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Hot U.K. ‘Macbeth’ Faces Scottish Logjam in New York

Will Alan Cumming and Ethan Hawke keep Kenneth Branagh's revival away from Gotham?

If two “Macbeths” is company, is three a crowd?

That’s a question Broadway types have started to wonder in the wake of glowing reviews for the Kenneth Branagh-toplined revival of “Macbeth,” now in the midst of a brief, buzzmagnet run as part of the U.K.’s Manchester Intl. Festival.

With Branagh returning to the Shakespearean canon that made him famous, this “Macbeth” — in which the thesp stars in a production he co-directs with American helmer Rob Ashford (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”) — was already acknowledged in the industry as a strong candidate for a Stateside transfer. The reviews earned by the fast-paced, atmospheric production, including a big thumbs-up in the New York Times, only makes the show look like an even hotter property.

But if it did make it to Gotham, it’d be following in the footsteps of not one but two Broadway incarnations of the Scottish play: Alan Cumming’s solo interpretation, now playing the final perfs of its limited run at the Barrymore Theater, and Lincoln Center Theater’s upcoming revival starring Ethan Hawke, set to open Nov. 21.

A third grasping thane to hit New York could add up to too many productions of the same play to be sustained by the Gotham playgoing audience, generally understood to be much smaller and more local than the broad swaths of theatergoers that turn out for Broadway tuners.

For a New York run of the Branagh “Macbeth” to materialize, there are a number of other questions that would need to be resolved including availability windows for the lead thesp and in what sort of venue the production, performed in a 300-seat deconsecrated church in Manchester, would find a berth in New York. But with stagings of “Macbeth” proving so frequent these days they’re downright trendy, the third-in-line dilemma also looms large.

There’s no exact science for determining how soon is too soon to bring back a familiar legit title. This fall, Broadway sported four shows that had hit the Rialto in the last eight years, including one, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” that had been done twice in the last decade.

The fall 2012 success of Al Pacino starrer “Glengarry Glen Ross” proved that a star with enough box office clout could overcome any ticketbuyer reluctance to shell out for a show that had been seen on the Rialto in 2005. The autumn production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” also seen on Broadway in a separate 2005 incarnation, didn’t recoup but it did score three Tonys, while “Cyrano de Bergerac,” returning to the Rialto after a 2007 outing, didn’t have to worry much about commercial viability because it was a nonprofit staging.

As for “Cat,” which closed in the red in March, it’s impossible to say whether the production’s box office fadeout was due to the mixed reviews, to the fact that two other productions of the title had recently played Broadway (one in 2003 and one in 2008), or to some combination of the two.

From a silver lining perspective, a cluster of different stagings of the same play can add compare-and-contrast buzz, as happened with the concurrent summer 2012 productions of “Uncle Vanya,” one a Lincoln Center Festival run of a version toplined by Cate Blanchett and the other a hyper-intimate downtown outing featuring Michael Shannon.

For now, there are no definite plans for any future life for the Branagh “Macbeth,” much less one that would bring it to New York. So it remains to be seen whether a third “Macbeth,” in not much more than a year, would become a must-see event or would turn out to be, like the play’s title character, a trifle overambitious.

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