Gambon gives it a go

LONDON — “The great Gambon,” as the actor Michael Gambon is known in Britain, has decided to give it a go: It looked as if filming commitments on the new Kevin Costner movie “Open Range” would keep him away from London’s Sloane Square, but now Sir Michael has agreed to co-star in the new Caryl Churchill play “A Number,” opening Sept. 26 at the Royal Court.

Daniel Craig (“Road to Perdition”) completes the cast, with the two men playing four characters in a play said to be about cloning. In order to accommodate Gambon’s schedule, rehearsals were pushed back two weeks, with the opening delayed eight days (and following a scarily short three previews). On the other hand, the run will now end Nov. 16 — two weeks later than expected — and play at least three latenight perfs, which shouldn’t be hard, since the show, in keeping with Churchill’s recent work (cf. the Off Broadway-bound “Far Away”), is expected to be short: no more than an hour long.

As he was on “Far Away,” which finally arrives this season at New York Theater Workshop, former Royal Court a.d. Stephen Daldry is the director here. The heavyweight casting of Gambon, meanwhile, has staff excited at the Court, a theater where the play really does tend to be the star, not any big names who might happen to be in it. (Not for the Court the Glenn Close-Nicole Kidman-Cate Blanchett axis that has so galvanized London’s other leading not-for-profits: Stockard Channing a decade ago in “Six Degrees of Separation” was very much the exception.) “It’s fun for us,” one Courtier said of having Gambon on board, “because we don’t really do star casting.”

Let my critics come

It has long been commonplace for New York shows to invite critics in during previews, with opening night a purely festive occasion saved for friends, relatives and lovers of that production’s creators and cast.

Not in London, where everyone comes at once: the hangers-on, enthusiasts and those party poopers from the press. Until, that is, “125th Street,” a new rock musical from the creators of “Buddy” that has set a Sept. 17 bow at the Shaftesbury Theater — open to everyone, that is, but critics.

The aim, says Alan Janes, the British co-writer and producer of a $3 million musical set in 1969 at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, is “not to feel the pressure on one performance.” Press nights, says Janes, who hit paydirt throughout the last decade with the long-running “Buddy,” “can be such an artificial night, (and) the artifice worries us all. We really want reviewers to come in over a period of time.”

To that end, “125th Street” is inviting the press to a spread of previews, much to the dismay of a few of the capital’s arts editors, who are vaguely aware that an ages-old tradition is being violated. Intriguingly, Sam Mendes contemplated doing the same with his upcoming Donmar Warehouse “Uncle Vanya,” asking crix to hold their reviews of the mid-September opening till nearer the Oct. 22 bow of his same-cast “Twelfth Night.” In the end, though, Mendes and his team decided against it: For one thing, it wasn’t at all clear that arts editors could be trusted to hold their critics’ reviews, even if the scribes themselves could.

That leaves “125th Street” proffering various performances to the critical wolves (well, at least to this critical Wolf), Friday the 13th rather ominously included. “I Say a Little Prayer,” indeed.

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