It is no secret that Broadway is beholden to London for many golden moments. We have only to recall the National Theater's "Equus," the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Travesties," or Tom Conti's recent virtuoso performance as a bed-ridden patient in "Whose Life Is It Anyway?", his eloquent head moving audiences more to laughter than tears.
Normally, Broadway pays its debt to Britain with a bang-up musical like "The King and I" or "Helly, Dolly!" WEll, today "Annie" lingers in the West End while both the aforementioned oldies play to enthusiastic houses in revivals with their original stars. 'King and I'
Yul Brynner (paired with Virginia McKenna who has won an award for her Anna in "The King and I") benefits from lavish costumes, sets, and Jerome Robbin's Magical choreography. Carol Channing, who strikes London Critics as one of the few remaining great stage presences, has won a transfer for "Hello, Dolly!" from Drury Lane to the Shaftesbury Theater in spite of a tatty production.
For anyone wanting to catch up on American musicals, London is the place to be. Productions of "My Fair Lady" and "Chicago," originally launched in the provinces, now score in London. Though home grown, the Popular "Evita" tends to be thought of as American because it bears the stylish stamp of Broadway director Harold Prince. Opening in mid-March at her Majesty's Theater is a genuine New York import -- the musical "On The Twentieth Century."
But it is not just the musical, but classical American Drama which has added luster to London's theatrical scene. Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's rollicking comedy on the coming of the talkies to Hollywood. "Once in a lifetime," has been the jewel in the Royal Shakespeare Company's crown this past season. A sellout production, it has earned an array of prizes for the actors and brought Trevor Nunn the Evening Standard Award for best director of 1979. Transferring from RSC's Aldwych, it opens at the Piccadilly Theater of Feb. 20. Miller revivals
At the National Theater, Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus" (Olivier Theater) may capture newsprint with the controversy raging over its merits, but it is ARthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" on the lyttelton stage which is captivating audiences and winning critical acclaim. Warren Mitchell's perhaps definitive British reading of the Willy Loman role -- foolish, heartrending, lovable -- has swept the board of awards for best actor in Michael Rudman's production.
Creating considerable interest is the eugene O'neill season at the small but mighty Cottesloe, the National's most consistenly successful theater. Critics welcomed the chance to see "The Long Voyage Home," four early O'neill sea plays, but reserved their praise for Bill Bryden's crack ensemble players who managed to bring realism to the often melodramatic situations. "Hughie" -- a later short work -- showed the dramatist to better advantage. American actor Stacy Keach triumphed as the sporty little gambler Erie Smith who feeds his sagging ego on the admiration of a nightclerk in a sleazy Broadway hotel. Curiously, in Keach's only other appearance in London, he also played Erie Smith -- in 1965 when he was a Fulbright scholar at London's Academy of Dramatic Arts. Highly symbolic
With Great care, director Bill Bryden has intelligently introduced theatergoers to O'Neill and his theatrical idiom before serving up the highly symbolic and mammoth "The Iceman Cometh" with which the season culminates. With Bryden's ensemble players -- rated the best in the country -- and a particularly talented member, Jack Shepherd, as Hickey, hopes run high for a powerful rendering of this tale of New York dropouts and the role of illusion in their lives.
A footnote to this piece on the Anglo- American alliance is the fact that Bryden and Keach pooled their research on the James brothers and made the film "longriders" in Georgia last summer. Not surprisingly, Keach Stars in the film.