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This Week on Stage: Cillian Murphy, Dule Hill, and Alicia Keys in New York

The boards were busy this week. Big stars like Cillian Murphy (Inception) and Mekhi Phifer (ER) made their New York stage debuts. The Off Broadway musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning indie movie Once announced its move to Broadway just hours before its opening night performance. And we caught up with Cirque du Soleil’s dance-heavy Michael Jackson tribute show in Las Vegas. Read the highlights below:

Misterman: I give this one-man show, written by Irish playwright Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy as a man ostracized from his Irish village, an A-, calling it “the perfect pairing of unorthodox playwright and fearless actor” and noting that “I’ve never seen an actor tear up as convincingly as Murphy.”

Once: Misterman scribe Walsh also penned the book to this Broadway-bound stage version of the Oscar-winning 2006 Irish film Once, which earns a B from correspondent Keith Staskiewicz, who criticizes its “cornball elements” but admits that “the production’s sheer energy makes up for much of the soppiness.” READ FULL STORY

This Week on Stage: TV stars occupy NYC’s theater scene, 'Bonnie & Clyde' shoots and misses

What do Alan Cumming, Josh Radnor, Michael Urie, and Jim Parsons have in common besides appearing on TV? They are all returning to the stage within the next year. The Good Wife’s Cumming (who earned a Tony in 1998 for playing Cabaret’s Master of Ceremonies) announced this week that he’s bringing his one-man Macbeth to the Lincoln Center Festival in July. How I Met Your Mother’s Radnor spoke out about his voice preparations for singing in next Monday’s She Loves Me benefit at the Roundabout. Ugly Betty’s Urie revealed that he’s stepping in to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the end of January.  And The Big Bang Theory’s Parsons signed on to play the lead in next season’s Harvey revival.

They’re not the only TV stalwarts currently in the limelight: READ FULL STORY

'How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor on his new role as a musical star

It’s been a song-filled year for the guys of How I Met Your Mother. Music man Neil Patrick Harris starred in Stephen Sondheim’s Company. Jason Segel stretched his pipes in The Muppets. Now Josh Radnor is leading a one-night only benefit reading of the romantic musical comedy She Loves Me at Roundabout’s Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Dec. 5. His co-stars include Tony winner Jane Krakowski, Tony nominee Victor Garber, and a 15-member orchestra — not bad for a guy whose previous singing experience was basically crooning for laughs on TV. Since we already know that he’s a skilled romantic comedian from HIMYM, Radnor recently took some time from rehearsals to tell to EW what to expect from his Broadway-style belting.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your How I Met Your Mother costars have been doing a lot of singing this year.
JOSH RADNOR: [Laughing] What is this? Are you trying to get me more nervous?

No! Do you feel pressure?

Jim Parsons will return to Broadway in next season's 'Harvey'

The Big Bang Theory’s two-time Emmy winner Jim Parsons is trading in physics for psychosis next summer in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s upcoming revival of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1944 comedy, Harvey. Parsons, who made his Broadway debut as big-hearted hospital administrator Tommy Boatwright in last season’s Tony-winning Normal Heart revival, will play Elwood P. Dowd, an affable man whose best friend is the titular 6-foot 3½-inch fairy rabbit. When Elwood’s odd behavior threatens his upstart sister’s social life, she tries to have him committed, only to end up in the loony bin herself. Broadway vets Jessica Hecht will play the sister and Charles Kimbrough (Murphy Brown’s deep-voiced Jim Dial) will play the hospital’s chief.

You might say it’s perfect casting — Parsons will be stepping into the shoes of fellow lanky comedian Jimmy Stewart, who (along with Frank Fay, Joe E. Brown, and Jack Buchanan) played Elwood during the show’s initial Broadway run, in the 1950 film, and the 1970 stage revival. Previews begin May 18, with the official opening night set for Jun. 14.

Read more:

This Week on Stage: Jim Parsons in ‘The Normal Heart’

Happy Birthday, 'Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark'! Hope you asked for cash.

One year ago today, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark swung into New York City’s Foxwoods Theatre for its very first preview—a disastrous outing that was stopped five times as wires fell, scenery broke, and two actors were left dangling helplessly in midair. Twelve months, two directors, six rescheduled opening nights, and 369 performances later, how is Broadway’s injury-ridden, lawsuit-stricken, most-expensive-musical-ever faring?

Eh. On the celebratory side, since starting previews, Spider-Man’s been playing to nearly full houses (665,395 total tickets sold so far) and grossing an average of $1.4 million a week, despite earning mostly bad reviews when it opened in June. Last week—which included the tourist-filled Thanksgiving holiday—the musical didn’t just best all its previous weekly grosses by earning $2.1 million dollars, it also it broke Foxwoods’ record for the highest six-day haul by a single show. Granted, the venue has hosted only eight other productions, including flops like The Pirate Queen, in its 13-year history.

On the bury-your-head-and-pretend-your-birthday-is-just-another-day side, the New York Times estimated that the $75 million show, which costs over $1 million a week to operate, would have to play at this capacity for at least five more years in order to pay off its debts. And that projection doesn’t account for the legal fees accrued to fight lawsuits recently filed by original director Julie Taymor and investor Patricia Lambrecht—or any possible payouts.

