×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Murder in the First

Off Broadway gets a worthy specimen of the socially conscious courtroom drama with "Murder in the First."

With:
Willie Moore - Chad Kimball
Henry Davidson - Guy Burnet
Mary McCasslin - Larisa Polonsky
Byron Davidson - John Stanisci
Harold Humson - Robert Hogan

Off Broadway gets a worthy specimen of the socially conscious courtroom drama with “Murder in the First.” The 1995 Alcatraz-based thriller that starred Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater translates pretty well to the stage — but although author, title and story are the same, character names are changed, and the film itself is cryptically uncredited. Performances by Tony nominee Chad Kimball (“Memphis”) and debuting Brit Guy Burnet propel the piece.

Plot is based on an actual case, albeit one whose facts were radically altered for the screen. Willie Moore (Kimball) is on trial for violently — and within plain sight — killing a fellow con. Intrepid junior lawyer Henry Davidson (Burnet), on his first case, turns the tables on the warden, the prison and the whole federal justice system by claiming that Moore wasn’t responsible due to a barbarous three-year stretch in solitary. Action proves compelling enough despite its predictable arc, with the defense scoring here and suffering setbacks there. In the end, Moore and Davidson achieve a moral victory.

Popular on Variety

Script comes from Dan Gordon, whose other screenplays include Kevin Costner starrer “Wyatt Earp” and Denzel Washington pic “The Hurricane.” He made his Broadway bow in 2009 with the short-lived Holocaust-themed outing “Irena’s Vow,” and “Murder in the First” is a significant improvement. Efficient direction comes from Michael Parva, who did the same chore on the earlier play (and is artistic director of the producing organization) and does an effective job keeping his cast of 15 moving on the miniscule stage.

Kimball is strong as the withdrawn and immature convict, while Burnet, a star of the U.K. soap “Hollyoaks,” makes an impressive New York bow as the dauntless attorney. He’s well supported by Larissa Polonsky as a senior lawyer (and lover) and John Stanisci as his brother, while the show’s most crackling scene is a confrontation between Burnet and Robert Hogan as the fatherly warden from Alcatraz.

Production clearly has bigger things in mind than a four-week, 200-seat run, as evidenced by the involvement of Main Stem producers Chase Mishkin and Barbara and Buddy Freitag. Large cast may prove difficult to swing commercially, especially if producers don’t opt for movie star casting for the two leads (and it would be a shame to lose Burnet in favor of a lesser actor with box office clout). Even so, “Murder in the First” deserves an afterlife.

Murder in the First

59E59; 198 seats; $60 top

Production: A Directors Company in association with Chase Mishkin, Barbara and Buddy Freitag, Invictus Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Dan Gordon. Directed by Michael Parva.

Creative: Sets, Mark Nayden; costumes, Tristan Raines; lights, David Castaneda; original music and sound, Quentin Chiappetta; stage manager, Rose Riccardi. Opened June 6, 2012, reviewed June 1, runs through July 1. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Willie Moore - Chad Kimball
Henry Davidson - Guy Burnet
Mary McCasslin - Larisa Polonsky
Byron Davidson - John Stanisci
Harold Humson - Robert HoganWith: Joseph Adams, J. Stephen Brantley, Richard Fiske, John Fitzgibbon, Ian Holcomb, Anthoula Katsimatides, Daren Kelly, Jim Lorenzo, Thomas Ryan, Ryan Scoble

More Legit

  • Jagged Little Pill review

    Broadway Review: 'Jagged Little Pill'

    Nearly 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” hit the shelves of record stores, Alanis Morissette’s innovative 1995 album has arrived on Broadway under the muscular direction of Diane Paulus, who launched this galvanic production at the American Repertory Theater. The show’s supportive book by screenwriter Diablo Cody interprets Morissette’s musical idiom as a universal domestic [...]

  • Claire Warden

    Listen: Let's Talk About Sex Onstage

    The craft of intimacy direction is taking Broadway by storm — and on the latest episode of Variety’s Stagecraft, Broadway’s first intimacy director explains why, and breaks down the ways in which she’s helping to revolutionize how actors get intimate onstage. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Warden, whose credits this season include “Jagged Little [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    Mark Addy, Dan Stevens Head Broadway Cast of 'Hangmen'

    Mark Addy and Dan Stevens will appear in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen.” Addy, best known for his work on “Game of Thrones” and “The Full Monty,” starred in the off-Broadway production of the black comedy. It’s the first time Stevens, beloved for his turn on “Downton Abbey,” has appeared on the Great [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen Jordan Fisher

    Jordan Fisher Joins 'Dear Evan Hansen' in Title Role on Broadway

    Jordan Fisher will be Broadway’s next Evan Hansen, joining the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” in the musical’s title role. Fisher, best known to theater enthusiasts for his stint in “Hamilton” and playing Mark Cohen in Fox’s “Rent: Live,” will play the role for a limited 16-week engagement starting Jan. 28. “Evan Hansen is a [...]

  • SUBJECTS] seen at the Lincoln Center

    Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall Set for Major Renovation

    Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall is set to undergo a major renovation that will lead to the facility being closed for months-long stretches starting in 2022. Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic announced Monday that the overhaul will require the temporary shuttering of Geffen Hall from May 2022 through October 2022 and again from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content