In 2019 esteemed four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally celebrates his 80th Birthday and what better way to mark the occasion than with a new production of his classic two-hander Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune?
The list of actors who have taken on the illustrious roles of Frankie and Johnny in the past reads like a who’s who, so naturally producers have enlisted two extraordinary talents for the 2019 revival. “Mama Broadway” herself, Audra McDonald makes a welcomed return to the New York stage – the first since her 2016 pregnancy – and the six-time Tony Award winner is joined on stage by Tony and 2-time Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon.
McNally’s play about two lonely middle-aged people in New York City, swimming through the murky waters of what might be a one-night stand or the start of a new relationship, first premiered off-Broadway in June 1987, courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club. Initially intended as a 2-week run at New York City Center’s Stage II and starring Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham, the play moved into the larger Stage I for an additional six-week run in October and November that year (with Kenneth Welsh replacing Abraham) and even transferred to the Westside Theatre in December and enjoyed a lengthy run through to March 1989. Kathy Bates won an Obie Award (and earned a Drama Desk Award nomination) in 1988 for her performance as Frankie.
McNally also adapted the play into a 1991 film (adding several characters and locations for the screenplay), which was distributed by Paramount Pictures under the shortened title of “Frankie and Johnny“ and starred Michelle Pfeiffer (who earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance) and Al Pacino in the titular roles.
The play finally staged its Broadway premiere at the Belasco Theatre, running from July 2002 to March 2003 and starring Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci, who eventually went on to receive a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actor in a Play,” whilst the production itself was nominated for “Best Revival of a Play”. Rosie Perez and Joe Pantoliano replaced Falco and Tucci from January 2003 to close out the run.
Obie Award winner Arin Arbus makes her Broadway debut as she directs Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon in this first Broadway revival, which, much like Claude Debussy’s enchanting “Clair de Lune” music, may well tug on the heartstrings and evoke a summer of romance before you know what’s hit you.
(Poster image by Miller Mobley / Production photos by Deen van Meer)