January 13, 2006

Broadway can be a gamble for Hollywood’s hot stars

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Hollywood stars step off the
silver screen to tread the boards of Broadway, they often play
to full houses of adoring fans -- and dubious critics.

Denzel Washington was a critical flop, if a box office
smash, in "Julius Caesar" last year and reviewers are wondering
if Julia Roberts, David Schwimmer and Amanda Peet will hit it
big this season.

Oscar winner Roberts makes her Broadway debut in Richard
Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain," which opens in April. Peet,
now starring with George Clooney in the film "Syriana," opens
in Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" next month.

Harry Connick Jr is headlining the musical "The Pajama
Game" and other celebrity names on Broadway this season include
Cynthia Nixon, best known as Miranda from "Sex and the City,"
but with a long New York theater career.

Aubrey Reuben, executive committee member of the Outer
Critics Circle in New York, said with financial pressure on
Broadway producers, bringing in a big star was the surest way
to fill seats, even if critics aren't always impressed.

"Denzel Washington made money," Reuben said. "Everybody
wanted to see him because he's a huge star but you have to
admit that ... 'Julius Caesar' was just over his head."

Despite the production being panned, "Julius Caesar" was
sold out for much of its three-month run and swooning fans of
the Oscar-winning star of "Training Day" and "Malcolm X" lined
up to see a play that would normally be a harder sell.

"There are certain names where the fans are so huge, it's
almost like stalkers, they want to be close to them, to see
them in person," Reuben said.

"The problem is ... some of these people are not stage
actors, they're used to doing short scenes for a movie then
going back to their trailer," he said. "You can be in a movie
or in a TV show and not be much of an actor."


Still, there are plenty of success stories, especially
among those who began working in theater early: Laura Linney,
who trained at Juilliard, won rave reviews in 2004 in "Sight
Unseen" as did the big name cast of "Glengarry Glen Ross" last
year, including "MASH" star Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber from
"The Manchurian Candidate."

David Schwimmer is best known to fans as Ross Geller from
the long-running sitcom "Friends," but he has a respectable
resume in theater that may stand him in good stead when he
makes his Broadway debut in a revival of Herman Wouk's "The
Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" in May.

A co-founder of Chicago's Lookingglass Theater Company, he
has acted in and directed several productions there and earlier
this year he made his London West End debut in Neil LaBute's
"Some Girl(s)" at the Gielgud Theater.

Roberts, who won an Oscar for "Erin Brockovich," faces the
greatest expectations with the most limited experience to fall
back on, and critics are already predicting a mob scene.

"Three Days of Rain," opening on April 19, is the story of
a brother, sister and family friend examining their parents'
relationship at the reading of a will. The actors play the
children in the first act and the parents in the second.

Like most big names, Roberts is taking a pay cut. Marc
Platt, lead producer for the play which has a total budget of
around $2 million, said she would earn a share of takings.

"For someone like Julia, coming to Broadway isn't at all
about how much she earns," Platt told Reuters.

He said while Roberts had never acted professionally on
stage, he was confident she would do well. "It is very brave
but she's been very smart about it. She's picked a beautiful
play," Platt said. "She's appropriately nervous," he added.

Nerves are indeed appropriate. As Irish actor Gabriel Byrne
put it recently just before taking to the stage in Eugene
O'Neill's "A Touch of the Poet," "There is no take two."

Peet, who has worked with the likes of Woody Allen and Jack
Nicholson on film, said she has a love-hate relationship with
theater and suffers from terrible stage fright.

"A lot of actors have a struggle between desperately
wanting to be seen and at the same time wanting to hide ...
(thinking) please don't make me go out there, I'm going to make
a fool of myself, I'm an imposter, I'm dreadful," she said,
during a break in a rehearsal.