So what’s a 1-year-old show to do? Improve with age. According to the Times, rather than relying on money from touring productions or international versions of the musical to recoup its investment, Spider-Man‘s producers are going to first focus on bettering the current show in New York (albeit with costly endeavors). Among their ideas: adding a new scene and musical number every year. They’ll also expand Spidey’s radio advertising campaign across the country and continue to aggressively court foreign tourists. Who knows–we could be back here next year celebrating the show’s terrible twos.

This Week on Stage: Evenings with Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, and Alan Rickman

Three of Broadway’s best—Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin and Alan Rickman—returned to the Main Stem this week, but don’t be too thankful, because the results are varied.

EW film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum gives Rickman’s writing-themed Seminar (pictured) a C+, calling it a “synthetic, audience-stroking comedy,” and adding that it “has little of depth or authenticity to say about the struggle to put words in order.” She does, however, praise actor Hamish Linklater, who makes his Broadway debut in the play. “In the end, Seminar belongs to Hamish Linklater,” she writes. “The actor does such a good job of creating, sustaining, and quietly intensifying [his character’s] full personality.”

On the other hand, An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin is “two hours of good old-fashioned musical theater” according to critic Melissa Rose Bernardo. “The greatest of the greatest hits are here,” says Bernardo, giving the play an A-.  Patinkin’s ‘Oh What a Circus’ “reminds us what Ricky Martin’s up against in this spring’s Evita revival” and LuPone’s ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ has “powerhouse vocals….She gets a standing ovation simply by slowly raising her arms in the now-famous Evita-on-the-balcony pose.”

Off-Broadway had similar up-and-downs this week. The Cold War drama Blood and Gifts earns an A from stage editor Thom Geier, who praises playwright J.T Rogers. “He takes a subject that seems like the stuff of PBS or dry policy papers—Afghanistan in the 1980s,” writes Geier, “and crafts a smart, intellectually stimulating, and just-plain entertaining spy thriller.” On the other hand, while there are “some interesting ideas at work” in Thomas Higgins’ C+ boyhood drama Wild Animals You Should Know, Geier warns “none of the characters seem fully fleshed out in Higgins’ engaging but overly schematic plot.”

This Week on Stage: Julie Taymor fights back; Hugh Jackman returns to Broadway

Broadway’s most expensive musical is still nabbing the week’s biggest headlines. First, ousted Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark director Julie Taymor made her beef with the show’s producers official on Tuesday when she filed a federal lawsuit against 8 Legged Productions and Spidey co-writer Glen Berger for copyright infringement and breach of contract. Their response: We’ll see you in court. Then actor Matthew James Thomas — making his debut as Peter Parker — was injured offstage during a Wednesday matinee performance.

While Taymor and 8 Legged prepared to duke it out and Thomas mended, our critics reviewed a week’s worth of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Los Angeles shows — including Hugh Jackman’s hip-shaking return to the New York boards. Read the highlights below. READ FULL STORY

This Week on Stage: 'Funny Girl' postponed, 'Other Desert Cities' opens on Broadway

The current Broadway buzz isn’t so much about what’s happening next year (a David Mamet-penned prison drama starring Patti LuPone and Laurie Metcalf) as what’s not: Producers announced last night that the Lauren Ambrose-led revival of Funny Girl (scheduled to debut in early 2012) has been postponed indefinitely. The Matthew Broderick starrer Nice Work if You Can Get It is already set to take its space at New York’s Imperial Theatre.

But that’s enough rain on your parade. Our reviewers checked out three solid productions this week. Read the highlights below.  READ FULL STORY

This Week on Stage: Jesse Eisenberg makes his playwriting debut

First time’s a charm, apparently: Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg’s stage-writing debut, Asuncion, earned a healthy B+ this week from writer Keith Staskiewicz. Our critics also saw two other productions — a premiere on the Main Stem and an I Love Lucy tribute in L.A — highlights below.

Asuncion: According to Staskiewicz, Eisenberg’s off-Broadway comedy about a liberal who discovers his hidden prejudices “is a solid playwriting debut.” “Even if the plot can be as shaggy and messy as the low-rent apartment in which it’s set,” he says, “Eisenberg has created something more ambitious than the sort of safe, colorless dramedy that a lot of first-time playwrights go for.” READ FULL STORY

This Week on Stage: Steve Jobs gets remembered, Woody Allen and co. disappoint

Comedy apparently doesn’t come in threes. The triple-threat writing team behind Broadway’s Relatively Speaking — Woody Allen, Ethan Coen, and Elaine May — failed to impress this week, earning only a C+ from EW senior writer Clark Collis. Luckily, our reviewers saw three other higher-ranking Off-Broadway plays.  Read the highlights below.

Relatively Speaking: “This trio of comedies,” writes Collis, “is, comparatively speaking, far from any of its creators’ finest work.” Of the three C+ vignettes that make up Speaking, Collis likes May’s the best, as only she “seems to have really put her heart and soul into her one-act.” “[Speaking] most resembles the output of some supergroup whose members have decided to save their A game for solo projects.” READ FULL STORY

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