London and New York Share Theatrical Hits

London and New York Share Theatrical Hits

As the London theater community readies for the Olivier Awards on Sunday, April 3, Broadway Direct rounds up the recent hits that have crisscrossed the Atlantic.

Last year’s Tony-winning best play was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, originating at London’s National Theatre before transferring to Broadway, where it will end a run of 800 performances September 4 — the longest running straight play on Broadway in a decade. Meanwhile, in the current season, London has sent productions of King Charles III and A View From the Bridge, respectively originating at the Off–West End Almeida and Young Vic Theatres, both of which are sure to be award contenders come Tony time. The yet-to-open musical American Psycho also had its original tryout at the Almeida.
Additionally, Christopher Hampton’s version of Florian Zeller’s French hit The Father was first seen in Bath, England, before transferring to two West End runs, and now arrives shortly on Broadway in a brand-new production at the American Airlines Theatre, starring Frank Langella. And David Harrower’s Blackbird had also originally been a London hit (in a different production).

The traffic is just as vibrant in the opposite direction. Half of the contenders for Best New Musical in the Olivier Awards — being presented at the Royal Opera House April 3 — have come by way of Broadway: a London production of Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s Kinky Boots (which brings the 2013 Tony-winning Broadway hit to its home territory, since it is actually set in Britain — and has duly been heard with far more authentic accents at the Adelphi Theatre), and a new version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-winning hit, In the Heights, from 2008 (now playing at the King’s Cross Theatre, and revisiting it in light of the current smash Hamilton, lets audiences see — and hear — where it came from).

The other two entries in the Best New Musical category are Britain-originated, based — like Kinky Boots — on small British independent feature films: Bend It Like Beckham and Mrs. Henderson Presents, originally seen on the big screen in 2002 and 2005, respectively. They’ve been brought to the theatrical stage with some of their original participants on board: Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha (director and cowriter of the film) reprised those duties alongside original cowriter Paul Mayeda Bergas, and were newly joined by composer Howard Goodall and lyricist Charles Hart (Phantom of the Opera). Mrs. Henderson’s original composer, George Fenton, and musical director and orchestrator Simon Chamberlain have jointly written the new score to the musical, with Don Black newly on board as lyricist. Beckham sadly ended a nine-month run at the Phoenix Theatre in March, but all the other shows continue to run.

Elsewhere in a vibrant theatrical season whose achievements are being recognized and crowned by the Oliviers are more nominated Broadway shows: Hand to God (up for Best New Comedy, with an all-new British cast), August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (newly revived at the National Theatre, in a production nominated for Best Play), and the classic stage and/or movie musicals Gypsy, Guys and Dolls, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in contention for Best Musical revival alongside Bugsy Malone. Also nominated are key American creative personnel that include Jerry Mitchell (in contention for Best Theatre Choreographer for Kinky Boots) and Rob Ashford (up for Best Director with Kenneth Branagh for codirecting The Winter’s Tale starring Branagh and Judi Dench).

In addition to The Father, which has been nominated for Best New Play, the other three contenders in the category are also sure to have a future Broadway life. Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places and Things has newly transferred from the National to the West End’s Wyndham’s, with Olivier nominee Denise Gough reprising her ferocious and moving performance as an actress in rehab from alcohol and drug addiction. Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, first seen at the Royal Court and then at Wyndham’s, and Farinelli and the King, which originated at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’ Globe before transferring to the Apollo, are also eying Broadway dates for next season. (Another Globe hit in the West End is Nell Gwynn, now at the Apollo, which tells the true story of the fruit seller turned actress who became consort to the king, now running at the Apollo and nominated for Best Comedy.)

Meanwhile, transfers from Broadway to London continue apace too, with Motown — the jukebox tribute to the greatest pop catalog of a single record label in history, which is both written by and honors its founder, Berry Gordy — opening at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre. It came too late for consideration for this year’s awards but is already a solid box-office hit. It is followed in May by the arrival of Disney’s Aladdin to the Prince Edward Theatre, and Audra McDonald reprising her Tony-winning performance in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at Wyndham’s in June (on a prearranged hiatus from her currently previewing Broadway stand-in, Shuffle Along). Also heading to London: Annie Baker’s Off-Broadway hit The Flick will make its British debate at the National Theatre’s Dorfman from April 13 — the same theatre that Lucy Prebble’s The Effect originated at, which is now playing at the Barrow Street Theatre, last home to The Flick, thus proving the circular nature of London and New York’s shared theatrical culture.

As spring arrives, so do a lot more new work and revivals in London, some of which are sure to be tapped for future Broadway and Off-Broadway lives. These include new plays by Nick Payne (Elegy, opening at the Donmar Warehouse April 27; his Incognito is to receive its American premiere at MTC in May) and Alexi Kaye Campbell (Sunset at the Villa Thalia at the National Theatre in May), and a new British musical starring Michael Crawford (The Go-Between at the Apollo in June) Important revivals of Brecht/Weill’s The Threepenny Opera (with Rory Kinnear as Macheath at the NT in May), Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea (with Helen McCrory as Hester Collyer at the NT in June), Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Richard Madden and Lily James playing the title roles for director Kenneth Branagh, who previously directed them in his film Cinderella, at the Garrick in May), and Kenneth Branagh inheriting Olivier’s role in the title role of Osborne’s The Entertainer (at the Garrick in August) also take the stage.

Broadway Direct will keep you up to date with everything that’s happening on both sides of the Atlantic in the coming months. Stay tuned!

* To watch the Olivier Awards, visit the new Olivier YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/olivierawards. It will be broadcast April 3 at 10 p.m. GMT (5 p.m. EST).