actually delightfully humorous, and character relationships that were murky in the last, much less specific revival are crystal clear here. Rather than go for a star presence like Zero Mostel, Topol, or Alfred Molina as Tevye, Sher instead chose the Broadway journeyman Danny Burstein, who gives his considerable all in the part, while remaining a touchingly human-sized presence. (As does another veteran, Jessica Hecht, who is not a musicals talent, as Golde.) Fiddler may be distinguished by its incredible score, but its book tells heart-aching stories, which can get overlooked in a weaker production. Not here–every strand of plot has been lovingly tended to. (Kudos as well to Adam Dannheiser, bringing considerable empathy to Lazar Wolf.) The Marc Chagall influence over the design has been muted, and the Jerome Robbins choreography redone, neither to the detriment of a production that is so much dynamic, quietly so, than the tepid 2004 version. Not to worry, however–there’s still a breathtaking bottle dance to enjoy.
Original Broadway Production: 1955
Revived: 1983, 1997, 2010
What I’ve Seen: The 1997 and 2010 revivals, plus the 1962 film version
What’s New: Lots. This isn’t your grandfather’s version of Arthur Miller’s play, nor is it the one your cousin saw six years ago, for co-star Scarlett Johansson, who won a Tony her first time out onstage. The show wasn’t all that keenly received originally, and Sidney Lumet’s obscure and curious, European-backed movie, no On the Waterfront, didn’t help. (It took me a long time to track it down.) The splendid 1997 revival, with Anthony LaPaglia, Allison Janney, and Brittany Murphy, got everyone to take a second look at the play, and its stock rose further with its solid 2010 staging, with Liev Schreiber, Johansson, and…Jessica Hecht.
Along comes Ivo van Hove, fresh from the David Bowie musical Lazarus, to disrupt things. A lame revival of All My Sons a few seasons back was sprinkled with bad avant-garde ideas, and van Hove has gone the full abstract, with the show staged in a kind of cubist boxing ring, and an underscore thrumming ominously throughout. The show’s hapless immigrant characters have been given more “agency” in their plight, and everything is played very declaratively at the audience, some of whom are seated watchfully onstage. (Some watching, very closely, the often unclad Russell Tovey, pictured.) Mark Strong, a commanding if somewhat limited actor onscreen, gives a commanding if somewhat limited performance onstage as the tragic Red Hook longshoreman Eddie Carbone, and the show is pitched at his muscular, yet inflexible, level. A hit in London, this revival, so fascinating previously, was too remote for my taste, more ho-hum “interesting” than anything else. Oh, and Ivo–showers of blood? Been there. Let’s find something else to rain on the actors in your forthcoming revival of Miller’s The Crucible.