This Week on Stage: Billy Crystal hits a home run, Mark Rylance swaps sexes

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Image Credit: Carol Rosegg

Another week, another one swimming off the Great White Way as the large-scale musical of Big Fish announced it will play its final show on Dec. 29 after 98 regular performances. (But definitely count on it being remembered at Tony time, especially for fearless lead Norbert Leo Butz.) People are showing in droves, however, for two of this week’s new entries: The return of Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays bagged over $1 million with only six performances last week (most shows have eight), and the Globe-inspired Shakespeare play duo at the Belasco is playing close to capacity every show, cementing Mark Rylance’s status as our premier import. Could he win, not one, but two more Tonys this season? He’s got competition aplenty already (including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, also performing two shows in rep which open next weekend). But as a character in Twelfth Night says, “I have them at my fingers’ end.” Also this week is a radio play by the late Samuel Beckett (whom McKellen and Stewart are getting to know quite well with Waiting for Godot), and an Oscar-winning family dramedy that finds a new life on the NYC stage (click on the links below for full reviews):

700 Sundays  Billy Crystal’s Tony-winning solo about love, life and a whole lotta baseball returns for a limited holiday engagement after a smash run nearly ten years ago. Did Jessica Shaw find it as illuminating this time at bat? Firm base hit. “Sure, some of it feels like Old Jew Telling Jokes, but Crystal knows his audience…it’s hard to begrudge the guy, who, at the show I attended, was so eager to stay in the spotlight after two-and-a-half hours that he continued telling stories after a long standing ovation and even did some impressive-for-a-grandfather moves.” EW grade: A-

All That Fall  The acclaimed, Trevor Nunn-directed London staging of Samuel Beckett’s 1957 radio play makes it stateside, starring English royalty Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, and my review makes a strong case for the need to see these two on stage, scripts in hand or not: “One of the delicious ironies of Nunn’s production is having Atkins play a frail, bitter pill of a woman when she remains as vibrant as actresses decades younger, with comic timing you could set a Swiss watch to. Gambon, with less stage time, is an expert scene partner and terrific visual match for her…these magnetic stage vets make sure the proper chill remains in the air.” EW grade: A-

Little Miss Sunshine  The 2006 movie (which netted Oscars for costar Alan Arkin and Best Original Screenplay) becomes a new Off-Broadway musical — VW bus and all — courtesy of composer William Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and director James Lapine (Into the Woods). But Thom Geier felt this one just plain ran out of gas, and lacks the qualities that made the film a surprise hit. “Since the show lasts about as long as the original movie, the creators constantly seem to be in a headlong rush to get to the next signature moment from the film, even if the stage version hasn’t sufficiently set the scene…[the cast does] their best to push Little Miss Sunshine into gear, but this musical sputters to life only for brief, occasional bursts.” EW grade: C

Richard III/Twelfth Night  A large, all-male cast-take on two classic plays by the Bard on Broadway after a heralded London run, with two-time Tony recipient Mark Rylance as the title role in the former, and the beauteous noblewoman searching for a mate in the latter, all staged in the manner of Shakespeare’s Globe, with candelabras for illumination and costumes that would have been strewn together in the 1600s. Thom Geier called this double bill of revivals “unforgettable” and praises Rylance to the hilt in Night while expressing reservation at his crafty King: “At times, Rylance can seem like a Borscht Belt comic feeding off audience reactions and milking punchlines for every possible chuckle. This is an approach that works better in Twelfth Night…Curiously, though, Rylance plays the humpbacked and murderous conniver Richard III with much the same comic brio.” But he cites the excellent contributions of a fine team: “for all the attention to period detail, Tim Carroll’s Twelfth Night and Richard III still feel fresh, and the Bard just as vital as he did four centuries ago.” EW grades: A- for Twelfth Night; B for Richard III

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