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Wed 19 Apr 2017 return to previous page

Spotlight on... Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal

Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal is rapidly becoming one of Broadway’s most cherished actors, having now dived straight into the deep end of the pool of musical theatre – starring in the leading dual roles in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George at the newly re-opened Hudson Theatre on Broadway. I have always admired actors who like to challenge themselves and take on projects for the love of the art and not just the pay cheque. His latest Broadway outing is the epitome of that attitude.

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George
Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George

Mr. Gyllenhaal first graced the New York stage in Nick Payne's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet at the Roundabout Theatre Company's off-Broadway venue – the Laura Pels Theatre. A Broadway debut didn’t take long to follow and he would star opposite Ruth Wilson in another of Payne’s plays – Constellations – at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in 2014. Oddly, Wilson would go on to receive a Tony nomination, whilst Gyllenhaal’s efforts were left unrewarded by the Tonys voting committee despite a captivatingly natural performance as bee keeper Roland. The very nature of the play, which depicted a plethora of parallel universes where varying decisions made by the characters consequentially led to differing outcomes, showed off his versatility as an actor. In the sparse, two-hander, if the actors cannot hold an audience’s attention, it is doomed from the outset. Wilson and Gyllenhaal were a perfect combination of accomplished actors, both making their Broadway debuts, to guide us through the ever-changing narrative.

Photo by Joan Marcus
Jake Gyllenhaal & Ruth Wilson in Constellations
Jake Gyllenhaal & Ruth Wilson in Constellations

Mr. Gyllenhaal made his musical theatre debut as Seymour in the Encores! Off-Center production of Little Shop of Horrors in 2015. The small number of performances became one of the hottest tickets in town and Broadway producers would doubtlessly be scrambling to sign him up for a longer musical tenure on the Great White Way. Fast forward to October of last year and he has returned to Encores’ New York City Center venue to lead the cast of a “semi-staged” revival of Sunday in the Park with George, alongside Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford. The reviews (and commercial appeal) were so positive that a swarm of producers immediately came together to bring the production to the Great White Way for a limited engagement.

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Jake Gyllenhaal & Annaleigh Ashford in Sunday in the Park with George
Jake Gyllenhaal & Annaleigh Ashford
in Sunday in the Park with George

Due to a scheduling conflict, Gyllenhaal was unable to star in the previously announced revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, under the direction of Michael Mayer. The production was set to re-open the Hudson Theatre, but thankfully Gyllenhaal’s schedule did allow for the current limited run of “Sunday.” Once again, he has received rave reviews for his performance that I can only describe as breath-taking. The way he artistically conducts his orchestra of actors to form the living, breathing painting on the stage in the end of Act I musical number “Sunday” is a joy to watch and after witnessing his rendition of “Finishing the Hat,” it seemed to me as if he were a 20-year veteran of musicals on the Broadway stage. Gyllenhaal has clearly put the time and effort into his singing abilities, mastering the breathing techniques required to take on Sondheim’s classic score. His onstage chemistry with Ms. Ashford is perfectly complimentary with him acting the stock character and her comic talents inducing the laughs with her playful portrayal of Dot in Act I and the 98 year old Marie in Act II. Had the producers of the show not withdrawn the revival from contention during this Awards Season, I have no doubt Gylenhaal would have secured his first Tony nomination. I applaud him for agreeing to graciously step aside.

Donnie Darko

Brokeback Mountain

Although Jake Gyllenhaal found global fame with the 2001 cult hit Donnie Darko, he had already been appearing in movies since 1991’s City Slickers and also garnered wide acclaim for October Sky in 1999. A crowning moment of his screen career so far was, of course, receiving an Academy Award nomination (and a BAFTA win) in 2006 for his heart-wrenching portrayal of Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain. Since then, he has received Golden Globe nominations for Love & Other Drugs (2011) and for Nightcrawler (2015) in one of Hollywood’s most diverse careers. Whether portraying a hardened boxer (Southpaw – 2015), a determined mountain climber (Everest – 2015) or even a sandal-clad warrior (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time - 2011), Gyllenhaal doesn’t shy away from the more challenging aspects of the job. I guess his movie career mirrors his blossoming stage career in that respect and we are all the more richer for it.

Click here for tickets to Sunday in the Park with George for performances through to April 23, 2017 at Broadway's Hudson Theatre.

- by Tom Millward

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