Casting equals concept in revival
If there’s a formula for producing a Broadway play that makes it into the black, “A View From the Bridge” seems to be adhering to it.
Take a well-known title, add a buzz-drawing celeb name with about a dozen weeks to commit to a show’s run and make some quick coin from a limited engagement. Recent proofs of the theorem include Jude Law + “Hamlet,” Katie Holmes + “All My Sons” and Angela Lansbury + “Blithe Spirit.”
For “View,” it’s the 1955 Arthur Miller play + Scarlett Johansson (in her Broadway debut) + Liev Schreiber, in a production in previews ahead of a Jan. 24 opening at the Cort Theater.
But there are always variables in the equation.
For one thing, critics have yet to weigh in, and they’re not always kind to movie names on the boards. Plus, “View” had to contend with an unexpectedly accelerated sked that sees the play opening around the same time producers originally thought they’d be starting rehearsals.
There’s also been an on-set injury, with Santino Fontana suffering a concussion during a fight sequence and replaced by understudy Morgan Spector.
There’s really no such thing as a formula,” says Stuart Thompson, lead producer of the show, which is capitalized in the $2.5 million range for a run of 14 weeks.
Production came together in ways that don’t quite stick to the norm. The Broadway rights to “View” were held not by a producer but by director Gregory Mosher.
The former head of Lincoln Center Theater and now the director of Columbia U.’s Arts Initiative, Mosher has a long list of Rialto directing credits including “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Speed-the-Plow” and “Our Town.” But his last production, “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin, was in 1992.
He picked up rights to “View” from the Miller estate because he missed directing and thought the play posed a good challenge. “It has to be something that totally engages you and scares you. And that you believe you can cast.”
Early word on the still-previewing production describes the staging as notably straightforward and naturalistic, and Mosher doesn’t deny it. His “View,” he says, isn’t concept-driven, unlike, for instance, the auteur take of Simon McBurney’s love-it-or-hate-it staging of Miller’s “All My Sons” last year.
Mosher’s “concept,” to hear him tell it, began and ended with casting Schreiber in the central role of Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn dock worker who’s romantically obsessed with his orphaned niece (played by Johansson).
As the rest of the cast came together, Mosher enlisted producer Thompson (“God of Carnage”) who brought in as general partner the Araca Group (“Wicked”), along with Jeffrey Finn (“Oleanna”), who all had been hoping to snag the rights to a Broadway revival of “View.”
Although the original plan was to start rehearsals in Jan-uary for a run that would begin later in the spring, schedule changes in the actors’ commitments forced a shift in the timeline, with producers realizing in early October that rehearsals had to begin the following month. That also forced a rush on the show’s marketing and advertising, which focuses on the faces of the two stars.
Meanwhile, Mosher went into rehearsal with a directorial approach he describes as a collaborative effort with the cast, which also includes Jessica Hecht and Michael Cristofer, to “figure out” the play.
For the writer of “Death of a Salesman” and “Sons,” “View” is an unusually spare work that first bowed on Broadway as a one-act written in verse.
The play grew into its more familiar full-length incarnation in a 1956 rewrite under the auspices of Peter Brook, who helmed the new version in London that year.
View” was last seen on Broadway in a 1997 production that scored Tonys for revival and for lead thesp Anthony LaPaglia.
Thompson says he wasn’t concerned about a dozen years proving too short a gap between revivals, and early weekly sales ($1.1 million for two seven-perf weeks) have been promising.
The production, and particularly Johansson, won’t face critics until Jan. 24, but early buzz seems to indicate the actress is holding her own and could score favorable nods from reviewers who weren’t impressed with the stage chops of Holmes or Julia Roberts.
Those involved in the production refer to the play’s immediacy, but don’t attribute it to the added resonance of topical elements such as immigration. Instead, they credit the pared-down writing of the play itself: The show clocks in at about 95 minutes, unusual for a work penned during the era of the three-act play.
It must have seemed very underwritten in the ’50s,” says Mosher. “Now it seems astonishingly modern and condensed.”