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Review: ‘Misery’ on Broadway

December 6th, 2015 Comments off

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Laurie Metcalf and Bruce Willis in 'Misery.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Laurie Metcalf and Bruce Willis in ‘Misery.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Misery loves company, or so the saying goes. Screenwriter/playwright William Goldman has adapted his 1990 film for the stage, which in turn, is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. The straightforward plot unfolds over the course of several months as screenwriter Paul Sheldon (Bruce Willis) is taken under the care of his number one fan, Annie Walker (Laurie Metcalf) after barely surviving a car accident in a remote area just outside Silver Creek, Colorado.

Film buffs will remember Kathy Bates’ Academy Award-winning performance opposite James Caan. It was a psychologically thrilling film, driven by director Rob Reiner’s keen eye. The theatrical team has a lot to live up to, and for the most part, does justice to the faithful stage adaptation.

Bruce Willis in 'Misery.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Bruce Willis in ‘Misery.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Goldman’s script unfolds in a cinematic manner in short scenes punctuated by original music (Michael Friedman) and a realistic revolving set (David Korins) that offers a glimpse inside Annie’s unstable mind. Director Will Frears’ challenge is to make something palpable out of the familiar. Anyone who’s seen the film knows where the action is headed, so creating dramatic tension is difficult, in addition to the fact that there’s not a lot of action—Paul is bed-ridden or in a wheelchair for the majority of the performance.

Ms. Metcalf and Mr. Willis (along with brief appearances by Leon Addison Brown as Buster, the local police officer) are each compelling in their own way. Metcalf brings a lithe and quirky instability to the role—a culmination of her decades-long career on stage and screen. Perhaps offering more punch than Bates’ film performance, she is adept at flipping from caregiver to psychopath on a dime, and seems to relish each purposeful transition.

Willis returns to the New York stage after nearly 30 years and there have been multiple reports about his unease. The New York Times described him “aloof and evasive” in a feature published this September, perhaps the culmination of a difficult rehearsal process and grueling press commitments. But Willis is more than serviceable. While his career has primarily been built on action films, he manages to extract a weathered believability that only falters in the play’s final moments, where a thrust of revolt requires an energy level that he’s not quite able to muster. That element of surprise feels somewhat deflated after an 85-minute build-up, and the play meanders to its final denouement.

For Stephen King fans or celebrity chasers that get thrills by Hollywood’s Broadway invasion, Misery provides a pleasant enough evening at the theatre. But it’s Metcalf that reminds us that there’s nothing like live performance and witnessing a true actor immersed in her craft.

Here’s what the critics are saying:

“Misery” the play is saturated in what feels like an amused, nostalgic distance from its source material. It’s as if Mr. Willis and Ms. Metcalf had shown up at the behest of a “Misery” fan club to share memories of our enjoyment of the book and movie and to chuckle over how they once scared the wits out of us. Even the requisite dark-and-stormy atmospherics (with lighting by David Weiner, sound by Darron L West and creepy music by Michael Friedman) register as gentle, teasing reminders of guilty thrills past.” The New York Times

“The bed-bound Paul is a purely reactive role; still, helmer Will Frears lets Willis get away with murder by maintaining his sophisticated-author cool well beyond the point of believability. It takes the iconic scene in which a maddened Annie takes a sledgehammer to Paul’s healed legs to get the star to drop his sultry half-smile.

This leaves the field to Metcalf, a favorite stage thesp who maintains a strong theatrical presence despite a full dance card in film and television (“Getting On,” “The Big Bang Theory,” the “Toy Story” series). A grown-up waif in Ann Roth’s sad costumes of cardigan sweaters and one pathetically dated “good dress,” Annie is a pathological version of King’s rabid fans. Metcalf skillfully modulates her emotional transitions from adoring to obsessive to psychotic. Her eyelids flutter, her hand gestures quicken, and her vocal range reaches for the high notes.

It’s a stunning performance, even if, in this oddly fear-free production, she provokes more pity than terror.” Variety

The Hollywood Reporter
The Wall Street Journal

Misery
Broadhurst Theatre
Broadway & 44th Street
Through February 14

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Carrie”

March 2nd, 2012 Comments off

MCC's "Carrie". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Carrie

Stephen King’s tale of a prom queen with a nasty temper, one of the most infamous musical flops of all time, returns from the grave with new material by the original writers and a new “less camp/more real” attitude thanks to director Stafford Arima.

“…it’s hard to imagine this defanged “Carrie” ever raising your blood pressure, or even making your flesh crawl.” New York Times

“The MCC Theater’s sincere and dead-serious production — reduced and rethought with strange dignity by director Stafford Arima — has just enough bubblegum pop and heartfelt shock appeal to be a sort of Grease for the post-Columbine generation.” Newsday

“What the show has going for it is the evocative source material, but in stripping the story of its camp value Arima and his team have also robbed it of any sense of fun.” Entertainment Weekly

“In an effort to make the show connect with awkward-age teens, it’s been watered down and robbed of all the distinctive qualities that made it ‘terrifyingly lyrical’ onscreen (in the words of Pauline Kael) and ludicrously lurid on Broadway.” Hollywood Reporter

Mizer’s Two Cents: I saw this early in previews when the show was still being reworked; you can check out my thoughts at the time by clicking on a prior blog entry. I’ll bring you a final take on everyone’s favorite high school hell raiser after I see it again later in the run.

 

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “And God Created Great Whales”, “Carrie” & “William Shatner”

February 17th, 2012 Comments off

William Shatner in "Shatner's World". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Within the last seven days, I saw Moby Dick sing, a Prom Queen blow up a gym and Captain Kirk take a bow on Broadway. If that isn’t the strangest week of theater I’ve ever experienced, then I’ve clearly repressed the memories of a weirder seven day span to protect my delicate psyche.

In honor of the decidedly odd (though certainly worthwhile in some cases) trio of works, let’s jump to some quick mini-reviews and thoughts:

Shatner’s World – We Just Live In It: The bombastic, Emmy-winning star of Star Trek and Boston Legal takes to the stage for a one-man show about his life and career. If you’re expecting a well-constructed play featuring carefully enacted remembrances, well–really? No, William Shatner is content to step into the spotlight and entertainingly ramble through stories like a dinner party guest who has had an extra cocktail or two. Funny thing is, once you’ve accepted the ramshackle nature of the evening, it’s quite amusing. I’m not a Trekkie and yet darned if I didn’t find Shatner charming, self-depricating and the best kind of ham–well-seasoned and never canned. He wanders and improvs and sings and tells hoary jokes with an impish glee that is infectious. In fact, his childhood love of vaudeville comics turns out to be a “rosebud” key to understanding his bigger than life, irrepressible persona. In the end after he has ever so glancingly touched on more serious matters of life and death, he imparts a world view that is both simple, illuminating and touching. Why does Shatner have a show on Broadway? Because he said “yes,” because he has always said “why the hell not!” And, for that, it’s hard not to love the guy. Read more…