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‘Take Me Out’ Broadway Review: Winning Baseball Drama Steps To The Plate Once More

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UPDATE: Last season’s Tony-winning Broadway production of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out proved so popular that producers made the unusual decision to bring the show back, its cast largely in tact, for some extra innings. Take Me Out begins a 14-week Broadway run today, playing through January 29, 2023. The original cast remains except for one: Bill Heck will replace Patrick J. Adams in the role of Kippy Sunderstrom.

Here is Deadline’s original review of the production, that ran on April 4, 2022:

If the last week in our entertainments has shown us anything, it’s that even the most ordered, traditional of ceremonies can be disrupted by an unkind explosion of id, with ramifications splashing like crocodile tears on even the most unexpected of our heroes. Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play that charts the ramifications when a star baseball player comes out as gay, opens on Broadway tonight in a revival that has the perfect timing of a triple play.

With an impeccable cast headed by Jesse Williams, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Patrick J. Adams, Take Me Out just might be a revelation even to those who saw the original Broadway production nearly 20 years ago. My memory of the play is the sports-star-comes-out angle, a then-novel concept that over time has become, if not the commonplace, at least not unheard of.

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What strikes me now about Greenberg’s gorgeously crafted tale are the various dominoes that tumble after the coming out, in particular how hate speech, in all its vile ignorance and cruelty, can ooze its way into the most unlikely places, slime attaching itself to those you’d never have guessed might be susceptible, pushing heroes to do unheroic things. No one, Greenberg seems to be telling us, walks away unscathed when bigotry and hate come calling.

A little background for those who weren’t reading the sports pages back when the 21st Century was brand new. Professional baseball player Billy Bean had just come out as gay after retiring from the sport, and noted in an interview that only a player with the stardom of, say, a Derek Jeter could possibly come out while still playing ball. Meanwhile, a player for the Atlanta Braves named John Rocker made headlines when he described New York City in vile racist and homophobic terms.

Greenberg, a late-in-life baseball convert, let those real-life images, along with his newfound obsession, swirl in his head to create Take Me Out.

The play opens with New York Empire ballplayer Kippy Sunderstrom addressing the audience, attempting to recount exactly when the “whole mess” started – and the seriousness with which he speaks lets us know quickly that the “mess” was not the coming out. Something bad, very bad, has happened to the Empires, and Greenberg takes his time before the reveal.

So, as Kippy does, let’s start at the beginning. One morning Darren Lemming (a very good Jesse Williams) said to himself “What the hell? I’m Darren Lemming and that’s a very good thing.” On a spur of the moment, Lemming – the Empire’s Jeter-like, mixed-race star of unrivaled talent – tells a gaggle of reporters that he is gay. This “one-man-emblem-of-racial-harmony” and “a Black man who you could imagine had never suffered,” as his pal Kippy puts it, has made a culture-shattering statement with the nonchalance that has gotten him through life convinced he is both invincible and untouchable.

And for a while, that invincibility maintains. There’s some childish locker room insults and some unexpected praise, but Lemming brushes both aside with the above-it-all poise of a man who knows he’s at the top of his game. Untouchable.

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The curveball comes with the recruiting of Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer), a hotshot pitcher from the Ozarks whose uncouth demeanor and surly reticence piques the interest of his teammates. Mungitt’s story comes out in fits and starts – raised in orphanages, his parents gone in a murder-suicide, a vocabulary so limited he can only muster the indignant “that’s not nice” when faced with yet another of life’s insults.

The curiosity roused by this newcomer turns to stunned fury when, during a press conference of his own, he describes his new teammates with racist and homophobic epithets that truly stun. Mungitt’s playing days would seem to be numbered until he delivers a heartfelt, if poorly spelled, written apology that lays his rant on a lifetime of poverty, ignorance and emotional deprivation. “I didn’t know most’a’those words meant bad stuff, I just been hearin’ them all my life,” Shane writes. “The onliest thing I can do is throw — onliest thing I ever could do. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody an’ I accept full responsibility for my speakings. I should be punished.”

Oberholtzer, ensemble
Joan Marcus

So Shane’s back on the team, though not to open arms. Lemming, who expresses his outrage to the team manager-father figure, is doubly hurt when the manager sides with the bigot, in more ways than one.

Even Lemming’s business manager, the starstruck new baseball convert Mason Marzac (a flawless Jesse Tyler Ferguson) encourages Lemming to dash his sudden interest in retirement to finish the season. Particularly important is tomorrow’s game, which pits Lemming against his lifelong friend, fellow superstar and genial rival Davey Battle (Brandon J. Dirden).

