A New York Theatre Guide to... Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune!

Here's all you need to know about the first-ever Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's romantic masterpiece...

Michael Shannon & Audra McDonald in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Take a look at our video guide to the first production of the 2019-2020 Broadway season...

Back in June 1987 esteemed playwright Terrence McNally debuted his two-hander play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune off-Broadway, courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club. Originally starring Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham, the production went on to become a great success, securing an extended off-Broadway run and a transfer to the Westside Theatre where it would continue to play through March 1989. Fast forward via a 1991 “Frankie and Johnny” film adaptation, featuring a screenplay by McNally and starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, and the play would finally celebrate its Broadway premiere at the Belasco Theatre in July 2002, with Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci in the titular roles. Now, almost 17 years later, we celebrate the first-ever Broadway revival of this romantic drama, as previews began at the Broadhurst Theatre on May 4, 2019, ahead of an official opening on May 30.

 


Audra McDonald & Michael Shannon in rehearsal
(Photo by Jenny Anderson)

What’s it all about?

Set in the 1980s, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is a simple tale about two complex individuals named... Frankie and Johnny, who stumble into bed at Frankie’s one-room apartment on the west side of Manhattan, following a first date at the movie theater. He is a short order cook and she is a waitress at the same restaurant. He believes he has found his soulmate in Frankie and imagines a future together, but the emotionally guarded Frankie has already written the encounter off as a one-night-stand. As the night unfolds, serenaded by “the most beautiful music ever written” – Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” – on the radio, Frankie rides an emotional rollercoaster as Johnny persistently breaks down the barriers between them. They reveal their innermost hopes and fears and as the moonlight fades and sunrise lights up the inside of Frankie’s apartment, the pair edge closer and closer to the beginning of a new relationship.

 


Michael Shannon & Audra McDonald at the Opening Night of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
(Photo by Shoshana Medney)

Who’s starring in it?

This is truly Broadway dream casting at its best! Starring as Frankie is six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, who returns to Broadway for the first time since Shuffle Along in 2016 and the birth of her second child. She is a record-breaking stage actress, who has won Tony Awards in all four possible acting categories, and has wowed audiences and critics alike with such roles as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Bess in The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess, Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, Sarah in Ragtime, and Carrie Pipperidge in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel just to name a few. TV fans will most likely recognise her from her recurring role as Dr. Naomi Bennett on ABC’s “Private Practice” or as Liz Reddick-Lawrence on CBS’ “The Good Fight” and she also played the Mother Superior on NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” in 2013. More recently, she appeared as Madame Garderobe in Disney’s 2017 live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” Starring alongside her as Johnny is Tony and two-time Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon, who made his Broadway debut in Grace in 2012 and returned to the Great White Way with a show-stealing, Tony-nominated performance as James Tyrone, Jr. in Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2016 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He is perhaps best known for his prolific career on screen, including villainous roles in the likes of “The Shape of Water” and “Man of Steel,” Oscar-nominated performances in “Nocturnal Animals” and “Revolutionary Road,” and his high-profile TV role as Nelson Van Alden in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

 


Audra McDonald & Michael Shannon in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
(Photo by Deen van Meer)

What’s special about this production?

It’s astonishing how the performances of just two uber-talented actors can fill a Broadway theatre that seats over a thousand patrons. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is your chance to experience two gifted performers at the top of their game, as Michael and Audra showcase the strengths and deep vulnerabilities of their respective characters and conjure an onstage chemistry that is simply mesmerizing. As a 1980s period piece, it’s both nostalgic and intriguing to witness how human beings connected and “hooked up” before the current digital age (behind the cell phone or laptop screen) greatly diminished the art of human connection. Kudos to Natasha Katz’s gorgeous lighting design that beautifully captures the New York City moonlight and to Riccardo Hernández’s scenic design with the impressive walk-up tenement that fills the entire proscenium of the Broadhurst Theatre. With few theatrical distractions other than Debussy’s angelic “Clair de lune” peacefully filling the auditorium, however, this production is all about the acting and you’ll certainly fall in love with this master class.

 


Michael Shannon & Audra McDonald in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
(Photo by Deen van Meer)

Who would we recommend it to?

Due to the play’s use of nudity, sexual content and strong language, we’d recommend this show for theatregoers aged 16 and above. Frankie and Johnny is the perfect date night on the Great White Way and extra special for New Yorkers (or honorary New Yorkers) who will certainly relate to the third character in the piece… the city herself. As the current political and social climate becomes ever more divided, why not spend an evening or an afternoon with two people caring for each other, coming together and falling in love?

 

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune Tickets are available now for performances through August 25, 2019.