Will ‘Shakespeare in Love’ Brave Broadway?

Everybody loves the new West End adaptation of “Shakespeare in Love.” Everybody, that is, except the New York Times.

The July 23 opening of “Shakespeare in Love” in London yielded the kind of gushing reviews rarely earned by Disney Theatrical Prods., which co-produces “Shakespeare” with prolific Broadway and West End producer Sonia Friedman Prods. (“Jerusalem,” “The Norman Conquests,” the upcoming stage outing of the “Harry Potter” franchise). On the whole, U.K. critics gushed, falling all over themselves to write things like “It makes you feel grateful to be alive” (an actual quote from the Independent’s review).

Given the profile both of the producing team and of the title of the Oscar-winning 1998 film on which the play is based, the production already looked like a strong candidate for a move to Broadway. That possibility seems even more likely now that scribes are describing the show as “the best British comedy since [Broadway success] ‘One Man, Two Guvnors'” (from the Telegraph’s five-star review), “a swooning, skittish delight” (another five stars from the Daily Mail), “witty and warm-hearted” (in the Guardian) and  “a joyous, poignant show” (from the Financial Times).

But the one hitch that got legiters talking — including in an earlier post on Deadline.com — is the pan handed to the production by the New York Times, which described “Shakespeare in Love” in terms that include “slightly synthetic,” “ersatz” and “‘Shakespeare for Sophomores.'” Should the staging venture across the pond, the same critic would most likely review in New York as part of what is Times protocol.

Popular on Variety

That could be a daunting obstacle, since Broadway’s relatively small pool of playgoers tend to pay more attention to print critics than the tourist-packed crowds at most musicals.

SEE ALSO: Theater Review: Disney’s ‘Shakespeare in Love’

On the other hand, Disney Theatrical productions rarely rely on critical response, particularly from the Times, which gave a mixed review at best to “The Lion King,” the show that went on to become Disney’s signature megahit. That critic-proof quality can be attributed in part to the automatic appeal of the company’s titles, with which auds have an affectionate familiarity from the movies that inspired them. The same could potentially be said for “Shakespeare in Love,” even if it is a play rather than a family-friendly musical.

Besides, not every U.S. outlet gave “Shakespeare in Love” a thumbs-down. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, called the show “delicious and satisfying,” and Variety’s London critic deemed it “a big-hearted hit.” In addition, many U.S. playgoers are major anglophiles who might put even more stock in notices from across the Pond.

Should Disney and Friedman bring “Shakespeare” to Broadway, the show doesn’t seem likely to become a multi-year mainstay like “Lion King.” Even hit plays don’t endure that long in the current Broadway climate; that’s doubly true for a large-scale play with high running costs such as “Shakespeare,” boasting a crowded cast of 28 actors (with live musicians on top of that). Nonetheless, a New York run of a year or even less could potentially turn a tidy profit, if it turns into a must-see.

For the moment, however, the show’s producers remain noncommittal. “We’re thrilled that critics love the show as much as have audiences,” said Thomas Schumacher, the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Prods.  “All our efforts right now are focused on launching the production on the long, healthy West End run this wonderful production deserves.”

But if the London reviews spur the kind of West End sales success of which stage producers dream, then no one would be surprised if Disney and Friedman gave Broadway a go, too.

More Legit

  • Uncle Vanya review

    'Uncle Vanya': Theater Review

    Director Ian Rickson has had success with Chekhov in the past. His exquisitely balanced, tragicomic production of “The Seagull” (2007 in London, 2008 on Broadway) was well-nigh flawless with, among others, Kristin Scott Thomas as painfully vulnerable as she was startlingly funny. Sadly, with his production of “Uncle Vanya,” despite felicities in the casting, lightning [...]

  • The Welkin review

    'The Welkin': Theater Review

    A life hanging perilously in the balance of charged-up, polarized opinions: This courtroom drama could easily have been titled “Twelve Angry Women.” But playwright Lucy Kirkwood (“Chimerica,” “The Children”) is far too strong and imaginative a writer for so hand-me-down a cliché. Instead she opts for “The Welkin,” an old English term for the vault [...]

  • Tina Fey attends the "Mean Girls"

    Tina Fey Announces Movie Adaptation of Broadway's 'Mean Girls' Musical

    It’s good to be mean…the “Mean Girls” musical, that is. Producers of the hit Broadway show announced today that the Tony-nominated production is being adapted for the big screen for Paramount Pictures. The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. “I’m very excited to bring ‘Mean Girls’ back to the big screen,’ Tina Fey, [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme

    Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' in Exclusive Clip From Sundance Documentary

    Before turning “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” into musical phenomenons, Lin-Manuel Miranda could have been found on stage, spouting off-the-cuff rhymes with his improv group, “Freestyle Love Supreme.” After performing across the globe, the troupe — founded 15 years ago by Miranda, his frequent collaborator Thomas Kail and emcee Anthony Veneziale — made its Broadway [...]

  • Ariana Grande 7 Rings

    Rodgers & Hammerstein Are Having a Moment Thanks to Ariana Grande, 'Oklahoma!'

    Jaws dropped when it was revealed that the late musical theater titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were granted 90% of the songwriting royalties on “7 Rings,” Ariana Grande’s 2019 No. 1 hit. The dominant motif of Grande’s song is taken from “My Favorite Things,” the cornerstone of R&H’s 1959 musical “The Sound of [...]

  • A Soldiers Play review

    'A Soldier's Play': Theater Review

    Now, that’s what I call a play! Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play,” now being revived on Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company, packs plenty of dramatic tension into smoldering issues of racial justice and injustice, military honor and dishonor, and the solemn struggle to balance their harrowing demands on characters who are only [...]

  • Bess Wohl

    Listen: The Impossible Plays of Bess Wohl

    The playwright Bess Wohl is always chasing a wild idea — and she’s found that rather than scaring away her collaborators, it just makes them more eager. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I started my career thinking, oh, I’ll just write a play that’s really easy to do,” Wohl said on the latest episode [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content