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Broadway Dramas Get a Start Off-Broadway

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It's not a new trend, but this year many plays and dramas are seeing their full casts transfer from off-Broadway to the Broadway stage.

"Clybourne Park," for example, had its premiere at Playwrights Horizons in 2010, before moving in March to the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway. Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize-winning story is about race, real estate and the volatile values of each.

“The Lyons” is another work that successfully made the transition onto the Great White Way. The Nicky Silver play, starring Tony Award-winner Linda Lavin, is the story of a dysfunctional family facing life challenges. It opened in previews on Broadway at the Cort Theatre on April 5, after having its off-Broadway premiere at the Vineyard Theatre last fall.

"Producers make this jump to Broadway seeing an open theater and they think, ‘OK, let's give it a shot,’" said Scott Brown, theater critic for New York Magazine.

The difference between a Broadway show and an off-Broadway show is its location and the number of seats: Broadway theaters have at least 499. But just because something works off-Broadway doesn't mean it will translate well in a larger Broadway house. Take "Lysistrata Jones," which played for only 30 regular performances at Walter Kerr Theatre, before closing in January.

"It's a show I championed, but that was a terrible mistake,” said Elisabeth Vincentelli, theatre critic for The New York Post.

Brown agreed: "It was a great show for a gym, which was originally performed in a theater that was in a gym."

Vincentelli added that playwrights should not consider Broadway the ultimate destination for all of their plays.

"Things have a place off-Broadway and they should stay there,” she said. “I'm not trying to belittle them, but some are not going to work at $125 a ticket.”

Vincentelli and Brown agreed that both “Clybourne Park” and another play that opened on Broadway last winter, “Other Desert Cities,” are strong contenders for a 2012 Tony Award in the “Best Play” category.

“Other Desert Cities” is Jon Robin Baitz's story of a family Christmas in Palm Springs that's distracted by an upcoming memoir that brings up a tragic family event. This scene stars Thomas Sadoski and Stockard Channing.

End of The Rainbow” also opened this spring on Broadway. Olivier Award-winner Tracie Bennett is the legendary Judy Garland in Peter Quilter's play with music set in a London hotel room as Garland attempts a come back just months before her death.

"I enjoyed the show against my better judgment,” said Vincentelli. “It's not a show you go to for the sparkling writing, but one of the things that it does really well is that it makes you understand how funny Judy Garland was. She had a quick, sharp tongue." 

Brown thought otherwise.

"It's a weak play, it's one of these Wikepedia bio plays,” he said. “It was almost like a clowning routine. She's just bouncing off the walls and punching through the fabric of reality in a way that's memorable, I just don't know what it all meant."

But both Brown and Vincentelli recommend “The Lyons.”

"It's a daring choice from the playwright," said Vincentelli. "And, of course, Linda Lavin -- I worship the ground she walks on."

"I liked it a whole lot and it's good to see Nicky Silver on Broadway and getting the respect that he deserves as a kind of heir to the legacy of Edward Albee," said Brown.

What are you looking forward to this spring off-Broadway and on the Great White Way? Let us know in the comments below.