Brendan bows on BroadwayDate: 19 November 2010
The Broadway season is in full flow in the week before Thanksgiving next Thursday, which marks the official start of Christmas in New York, though the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been up and running since the beginning of the month. I haven't had a Radio City fix for a few years, but I fear that with Al Pacino, Vanessa Redgrave, Elaine Stritch and Patti PuPone all pressing for my attention, I may miss out on this flying four-day visit.
The weather is pleasant, the mood upbeat, though Box Office figures are not yet hitting their seasonal stride: only Wicked is playing to 100% capacity and many big musicals -- Mary Poppins, Phantom, Promises, Promises and Night Music are hovering around the 65-75% figure according to Variety.
Even Mark Rylance in La Bete is only playing to half full houses -- and that's just one of a whole batch of shows that will hang on through the New Year and close in January.
This weekend's big opening is Brendan Fraser making his Broadway debut in Simon Bent's Elling, the delightfully quirky Norwegian comedy that started out at the Bush and transferred to the Trafalgar Studios with John Simm.
Simm played the title role of the mother's boy and agoraphobic, whereas Fraser plays the gross gorilla he rooms with in the asylum and then flat-shares with in a sociological, supervised experiment.
I'd be surprised if Monday morning's reviews don't give a solid two and half cheers for this smart and delicious production by Doug Hughes, which is presented by whole clutch of producers headlined by our own Howard Panter and Bill Kenwright.
Fraser is a lumbering revelation as the dim-witted sex-crazed giant, while Denis O'Hare is clownishly brilliant as Elling, very different from Simm, more whimsical, elasticated and altogether more, well, Woody Allen-ish.
Elling at the Barrymore might well prove a sleeper success of the season, though it's only slated to run through January at the moment.
Arriving in Manhattan in mid-afternoon, I made a hasty round of the box offices to collect my tickets before plumping for pre-show supper in an Italian restaurant new to me on West 44th Street, etcetera etcetera. The food, trust me, is delicious.
I was taken by my friend Elisabeth Hayes who runs a French/American cultural exchange programme in the city and used to run Giorgio Strehler's legendary Theatre en Europe programme in the 1980s out of Paris and Milan.
She was my guest at Elling, too, and made the very good point -- she loved the show -- that she might not have gone along without an invitation.
It's not a brash new Broadway baby, this Elling, but it's a skillful, very funny study in unlikely friendship that is further complicated by jealousy on both sides when the lists are joined by a pregnant neighbour and a washed-up poet.
And I don't have to remind London fans of the show that Elling smuggles his poetry to the public through tampering with sauerkraut packages in supermarkets.
Nor of the most unexpectedly funny line, probably, on the current Broadway stage: ""I've made a new friend -- without the help of the Norwegian government!"