On Jan. 28, Emmy Award-winner Matthew Rhys (“The Americans,” “Perry Mason”), will bring “Playing Burton” to life on Audible Theater. The award-winning one-man show explores the life of the international icon of stage and screen Richard Burton, told from the perspective of the Welsh megastar.
Adapting the classic show for Audible’s theatrical storytelling initiative has been a deeply personal project for Rhys. While studying at the Royal Academy in London, an 18-year-old Rhys saw “Playing Burton” on stage. The play, written by Mark Jenkins, offers a penetrating look at the whole scope of Burton’s life, from his childhood in an impoverished mining community in South Wales to becoming one of the most acclaimed (and highly-paid) actors in his generation. The plot follows his torrid and tempestuous love affair with fellow “Cleopatra” co-star Elizabeth Taylor, as well as Burton’s public battle with alcoholism and related health issues, which ultimately led to his death at the age of 58.
Rhys, a native of Wales himself, was profoundly impacted by Burton’s story of fame, ambition and identity. “The reason I wanted to act was because of Richard Burton,” Rhys told Variety. “Since first seeing his incredible performance in ‘Look Back in Anger’ to still listening to his audio of ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Under Milk Wood.’ He blazed the trail for us all and showed us it was possible.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States last year and forced everyone inside, Rhys began ruminating on the play and how he could get involved. That’s when he pitched the solo performance so that millions of listeners could enjoy it on Amazon’s audio entertainment platform. Rhys joins stars Jake Gyllenhaal, William Jackson Harper, Carey Mulligan, André Holland, Blair Underwood, and John Leguizamo in bringing their passion projects to Audible Theater.