Our pal Michael Riedel, who covers the Broadway beat for the New York Post, reports that the revival of "The Country Girl," due to open Sunday, is on shaky ground. According to Riedel, critics are being kept away till Friday night as the Oscar-winning star Morgan Freeman "is still struggling with his lines." Though his costars, Oscar winner Frances McDormand and Tony nominee Peter Gallagher, acquit themselves, Riedel says unnecessary cuts to the script of the 1950 Clifford Odets play are to blame for the trouble.
This explains the surprise snub of this production by the Outer Critics Circle. That group of theater journalists would have had to attend one of the previews that was fraught with fumbles in order for the show to be eligible for consideration. And though the three actors are among the 69 competing for the Distinguished Performance award from the Drama League, this production was left off the league's list of eight plays up for Distinguished Revival.
Grand-slam award winner Mike Nichols (Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony) is helming this second rialto revival of Odets' domestic drama about an alcoholic actor (Freeman), his long-suffering wife (McDormand), and their stalwart friend (Gallagher). He has not directed a straight play on Broadway since "Death and the Maiden" back in 1992. That tense drama about torture starred two Oscar winners -- Richard Dreyfuss and Gene Hackman -- as well as perennial Oscar bridesmaid Glenn Close, who won a Tony for best actress. This time around, as per Riedel, Nichols is relying on the advice of playwright Jon Robin Baitz, who was recently bounced from "Brothers & Sisters" -- a TV show he created.
Freeman's last appearance on Broadway was in 1988 as a metaphoric messenger in a short-lived allegorical musical "The Gospel at Colonus." He made his Broadway debut 40 years ago in the Pearl Bailey-led cast of "Hello, Dolly!" He went on to a substantial stage career, picking up a Tony nod in 1978 for featured actor even though the play he was in, "The Mighty Gents," closed after nine performances. Then his film career took off with his Oscar-nominated role in "Street Smart" in 1987 and it has taken two decades to lure him back to Broadway. This meaty role of the washed-up actor earned Bing Crosby his third Oscar nomination for the 1954 film version and Jason Robards the sixth of his eight Tony nominations for the 1972 revival. (They lost to Marlon Brando ["On the Waterfront"] and Lenny Gorman ["Lenny"], respectively.)
McDormand has also not been on the Broadway stage since 1988. That was the year she was a Tony nominee for actress in a play for her turn as Stella in the fourth Rialto revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire." [She and her costar, Blythe Danner, both lost to Joan Allen for "Burn This."] McDormand is once again playing a long-suffering wife. Uta Hagen won her first Tony for originating the role and then, for the film version, Grace Kelly pulled off one of Oscar's biggest upsets in 1954 when she bested Judy Garland, expected to win for her triumphant comeback in "A Star is Born."
Whether these two Oscar winners can add Tonys to their mantles will rest, in large part, on the reviews. And as Riedel notes, "keeping the critics away until Friday, is making these already cranky cobras even crankier." Check back Monday to see how the show fared.
(Photos: Paramount, Jacobs Theater)