×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: Mark Rylance in ‘Farinelli and the King’

The Oscar winner delivers a tour de force performance as King Philippe V of Spain, whose sanity hangs on the voice of the castrato Farinelli.

With:
Sam Crane, Iestyn Davies, Huss Garbiya, Melody Grove, James Hall, Lucas Hall, Colin Hurley, Edward Peel, Mark Rylance, Peter Bradbury, Eric Jurenas, Margot White.

There’s not much to Claire van Kampen’s simplistic script for “Farinelli and the King,” the play now running on Broadway after premiering at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. But with a lead performance by Oscar and Tony winner Mark Rylance in full sail, it’s enough.

With his courtiers plotting to depose the mad king of Spain (Rylance), his cool and canny wife, Queen Isabella (the enchanting Melody Grove), comes to his rescue. The Queen has engaged the services of the famed Italian castrato, Farinelli (Sam Crane, the soul of refinement), to soothe the monarch’s fevered brain.

Left to his own inclinations, King Philippe would be happy chatting with his pet goldfish. (“Not all of us are equal,” he solemnly informs the fish. “We were not born equal; we shall never be equal.”) But Isabella is determined to cure the king of his aberrant moods, and to this end she engages the great singer to move into the palace and minister to the monarch’s fevered fantasies.

As Farinelli, Crane possesses the mental serenity that the king so desperately needs. Costumed (by Jonathan Fensom) in elegant court dress, he has the bearing of royalty without the streak of insanity that comes with the title. As the voice of Farinelli, the identically costumed Iestyn Davies steps in to sing whenever a Handel aria is called for. The nine selections, all chosen from arias first sung by the real-life Farinelli in the 1730s, range from “Ho perso il caro ben” from “Il Parnasso” to the melting “Bel contento” from “Flavio,” and Davies delivers them with Baroque precision. But as a countertenor, he never reaches the stratospheric scale of a true castrato, and the limitation hurts. Rylance melts, as King Philippe must, but we don’t.

In the context of the period setting, the anachronistic language is barbarically contemporary. A theater impresario, for instance, complains that “so many people want a piece” of his star performer; even his wife, who “has been on my case since we opened.”

That’s a pity, since director John Dove has taken such pains to re-create the heavily gilded style of the formal Baroque setting of this production, which originated at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in 2015. The richly textured costumes look especially sumptuous in the blaze of candlelight (supplied by designer Paul Russell), and the period musical instruments — harpsichord, violins, viola, theorbo, Baroque guitar — all sing true, especially as stripped of all mechanical amplification.

Rylance is a favorite on these shores. He was a divine Countess Olivia in “Twelfth Night” and a tormented Richard in “Richard III” in 2013, and people are still talking about his dazzling portrayal of Rooster Byron on Broadway in “Jerusalem.” His cockeyed fisherman in van Kampen’s “Nice Fish” was a weird and wonderful treat when it played St. Ann’s Warehouse, and to bring his bio up to date, he’s currently on screen in “Dunkirk.” But mad kings could easily become a specialty with this actor, who sees the pathos and the ridiculousness of the royal personage, and warmly embraces them both.  

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: Mark Rylance in 'Farinelli and the King'

Belasco Theater; 1051 seats; $167 top. Opened Dec. 17, 2017. Reviewed Dec. 13. Running time: TWO HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Sonia Friedman Productions, Shakespeare’s Globe, Paula Marie Black, Tom Smedes, Peter Stern, Jane Bergere, Jane Dubin / Rachel Weinstein, 1001 Nights Productions, Elizabeth Cuthrell & Steven Tuttleman, Rupert Gavin, Robyn L. Paley, SGC USA, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Cindy & Jay Gutterman / Marc David Levine, Marguerite Hoffman / Van Kaplan, and Shakespeare Road, of the Shakespeare’s Globe production of a play in two acts by Claire Van Kampen.

Creative: Directed by John Dove. Designer, Jonathan Fensom; musical arranger, Claire Van Kampen; lighting, Paul Russell; hair & wigs, Campbell Young Associates; production stage manager, Evangeline Rose Whitlock.

Cast: Sam Crane, Iestyn Davies, Huss Garbiya, Melody Grove, James Hall, Lucas Hall, Colin Hurley, Edward Peel, Mark Rylance, Peter Bradbury, Eric Jurenas, Margot White.

More Legit

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Saturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

  • Ben Platt Variety Power of New

    Ben Platt on Coming Out and the Queerness of 'The Politician'

    Ben Platt never imagined he would one day star in a series like “The Politician.” “I didn’t think I could be a star of a show in general starting out. I think I was like, ‘I’ll do Broadway. I can be on stage and I can play Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Nathan Detroit [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Musical to Open on Broadway in Summer 2020

    “MJ,” a musical based on the life and career of Michael Jackson, will open on Broadway in summer 2020. Preview performances will start July 6 before its official debut on Aug. 13. The stage show, which will include songs like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “Smooth Criminal,” was originally [...]

  • The Wrong Man review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Wrong Man'

    Credit songwriter Ross Golan for the seamless quality of “The Wrong Man,” his mesmerizing musical about a good man who deserves a good life but seems to attract nothing but bad luck. The show’s inventive book, music, and lyrics were all penned by this multi-hyphenate talent who was named 2016 BMI Pop Songwriter of the [...]

  • Kristin Chenoweth Broadway

    Listen: Kristin Chenoweth Wants to Write a Broadway Musical

    Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t just want to star in Broadway musicals. She’s thinking about writing one, too. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I think about it a lot,” Chenoweth said on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I want someone to collaborate with me on a story I have, and it would be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content