As they like it: Shakespeare conquers New York

There’s currently more Shakespeare being performed on Broadway than in London, with transfers from Shakespeare's Globe, Ethan Hawke and Orlando Bloom all playing

First it made the move from the South Bank’s Globe Theatre to the Apollo in the West End. Now the sellout Shakespeare production is taking the biggest step of all – across the Atlantic to Broadway.  

The Globe’s hugely successful production of Twelfth Night opened on Sunday night with that most famous of first lines – “If music be the food of love, play on” – at a time when New York’s theatre scene is well and truly in love with the Bard.

“There’s more Shakespeare in Broadway than in London,” Neil Constable, the Globe’s chief executive, told The Independent ahead of opening night. “The audiences lap it  up. It’s a joy and a pleasure. They know their theatre and know their Shakespeare.”

The Globe is making its Broadway debut at the Belasco with a double bill of Twelfth Night and Richard III staged the way they would have been in Shakespeare’s time: candlelit with Elizabethan instruments and costumes.

The all-male company includes Stephen Fry, who is taking his first turn on a Broadway stage as a devil-bearded Malvolio, alongside Mark Rylance, the two-time Tony Award winner who has won plaudits playing the title role in Richard III and also the love-struck Olivia in Twelfth Night.

Further along theatre’s most famous street, audiences can currently see Orlando Bloom riding in on a motorbike in the first Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet for 36 years.

Ethan Hawke is in also in previews playing Macbeth, while the critically acclaimed production of Julius Caesar set in a women’s prison finished on Saturday after transferring from London’s Donmar Warehouse.  Mr Constable said: “There has been natural excitement about the Globe coming over. Advanced sales have been strong. It feels like an event.”

Hugh Jackman and Laura Linney were among the early audiences as the Globe’s previews took almost $500,000 (£312,000) in one week, averaging 95 per cent attendance. The Wolverine actor tweeted: “Best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen,” and he is not alone in lavishing praise.

Ben Brantley, of the The New York Times, called it “rapturous” and said Rylance’s work in the double bill was “one of the most astonishing Shakespearean performances I’ve ever seen”. Adam Green, theatre critic for Vogue, lauded the “great theatrical experience” and has told readers: “Miss them at your peril.”

The scenery from the original production at the Globe has been transported to the US to recreate an Elizabethan hall lit by 100 candles. The Belasco seats 1,000 with another 50 audience members on stage. In a playful twist, the cross-dressing cast is on stage changing into traditional costume as the audience arrives.

Mr Constable said: “The American audiences love the type of performance and staging we created. The Globe has been supported by many American donors over the years, and we’ve had a strong presence touring our shows in North America. But we’ve never played Broadway before.”

The play’s the thing: The Bard on Broadway

Macbeth (Until 12 January), Lincoln Centre Theater

Ethan Hawke plays the ambitious tragic hero alongside Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth.

Romeo and Juliet (Until 12 January), The Richard Rodgers Theatre

Orlando Bloom received mixed reviews for his Romeo, with many criticising the lack of sexual chemistry with Condola Rashad’s Juliet.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Until 12 January), Polonsky Shakespeare Centre

Critics have roundly praised Julie Taymor’s production. ‘The New York Times’ called it an “eye-popping take on the canon’s most enchanted comedy”.

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