When an errant (maybe) pitch goes wrong, tragedy strikes, with Shane only the most obvious culprit. Greenberg essentially then unspools the chronology of the very bad day to show how more than one man behaved very badly, with each insult and cruelty fueling the next, making bullies and victims of everyone. Hate’s legacy.

Directed by Scott Ellis with an attention to pace and nuance that locates every thought of a thoughtful play, Take Me Out does nothing gratuitously, including the abundant full-frontal nudity of the locker room shower scenes. Here is the intellectual Kippy waxing mock-poetic about the aftermath of Lemming’s coming out, teasing his comrades while at the same time speaking a truth:

“We’ve lost a kind of paradise,” he says grandly. “We see that we are naked. And our refuge? We have none. We might want to assume a defensive hostility, an aggression. The danger there is, we become Shane Mungitt. So our anger, our maleness, is lost to us. We’re tight. We choke up on the bat. We play short flies on the bounce. We suck.”

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Or recall, after Shane’s (seemingly) dishonest denial that Lemming was the target of the gay slur, that an earlier exchange involving another player just might indicate Shane isn’t lying at all. In this light, we realize that Shane’s roster of risible attributes probably doesn’t include dishonesty – even that faux apologetic letter isn’t really his to own up to. In a way, Shane is too utterly lacking in self-awareness to be anything other than what he appears – a revelation made clear in a harrowing scene, played to a fare-thee-well by Oberholtzer, when the full impact of his actions is made clear.

And so Take Me Out takes no prisoners in its unraveling of how one man’s hate casts an ugly shadow on everyone in its reach, a corrosive force that prompts even heroes to behave without heroism. In a stunning soliloquy that must surely have contributed to this play’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize nomination (and Tony Award win), the business manager-turned-baseball evangelist Mason delivers an extraordinary exegesis on the sport: Baseball, he says, is “better than Democracy” because baseball “acknowledges loss.”

“While conservatives tell you, leave things alone and no one will lose, and liberals tell you, interfere a lot and no one will lose, baseball says: Someone will lose. Not only says it — insists upon it! So that baseball achieves the tragic vision that Democracy evades….Democracy is lovely, but baseball’s more mature.”

When Ferguson delivers that speech, he captures the character of a gay man who has, to his utter surprise, discovered something of great value in a world that he’d spent his lifetime ignoring, something to fill a void, something to love for better or worse. Baseball, he will later concede, can be tragic, but what will we do till spring?

 

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‘A Little Life’: James Norton To Star In West End Adaptation Of Hanya Yanagihara Bestseller

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James Norton has been set to lead the West End stage adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara’s bestselling novel A Little Life. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015, the emotional story follows four college friends in New York City. Ivo van Hove (Network, Hedda Gabler) is directing the 12-week run at the Harold Pinter Theatre which begins on March 25.

Also starring are Bridgerton’s Luke Thompson, Omari Douglas (It’s A Sin), Zach Wyatt (The Witcher), Elliot Cowan (The Crown), Zubin Varla (Tammy Faye), Nathalie Armin (Force Majeure) and Emilio Doorgasingh (The Kite Runner).

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: Hanya Yanagihara author of A Little Life, at a Photocall for the Man Booker Prize 2015 Shortlisted Authors, at the Royal Festival Hall on October 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

The quartet of friends is made up of aspiring actor Willem (Thompson), successful architect Malcolm (Wyatt), struggling artist JB (Douglas) and prodigious lawyer Jude (Norton). As ambition, addiction and pride threaten to pull the group apart, they always find themselves bound by their love for Jude and the mysteries of his past.  But when those secrets come to light, they finally learn that to know Jude St Francis is to understand the limitless potential of love in the face of life.

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This will be the English-language premiere of the play; van Hove previously staged it in Dutch.

“The book is a kind of a mystery, because it became a huge bestseller,” van Hove told BBC News. “It’s a little bit strange because it talks about cruel things, about a traumatic experience that haunts somebody for the rest of his life.” He also told the BBC that the runtime will be shortened to three hours and 40 minutes.

Sales of the novel were modest following its publication, but word of mouth spurred it to over 2.5 million copies. Ticket sales for the Harold Pinter production are on sale from today. 



