Surprise West End hit moves to Broadway

LONDON — “The Play What I Wrote,” the surprise comic success of the last West End season, has firmed up plans for a Broadway transfer next year.

The show will open in New York March 30 at the Lyceum, with previews due to begin around March 7.

As in London, Kenneth Branagh will direct the piece, which pays comic tribute to veteran British comedians Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe. Sean Foley and Hamish McColl — otherwise known as comedy duo the Right Size — will repeat their acclaimed London double-act on Broadway, with support as before from Toby Jones, who won an Olivier Award for his perf.

In London, the play made headlines for its rotating celebrity guests, who appear in the second act to lead an extended sketch, “A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple,” set during the French Revolution. Ralph Fiennes got some of the best reviews of his career as the West End’s opening-night guest, while others have included Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, Sting, Jerry Hall and Roger Moore.

It’s a surprise

Ticket-buyers are not told in advance who the guest will be so as to enhance the element of surprise. Each visiting celeb is expected to do a minimum of eight shows over three weeks, though Fiennes ended up doing 11.

U.K. producer David Pugh said a comparable rotating list of surprise names would move in and out of the run on Broadway, where Foley, McColl and Jones are signed for eight months. The London run opened last fall at Wyndham’s Theater and recouped its £350,000 ($546,000) capitalization within seven weeks. After a break and a U.K. tour, the same production returns next month to Wyndham’s as a warmup for New York. For Broadway, the play is being somewhat revised and rewritten to focus the comedy more generally on the English in New York as opposed to the specifics of Morecambe and Wise.

Production pricetag

Pugh pegged the Broadway cost at $2 million and said tickets would top out at $75. Joining Pugh on the New York producing team are Mike Nichols — who was once himself, of course, half of a famous comic double-act with Elaine May — as well as Joan Cullman, Stuart Thompson, Charlie Whitehead (son of the late producer Robert Whitehead) and Hamilton South.

Before “The Play What I Wrote,” Pugh has been primarily associated with the smash play “Art,” which won a Tony on Broadway and is just about to bow its 28th — and final — West End cast.

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