Stampede for theatre seats as Pretty Woman hits Broadway

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The Independent US

It's called Three Days of Rain, a play by Richard Greenberg with three actors playing two siblings and a childhood friend in Act One and then their respective parents in Act Two.

Sold out almost for its entire Broadway run, however, it might as well be called The Pretty Woman Cometh.

No production is generating as much buzz - or box-office booty - on the Great White Way than the one that opened in previews at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on Tuesday night. The reason is simple: one of the three performers is Hollywood Queen Julia Roberts.

Stars of the screen often dip a toe into Broadway's waters to give fans a rare chance of seeing them in the flesh. They do not always leave unscathed, however, as Denzel Washington and Jessica Lange learnt last year when their performances earned withering reviews from Gotham's famously picky critics. The risk for Roberts is also present - this will be her stage debut in New York.

"By the time I get there, I'll be totally apoplectic," she told one interviewer last year when news of her decision to appear in the play first made the headlines. "But the terror is part of the excitement."

She comes to Broadway after two years when she has taken on no major projects, dedicating herself instead to looking after her young twins, Phinnaeus and Hazel, born in 2004.

How she fares critically will remain untold until the morning after the official opening on 19 April, but on Tuesday night her first lines were drowned out by applause. She burst into laughter when a prop tomato fell on to the floor. With a strong performance, Roberts could give herself the chance of winning a Tony nomination and possibly even this year's best actress award.

Three Days of Rain was first produced off-Broadway in 1997 and was a finalist for a Pulitzer. In the play's first act Roberts plays Nan, whose mother was a celebrated Southern belle and famous architect. In the second half she plays the mother as she was 35 years earlier.

"Nothing would please me more than to see her knock it out of the park," Terry Teachout, the theatre critic of The Wall Street Journal said. "I can't speak for anybody else, but I always hope for the best when a movie star takes to the stage - or anyone else, for that matter."

What will not happen is the kind of embarrassment suffered by Frazier star Kelsey Grammer, when he starred in his own production of Macbeth a few years ago only to see it lose a mountain in cash and close after only 13 widely-derided performances.

Such was the public stampede for tickets for this play, which will have only a 12-week official run, that when they first went on sale in January, the online box office site briefly crashed and $7m (£4m) in seats were sold in 24 hours.

Roberts, who commands $20m and more for her films, reportedly signed on for the play at a salary of $35,000 a week.

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