Thursday, June 18, 2009

Down For The County, August House Empties Out

Down For The County, August House Empties Out

Exactly two years to the day after its Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning ride began on the Downstairs Stage at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, Tracy Letts' August: Osage County will close at the Music Box Theatre, its second Broadway home.

Back on June 28, 2007, Letts' sprawling, searing masterpiece began previews at its original Windy City home with a sizeable cross-section of talent from the company's estimable ensemble. As an enthusiastic and proud Steppenwolf supporter, I was disappointed to miss the original opening night in July of that year. But after seeing it one August night, I was enthralled as I found myself completely sucked in on one side and blown out the other.

Mind you, I'm blown away more often than not when I attend Steppenwolf's carefully selected plays. It's one of the reasons why I have become such an ardent supporter and fan. But the feeling I had after seeing August: Osage County the first time was something way beyond anything I typically experience. I knew I was witnessing something truly extraordinary and rare in the annals of theatre history.

Of course, by the time I saw it, word had already reached New York and beyond. In my initial review, I summed up by stating:
I've already heard rumor that this Steppenwolf world premiere play is already being touted for consideration by the Pulitzer Prize committee and that a Broadway transfer may be a real possibility. However, my strong recommendation is to do everything you can to see this modern-day, sure-to-be classic with its impeccable current cast.
Little did I realize then that nearly everyone from that original Chicago cast would make their way to New York for the initial Broadway run, which began previews on October 30, 2007. Nor did I realize quite the way they'd take New York by storm, conquering the hearts and minds of theatregoers who hungered for something exciting and new. It mattered little that the running time was nearly three and a half hours because as one of my favorite Steppenwolf friends once told me before I ever saw the work, "This is the fastest three and a half hours you'll ever spend inside a theatre."

Plans for August: Osage County's opening night were scuttled thanks to the stagehands strike in the fall of 2007 (yours truly had been thrilled to be invited to attend as it was to be my first opening night of any Broadway show). Shortly after the strike was settled, opening night performances for a slew of shows was hastily arranged, and just my luck, my work prevented me from attended the rescheduled opening on December 4, 2007, for August. Nevertheless, the play never got lost in the shuffle as it opened to rave reviews.

By now, you know that the accolades didn't stop there. On April 7, 2008, Tracy Letts was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Nominations for all the major theatrical awards came shortly thereafter with the Tonys providing the cherry on top. On June 15, 2008, August: Osage County won five Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actress in a Play (Deanna Dunagan for her bravura performance as Violet Weston), Best Director (Anna D. Shapiro), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Rondi Reed for her stellar turn as Aunt Mattie Fae Aiken) and Best Scenic Design (Todd Rosenthal).

I managed to see August: Osage County three times during its Broadway run -- once at the Imperial Theatre with everyone from the original Main Stem cast except, sadly, Dennis Letts, the playwright's father who was nearing the end of his valiant battle with cancer, and twice at the Music Box, which provided a much more intimate experience for taking in this larger than life drama.

Third time, by the way, was the charm when it came to my attending opening nights. It was a complete joy to be in London last November when most of the cast reassembled for the opening of August: Osage County at the National Theatre.

So while I'm a little melancholy today that the play is closing, it's hard to feel too sad when you consider that it's doing so after 648 remarkable performances -- longer than any other current play on Broadway and the longest run for a play since David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize/Tony-winning Proof enjoyed 917 performances from 2000-2003. It's been an amazing run. I continue to marvel how this work has reconfirmed the theatre world's interest in Steppenwolf and made a star out of Tracy Letts' breathtaking writing.

As one door closes, certainly another one opens. As noted in January, the North American tour of August: Osage County kicks off next month on July 24 in Denver at the lovely Ellie Caulkins Opera House before going on to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Toronto, Hartford, Washington DC, Tempe and Dallas, among many other cities. For a production that originally clicked its heels with a tagline, "There’s No Place Like Home," the tour will really come home to roost when it lands in Oklahoma on January 26, 2010 at the Tulsa PAC - Chapman Music Hall.

Another door that will soon open is for Tracy Letts' latest play, Superior Donuts. I loved this surprisingly tender show when I saw it last summer at Steppenwolf and understand that Letts has been reworking the script and preparing it for its October 1 opening on Broadway.

Perhaps the biggest door of all to open may in fact be for the silver screen incarnation of August: Osage County film. It was confirmed last August that the work would be transformed into a feature film. You have to bet that Hollywood's hottest actors are vying for the opportunity to try on the Weston Family for size.

But something tells me that you haven't heard the last of the original cast of August: Osage County. And with that, I'll just say so long for now.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 18 June, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Hey Steve,

I remember how enthusiastic you were when you first reviewed "August: Osage County." I mean, I've read reviews of other shows you've loved but this was special. You definitely put it on my radar and made me want to go see it.

Anyway, great recap. I'm sad but it did last longer than most plays on Broadway in this era of limited runs.

At 18 June, 2009, Blogger Chris Van Patten said...

"But something tells me that you haven't heard the last of the original cast of August: Osage County. And with that, I'll just say so long for now."

Argh! Just having seen this last night with Phylicia Rashad and Amy Morton, I was blown away, but the prospects of a reunion of the original cast in a movie (if I'm reading your hints right!) is just incredibly exciting.

Thanks for the recommendation!

At 18 June, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


Not quite what I meant. Shoot me an e-mail and I might divulge.


At 18 June, 2009, Blogger karigee said...

A lovely tribute to a singular property, SOB. Quality inspires.


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