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Opening Night, Rufus Wainwright’s divisive new musical, closing early in London

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Opening Night has been called a “travesty” among other things, writes J. Kelly Nestruck.Handout

Opening Night, Canadian songsmith Rufus Wainwright’s new musical created with the avant-garde theatre director Ivo van Hove, is closing early in London’s West End.

Based on John Cassavetes’ 1977 psychological drama of the same name about an alcoholic, aging actress, the show received some truly brutal reviews when it opened last month.

The New York Times critic Houman Barekat called Opening Night, simply, “a travesty,” writing that the video-loving van Hove, who also wrote the book, “has transformed a taut, subtly observed character study into a sludgy melodrama.” He called Wainwright’s songs ”algorithmically bland.”

Variety’s review included the adjective “monotonous” in its headline – yikes – with critic David Benedict bashing the “underwritten book and unfocused staging” and writing that Wainwright’s “meandering songs neither build nor guide the listener with any dramatic shape.”

The reaction to Opening Night was more mixed and sometimes even positive from the British daily newspaper critics. The respected reviewer Arifa Akbar in the Guardian gave the show four out of five stars, calling it “an extravagantly original production, every bit as eccentric as the film but also its own alchemical creation, more vivacious in this musical incarnation.”

Presciently, Clive Davis in the Times of London wrote: “At one point in this very strange musical about backstage drama at a Broadway play, a character remarks that ‘half the audience loved it, half the audience hated it.’ Those words may well become the epitaph for the collaboration between singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and that ever-provocative Belgian director Ivo van Hove.”

Originally slated to run at the Gielgud Theatre until July 27, Opening Night has now set a final performance for May 18 if you want to zip over and see for yourself which “half the audience” you agree with.

A torrent of theatre in Toronto

I took last week off this newsletter, so here’s a quick look at the many shows that have recently opened or are about to open in Toronto.

Mad Madge, a new “contemporary-period mashup” by Rose Napoli, is running at the Theatre Centre to April 21. Read Ilana Lucas’s Globe review of the Nightwood Theatre production here.

shaniqua in abstraction, a solo show by bahia watson about the boundaries of Black womanhood, is at Crow’s Theatre to April 28.

Women of the Fur Trade, Frances Koncan’s popular historical satire about Louis Riel, is at Native Earth Performing Arts to April 21.

A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, which is actually an Outside the March full production of a play by Lucas Hnath (Dana H), opens Wednesday at Soulpepper and runs to May 12. Brad Wheeler interviewed its star Diego Matamoros.

Woking Phoenix, a Silk Bath Collective creation that tells a story about intergenerational love and a small-town Chinese restaurant, opens Thursday at Theatre Passe Muraille and runs to April 27

The Fixing Girl, a new play by Kevin Dyer about a girl, her mom and her grandfather, is on at Young People’s Theatre to May 2 – with Eric Peterson in the cast.

Nomada, a performance by Diana Lopez Soto that combines aerial dance, installation art and contemporary Mexican indigenous dance, is on briefly at Canadian Stage from April 18 to 20.

Three to see opening elsewhere in Canada this week

Open House, a brand-new comedy by Drew Hayden Taylor about five individuals who all believe they are the most deserving of a piece of real estate, is premiering at Infinithéâtre in Montreal this week and runs to April 28.

The Little Mermaid, the stage adaptation of the Disney movie, is on at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon until May 5 with Western Canadian musical theatre star Synthia Yusuf playing Ariel.

Sexy Laundry, Michele Riml’s much-produced comedy about a married couple, opens at the Arts Club in Vancouver this week and runs to May 12.

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