British transfers to Manhattan

Flood of UK successes bound for Broadway

At the first whiff of good reviews for a new show, the word “transfer” suddenly appears on everyone’s lips. But a production’s chances of moving are sometimes stymied by unlikely circumstances. Consider the case of “The Homecoming.”

Daniel Sullivan‘s current Broadway incarnation opening Dec. 16 boasts Brits Eve Best, James Frain and Ian McShane. But even if blessed by rave notices, its chances of a leap across the Pond are reduced, due to a rival London production that began rehearsals Dec. 10 at the Almeida Theater. Michael Attenborough‘s revival has a less starry but equally strong cast headed by Kenneth Cranham, Jenny Jules and Nigel Lindsay.

If Harold Pinter‘s Brits abroad are feeling even slightly homesick, such sentiments are about to be abated by the Broadway arrival of several of their peers.

Headlining the Roundabout transfer of the tongue-in-cheek comedy hit “The 39 Steps” is the dapper Charles Edwards, the sole holdover from the London run. Hot on his heels are Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell reprising their lead roles in the transfer (also from Roundabout) of the Menier Chocolate Factory production of Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sunday in the Park With George.” They’ll be joined in February by Patrick Stewart, Kate Fleetwood and the rest of Rupert Goold‘s SRO production of “Macbeth,” playing the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater.

The Brit presence looks to be further bolstered by the Spring transfer of “Boeing Boeing.” Its producers are in negotiations with Actors’ Equity to fly over two as-yet-unnamed members of the hit London cast. There’s also talk of possible U.S. life for Jeremy Sams‘ glowing revival of “The Sound of Music,” though that will be with homegrown American talent.

Not that the traffic is all one-way. Barring last-minute contractual hiccups, Kristin Chenoweth will play Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” at English National Opera next June.

The production, choreographed by Rob Ashford and directed by Robert Carsen, caused a splash in Paris last December and again this year at Milan’s La Scala for its restoration of political context to a show that has previously failed to match its jewel-encrusted score with equal dramatic weight.

Goldblum on ‘Speed’

Another U.S. thesp about to make his London acting debut, Jeff Goldblum will star opposite Kevin Spacey in Matthew Warchus‘ Old Vic production of David Mamet‘s “Speed-the-Plow” in January. Joining them, in the role famously essayed in New York by Madonna, is another singer: Laura-Michelle Kelly, currently adding much-needed luster to the otherwise soulless spectacle that is Warchus’ “The Lord of The Rings.” She’s also onscreen as the Beggar Woman in Tim Burton‘s “Sweeney Todd.”

Spacey’s Old Vic stewardship — his fourth season in what will be a 10-year tenure — is the subject of a TV profile on the “South Bank Show,” ITV’s longstanding flagship arts strand, to be screened Jan 6. and also available as a video podcast at More hagiography than documentary, not one word of dissent surfaces in the 48-minute program, something of an achievement considering the fluctuating artistic fortunes of Spacey’s often controversial reign.

The Old Vic is hosting “Cinderella,” a new pantomime penned by Stephen Fry. Pantomime, a lavish and wholly British theatrical tradition, features more untranslatable and untransferable conventions than the game of cricket.

A few steps down the road at the rival Young Vic — the theaters share nothing but a name — pantomime has been ditched in favor of twinned, vivid South African productions that turn well-loved classics inside out.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” performed in English and Xhosa, is a riveting relocation of what tends to be a predictable and sentimental wallow. From the opening, with the company swarming the darkened theater with only the lights of mining helmets, present-day African poverty ratchets up the stakes and restores tension to a hackneyed tale. The glorious unaccompanied singing has an authentic passion that’s worth the price of admission.

There’s equal energy in the same actors’ interpretation of “The Magic Flute.” Disappointingly, director Mark Dornford-May offers no solution to the reversals and confusions of Mozart’s comic plot, but the performance is carried by the all-singing cast which also plays the entire score on marimbas.

This is the company that toured the world with a thrilling production of “The Mysteries.” Although “The Magic Flute” is not in the same league, “A Christmas Carol” offers the same transcendent joy. And where else are you going to see a woman — the superb Pauline Malefane — playing Scrooge and singing the stratospheric soprano lines of the Queen of the Night?

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