Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Perestroika

"Angels in America" more than survives Roy Cohn. Even with the departure of the acclaimed Ron Liebman, Tony Kushner's epic remains the finest production on Broadway.

“Angels in America” more than survives Roy Cohn. Even with the departure of the acclaimed Ron Liebman, Tony Kushner’s epic remains the finest production on Broadway.

No small part of the play’s power continues to be its incredible cast, an ensemble that is as sharp today as it was when “Millennium Approaches” (the first part of “Angels”) opened a year ago. Two recent cast changes have done nothing to diminish this lineup.

Where Liebman tackled Cohn head-on in a brilliant, larger-than-life performance, F. Murray Abraham builds up more slowly to the character’s evil. In the pivotal scene where Cohn is diagnosed with AIDS, Abraham reacts not with Liebman’s ire but rather with a seething hate. Neither approach can be faulted, and neither is anything less than what this play commands.

If Liebman gave “Angels” its showiest moments, Abraham lends the production a bit more balance, his performance melding more naturally with the rest of the cast.

The second cast change has Cynthia Nixon replacing Marcia Gay Harden as Harper, the Valium-addicted Mormon wife whose disintegrating marriage to the sexually confused Joe spurs much of the play’s action.

It’s easy to miss Harden’s disheveled, eccentric Harper, particularly at such heart-grabbing moments as the character’s final speech. But Nixon is nearly as endearing, projecting a damaged, fresh-scrubbed quality that suggests both Harper’s Salt Lake City background and her emotional devastation.

A repeat visit also reminds just how good the actors are when playing the smaller roles that pepper the play — Ellen McLaughlin’s Salt Lake City realtor, for example, or Kathleen Chalfant’s Ethel Rosenberg.

And pay attention to Anthony Davis’ music, which sets a tone as surely as Robin Wagner’s set and Jules Fisher’s lighting.

If “Angels” has the run it deserves, future cast defections will be as unavoidable as they are disappointing. Still, the recent additions suggest a thoughtfulness that should keep the production in good standing for a long time to come.

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Perestroika

Production: NEW YORK Reviewed April 30, 1994, at the Walter Kerr Theater; 932 seats; $ 65 top. Running time: 7 HOURS.

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