PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 16-22: Miss Firecracker, Velocity, Shia LaBeouf Won't Play Broadway (For Now)

By Robert Simonson
February 22, 2013

Not since Jeremy Piven bolted the 2008 revival of Speed-the-Plow, citing mercury poisoning from excessive sushi binging, have we had a Broadway star exit as odd and awkward as what went down this week, when "Transformers" star Shia LaBeouf  left the Broadway debut of Lyle Kessler's Orphans dramatically parted ways.



With previews scheduled to begin at the Schoenfeld Theatre on March 19, LaBeouf—who was to make his Broadway debut in this play, acting alongside Alec Baldwin and Tom Sturridge—abruptly departed, citing "creative differences," showbiz's favorite euphemism for "everything but creative differences."

And then it got strange. Being a youngster who feels comfortable with social media, LaBeouf began posting on his Twitter account several e-mails he received or sent to cast and creative team members on the production. One he apparently received Feb. 19 from director Dan Sullivan read, "I'm too old for disagreeable situations. you're one hell of a great actor. Alec is who he is. you are who you are. you two are incompatible. I should have known it. this one will haunt me. you tried to warn me. you said you were a different breed. I didn't get it. Dan."

Another e-mail, from "AB," stated, "I've been through this before. It's been a while. And perhaps some of the particulars are different. But it comes down to the fact that what we all do now is critical. Perhaps especially for you. When the change comes, how do we handle it, whether it be good or bad? What do we learn? I don't have an unkind word to say about you. You have my word."

There were also emails from Sturridge and, um, fight director Rick Sordelet. (What? Didn't the stage manager send Shia any emails?) All this digital action surely makes Orphans the first Broadway backstage drama in which Twitter has played a significant role. All the email/tweets expressed generally positive things about LeBeouf. Baldwin, a Twitter maven, seems to have tweeted nothing about the situation. However, the actor, speaking briefly by telephone to the New York Times, did say that he and everyone involved with Orphans "were 'very disappointed' that Mr. LaBeouf was publishing e-mail exchanges that they considered private."

Then it got a little stranger. LeBeouf published his full apology letter, a bit of Hemingway-esque masculine prose that ran, in part, "A man is good at his job. Not his work, not his avocation, not his hobby. Not his career. His job. A man can look you up and down and figure some things out. Before you say a word, he makes you. From your suitcase, from your watch, from your posture. A man infers."

Uh huh. Soon enough, however, New York Times writer David Itzkoff and several websites noted that LeBeouf’s email bore more than a passing similarity to a 2009 Esquire essay titled “How to Be a Man” by writer Tom Chiarella.

After all that mishegoss, the producers of Orphans finally announced that film star Ben Foster will replace Shia LaBeouf. So the show will sill open on April 7.

The Broadway debut of a 30-year-old Beth Henley play starring a relative nobody and directed by an actor? In the fierce economic reality of today's Times Square, it seemed too good to be true.

Amber Tamblyn
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

And it was. The mounting of Henley's comedy The Miss Firecracker Contest, which had been announced for spring 2013 starring Amber Tamblyn, and directed by Judith Ivey, has been postponed. Lead producer Larry Kaye told the New York Times that a scheduling conflict "stood in the way of getting our particular dream cast." Kaye hopes to mount the production during the 2013-14 season, although plans are not definite at this time, and Kaye has yet to finish raising the capitalization for the play.

Another Kaye production, Eric Coble's new two-character play, The Velocity of Autumn, which was scheduled to open on Broadway this spring with a cast led by Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons and two-time Tony winner Stephen Spinella, has also been postponed.

***

While the hopes of Firecracker and Velocity were dashed, those of the American Repertory Theatre production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie are on the rise.

The production, staged by Tony Award-winning Once director John Tiffany, and starring Cherry Jones, opened Feb. 6 to lavish praise from the critics, including a notice from the New York Times. The Times reports that producer Jeffrey Richards, who also transferred A.R.T.'s Porgy and Bess, has been in talks with executives there about bringing the classic to Broadway. A timeline for Menagerie's New York arrival is still murky.

If it comes in, it will mark yet another Williams revival on a Broadway that has seen many in the past decade, including the current Cat of a Hot Tin Roof. The last time Menagerie played Broadway was in 2005, in a poorly reviewed staging starring Jessice Lange. The play more recently ran Off-Broadway in 2010, in a well-received production starring Judith Ivey.

***

According to reports, a musical version of A Bronx TaleChazz Palminteri's seemingly deathless coming-of-age story set in New York's most northerly borough—is in the works. Palminteri, who made his name in 1993 with the film version of the story, starred in a one-man show that played an extended run on Broadway in 2007.

Now word comes that Robert De Niro, who directed the original film, plans to direct the musical, which will feature a book by Palminteri and a score by David Bryan, of Memphis. Sergio Trujillo will choreograph the production, which is being produced by Tommy Mottola.

No official announcement about a musical version of A Bronx Tale has been made.

***

Really Really, playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo's mysterious, cynical tale of the aftermath of a college party, opened to positive reviews last week, and quickly extended.

Those who are curious about the drama's author—whose first play this is—can find out more Feb. 23-24, when Colaizzo will step into the role of Johnson, normally played by actor Kobi Libii, while Libii shoots a comedy pilot for Amazon Studios.

Who does Colaizzo think he is? Tracy Letts?