London theater scores mixed reviews

Broadway audiences liked 'Utopia,' not 'Boy'

NEW YORK — Transferring hit shows from London to New York is rarely a straightforward enterprise, but the past year on Broadway has provided both incentives and cautionary tales for producers contemplating the risk.

For every “Frost/Nixon,” “The History Boys” or “Mary Poppins” that crossed the Pond in productions that adhered closely to the originals and found a receptive audience Stateside, there are others like “Journey’s End” and “Coram Boy” that hemorrhage money and close early.

Then there’s the more anomalous model of “The Coast of Utopia,” which was significantly fine-tuned by author Tom Stoppard and director Jack O’Brien into a production that far outshone the London original in terms of box office success, critical kudos and cultural impact.

Whatever the variables, the traffic to Broadway from the West End and beyond continues.

Stoppard will attempt to maintain his “Utopia” momentum with “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” opening Nov. 4 at the Jacobs. A chronicle of love, death and identity that travels from Prague in the Czech Republic to Cambridge, England, spanning the revolutionary spring of 1968 through 1990, the play began life at the Royal Court before moving to an extended West End run. Original cast members Rufus Sewell, Brian Cox and Sinead Cusack will reprise their roles in Trevor Nunn’s production on Broadway.

Also bringing its London leads is director Sam Buntrock’s rethinking of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Sunday in the Park With George.” Daniel Evans plays pointillist painter Georges Seurat and his great-grandson a century later in the Roundabout transfer, while Jenna Russell is the artist’s muse and, later, their granddaughter. Deftly using projections to further the show’s complex investigation into the creation of art, the production will play Studio 54, opening Feb. 14.

This staging of “Sunday” debuted, prior to its West End run, at the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory, which is expected to yield further New York transfers. The theater recently struck a three-year partnership with producer Bob Boyett to present its productions in the U.S.

Boyett also this year reupped his first-look deal — through the Boyett Ostar Prods. banner he heads with Bill Haber — with the National Theater through summer 2008. Boyett Ostar is a producer on both “Sunday” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

The company also is behind Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer,” a new play that premiered at the National last fall, about a demonic stranger who steps into a group of drunken gamblers to lay claim to a soul. The latest work from the author of “The Weir” and “Shining City” is tipped to open at the Booth in November, with McPherson directing.

Also bound for Broadway in the fall is “The 39 Steps,” Patrick Barlow’s antic adaptation of novelist John Buchan’s thriller, which puts a cast of four through their paces in Hitchcockian high-speed chases and narrow escapes across the Scottish Highlands. Maria Aitken’s production began at the Tricycle Theater before upgrading to the West End.

Another likely fall transfer, though not yet confirmed, is Ian Rickson’s staging of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” with Kristin Scott Thomas and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Talk has also been circulating of a spring Gotham opening for Matthew Warchus’ revival of Marc Camoletti’s 1960s comedy, “Boeing Boeing,” about a skirt-chasing architect juggling affairs with three flight attendants — back when they were called air hostesses.

And tipped to arrive at the Broadhurst in summer 2008 is Thea Sharrock’s staging of Peter Shaffer’s “Equus,” headlined by “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe; Richard Griffiths plays the boy’s shrink.

Mike Leigh’s play “Two Thousand Years” bowed at the National in 2005, and that drama about tensions in a North London Jewish family arrives Off Broadway in January in a fresh staging by Scott Elliott.

For high-culture Anglophiles, the fall will provide Gotham theatergoers with the chance to be one up on London auds. Trevor Nunn’s double bill for the RSC of “King Lear” and “The Cherry Orchard,” both starring Ian McKellen, will play in rep at the BAM Sept. 6-30, prior to its West End engagement.

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