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Sam Mendes Casts Johnny Flynn, Tuppence Middleton & Mark Gatiss As Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor & John Gielgud In Hot New Play

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EXCLUSIVE: Sam Mendes has picked Johnny Flynn (Emma, Beast), Tuppence Middleton (Downton Abbey, Mank) and Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss to portray legendary stars Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and John Gielgud in The Motive and the Cue, a mouth-watering new play by Jack Thorne that explores how acting giants Burton and Gielgud staged Hamlet on Broadway in 1964.

Burton, newly wed to Taylor after their affair on the set of epic film Cleopatra, signed on to play the Danish prince in a fabled production directed by Gielgud in New York.

On opening night in April, 1964, scores of police hemmed in crowds who were as eager to catch a glimpse of Taylor entering the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre as they were to see her husband as the depressed Dane.

Oscar-, Tony- and Olivier-winning Mendes will direct The Motive and the Cue at London’s National Theatre where it will open at the NT’s Lyttelton Theatre in May, 2023. Mendes secured Flynn to play Burton and Gatiss to take on Gielgud several months ago, but his search for an actress to portray Taylor was interrupted due to him launching his acclaimed new film Empire of Light at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals.

Taylor was the biggest movie star in the world in 1964, said Caro Newling, who founded Neal Street Productions with Pippa Harris and Mendes. “She was a huge star and so were Burton and Gielgud,” Newling told us.

Mendes and Newling originated the project during lockdown with Newling later turning detective to track down out-of-print books, and archive material about the 1964 Hamlet. Neal Street, the All3Media-owned indie founded nearly 20 years ago, then commissioned Thorne, writer of His Dark Materials and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, to pen The Motive and the Cue — its title is taken from a passage in a soliloquy in Hamlet. The play’s been developed and co-produced by the National Theatre and Neal Street Productions.

Flynn, adept on stage as he is on screen, was marvelous in the original Royal Court and West End productions of Martin McDonagh’s play Hangmen. “This feels like a beautiful story to tell now about why we tell stories and why we revisit certain stories,” Flynn told Deadline in a statement regarding The Motive and the Cue.

Gatiss, who won an Olivier Best Supporting Actor trophy for his role in Patrick Marber’s National Theatre adaptation of Turgenev’s poignant comedy Three Days in the Country, said he was thrilled to be part of “this terrific company” and “not a little over-awed to be playing Sir John. The play’s the thing, though as someone once said!”

The actor praised Thorne’s “lovely, moving and sensitive piece, which we can’t wait to bring to the National.”

Middleton, recently seen in ITV series Our House and in Downton Abbey: A New Era, has performed in two Off-West End theater productions: The One and The Living Room. The actress will next be seen in feature, The Lord of Misrule. In comments for us, issued through the National, Middleton said that she’s “delighted to be portraying the iconic Elizabeth Taylor,” in her National Theatre debut.

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Deadline broke the news of The Motive and the Cue heading to the National back in July and we’ve been keeping you up to date about the celebrated collaboration between the National Theatre and Neal Street Productions over the much garlanded play, The Lehman Trilogy, which is headed for London’s Gillian Lynne Theatre in January starring Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay.

Allan Corduner, Ryan Ellsworth, Aysha Kala, Luke Norris, Michael Walters and Laurence Ubong Williams are also in The Motive and the Cue cast revealed by us today.

The play’s creative team includes: production design by Es Devlin; Katrina Lindsay, costume designer; Jon Clark, lighting design; composer Benjamin Kwasi Burrell; Paul Arditti, sound designer; and Luke Halls, video designer. Associate director is Zoe Ford Burnett.

Newling and Mendes discovered two books: Richard Sterne’s John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet and William Redfield’s Letters From an Actor, both tomes chronicled Gielgud’s dressed-down adaptation of Hamlet and the often differing views Gielgud and Burton had about the troubled Dane.

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The underlying rights to both books were acquired by the production. It has emerged as one of next year’s most eagerly awaited new plays.



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Disregard The Corporate Noise: Disney Will Dominate Thanksgiving Box Office With ‘Wakanda Forever’ & ‘Strange World’

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Call it a holiday tradition as common as sweet potatoes on the Thanksgiving table, but Disney is going to rule the five-day holiday stretch again after wins in 2016 (Moana), 2017 (Coco), 2018 (Ralph Breaks the Internet), 2019 (Frozen 2) and last year (Encanto), as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s third weekend looks to do $40M over Wednesday-Sunday and Disney Animation’s Strange World hopes to squeeze out $30M+. All of this occurs as Bob Iger is re-installed as the CEO of Disney and the studio’s distribution czar Kareem Daniel exits.

