April 20, 2006

Julia Roberts fails to move Broadway critics

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Julia Roberts is still Hollywood's
ultimate "Pretty Woman" but her first venture onto a Broadway
stage failed to convince the critics whose verdict was
"modest," "flat" and "lackluster."

Hundreds of fans gathered outside the theater for
Wednesday's opening night of "Three Days of Rain" and stars who
turned up for the hottest ticket on Broadway included Oprah
Winfrey, Tim Robbins and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The play is the first professional stage role for the
Oscar-winning Roberts, 38. She remains Hollywood's highest-paid
actress, commanding $20 million a film, according to The
Hollywood Reporter's list of the movie industry's top players.

"For the record, Roberts does not deliver a train wreck of
a performance," the Toronto Star said in a review on Thursday
headlined "Pretty Woman pretty flat." It said she failed to
bring her Oscar-winning screen charisma to the stage.

"Her face, so luminous on screen, barely registers
onstage," the review said.

New York Times critic Ben Brantley, whose reviews can make
or break a play, confessed to be a "Juliaholic" and said he was
nervous on entering the theater "as if a relative or a close
friend were about to do something foolish in public."

"Your heart goes out to her when she makes her entrance in
the first act and freezes with the unyielding stiffness of an
industrial lamppost," Brantley wrote.

Richard Greenberg's play is a drama about a brother and
sister who meet up with a childhood friend for the reading of a
will. Roberts plays Nan in the first act and then her mother in
the second, which takes place a generation earlier.

"She's stiff with self-consciousness (especially in the
first act), only glancingly acquainted with the two characters
she plays and so deeply, disturbingly beautiful that you don't
want to let her out of your sight," Brantley wrote.

"On the few occasions when she smiles, it's with a
sunniness that could dispel even 40 days and 40 nights of
rain," he added.


USA Today critic Elysa Gardner was more generous, saying
the two roles played to a Broadway newcomer's strengths and
potential weaknesses. "In the end, Roberts makes both women
credible, compelling and sweetly funny," Gardner wrote.

New York tabloid Newsday's critic Linda Winer was also a
fan, saying: "Julia Roberts gives a lean, intelligent,
altogether honorable performance."

But good reviews were in the minority.

The Boston Globe said the play was a lackluster "One
hundred and fifty minutes of tedium," and added: "Roberts, a
cinematic ball of fire, wanders around the stage in the first
act as if she's looking for the Prozac."

"Mostly cloudy," was the Washington Post's verdict. "As if
marooned on an unfamiliar shore, Julia Roberts staggers
hesitantly through 'Three Days of Rain,"' it said.

Roberts' 12-week run is almost entirely sold out. In recent
weeks tickets were listed on eBay for as much as $999 for a
front-row pair of seats on opening weekend.

Roberts co-stars with Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, both
also familiar from the screen -- Rudd's credits include "The 40
Year Old Virgin," "Friends" and "Clueless," while Cooper is
currently in "Failure to Launch" with Matthew McConaughey.

"It's weird because we are under the microscope in a way
that other shows might not be," Rudd told NY1 television.

Roberts won an Oscar for "Erin Brockovich" in 2001 and was
nominated for one in 1991 for "Pretty Woman."