That’s not exactly the best result for a Disney family film launching over the 5-day frame, a figure that’s under last year’s Encanto which did $40.5M. Part of the dilemma with Strange World is the fact that it’s original animation, which is also a tough sell. The movie follows a family of explorers, the Clades, as they venture into an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew which includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog and a slew of ravenous creatures.

STRANGE WORLD, from left: Callisto Mal (voice: Lucy Liu), Jaeger Clade (voice: Dennis Quaid), Searcher Clade (voice: Jake Gyllenhaal), Splat, Ethan Clade (voice: Jaboukie Young-White), Meridian Clade (front, voice: Gabrielle Union), 2022. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

While Disney has been criticized for not being woke enough, with Chapek running into his own imbroglio with the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the studio has fully embraced a LGBTQ+ plot point here with Strange World whereby character Ethan (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), has a crush on another boy in the movie. Disney isn’t caving into any overseas pressure in certain territories to edit this content out, and as Nancy Tartaglione reported earlier today, the studio is taking a voluntary pass on more than 20 markets, where it won’t release Strange World, read Middle East, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey, Vietnam, East Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya), West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana), Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh. Strange World cost $135M before P&A and the pic currently counts a 72% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Disney is jettisoning the movie to Disney+ by Christmas time, which is not the case for Wakanda Forever, which has a longer theatrical window. While Strange World‘s marketing hasn’t included anything about the gay character, the pic’s talent has been very vocal about it on their press tour.

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Strange World hits 4,000 theaters this Wednesday with previews starting at 6PM Tuesday. Pic’s theater count is comprised of 2,000 3D locations, 250+ PLF auditoriums and 100+ 4D/DBox screens. Wakanda Forever finaled its second weekend at $66.4M, -63% for a ten-day running total of $287.1M.

Also going after family audiences on Saturday at 2PM local time in 1,200 locations are paid sneak previews of Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Uni held sneak previews last year over Black Friday weekend for Sing 2.

Adult content fills out the rest of the competition, and has unfortunately been the case with several pieces of older counterprogramming this fall, it’s all single digits. If anything does a result in the double millions from Wednesday to Sunday, it’s like, ‘Wow’.

BONES AND ALL | Official Trailer | MGM Studios

MGM

United Artists Releasing’s expansion of Luca Guadagnino’s cannibalism romance road movie Bones and All goes from five NYC and LA locations to 2,700 for what is an expected $7M-$9M take over 5 days. Women 18-34 were dominant this past weekend for the Timothee Chalamet movie, and that’s who is expected to buy tickets. Previews at 7PM tomorrow.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L-R) Edward Norton as Miles, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, and Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.
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John Wilson/Netflix

The wild card here on what could potentially steal a number of adults is Netflix’s one week sneak preview release of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. The sequel is booked at 638 theaters and will only play one week, no matter how much money it makes before going dark and resurfacing on the OTT service on Dec. 23. As previously reported, all three major circuits for the first time have booked the Netflix tentpole — AMC, Regal and Cinemark, the latter having already played the streamer’s product. When Knives Out 2 hits the service, theaters can re-book the sequel again. No previews on Tuesday. Even through streamer isn’t reporting numbers a $6M-$8M 5-day forecast is estimated by rival sources. Netflix is spreading its holistic P&A out throughout from theatrical to the pic’s streaming drop with key spots bought on Sunday NFL, Yellowstone, SNL, The Walking Dead finale. iSpot estimates that Netflix has taken out about $4.3M in spots which have yielded 65M impressions which is about half of what Universal has already spent on The Fabelmans in its campaign to date. A shining 93% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes for the latest sequel from Rian Johnson and star Daniel Craig who returns as sleuth Benoit Blanc.

Devotion

Sony

Sony has a distribution deal for Black Label Media’s Korean War Navy fighter pilot movie Devotion, which is looking at $7M-$8M at 3,400. Previews start tom’w at 2PM in 2,950 locations for this older skewing movie starring Jonathan Majors and Top Gun: Maverick‘s Glen Powell. Pic launched at TIFF and counts a current Rotten Tomatoes of 77% fresh.

Amblin/Universal’s Steven Spielberg autobiopic The Fabelmans goes wider in Wednesday in roughly 600, the outlook being in the single digits over the five days. Through its ten days of release at four theaters, the Pano Dano-Michelle Williams-Seth Rogen-Judd Hirsch-Gabriel LaBelle family drama counts close to $310K.

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