When the pandemic gives way to live performance, producer Scott Rudin plans to present an American classic about the gift of being alive.
Rudin is assembling cast and creatives for the first Broadway revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in nearly two decades, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. It’s to star Dustin Hoffman, whose last Broadway credit was The Merchant of Venice, in 1989, the same year he won the second of his two Academy Awards, for Rain Man. In 1984, he starred on Broadway as Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Our Town will be directed by Bartlett Sher, who staged Rudin’s acclaimed 2018 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Sher is the resident director of Lincoln Center Theater, which has provided its members early access to tickets to Rudin productions.
Rick Miramontez, a Rudin spokesman, declined to comment. Additional casting wasn’t available.
Hoffman’s reputation — as one of the most celebrated actors who came of age post-Vietnam — suffered three years ago, when he was accused by several women of groping, lewdness and other predatory behavior in the 1970s and ’80s. Responding to the first public allegation, by a woman who’d been a 17-year-old intern during filming of a television version of Death of a Salesman, Hoffman said: “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”
Rudin is not one to let controversy affect his personnel decisions. That was clear last fall, when he resisted calls to replace the actor playing Bernardo in a revival of West Side Story. Protestors decried the actor’s role in a nude photo-sharing scandal at New York City Ballet.
On Monday, the Broadway League officially canceled performances for the rest of this year. Rudin will have a starring role in Broadway’s reopening, as the lead producer of four iconic titles: Our Town; Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, which has been rescheduled to open at the Winter Garden Theatre on May 20, 2021; West Side Story and Mockingbird.
Wilder wrote Our Town in self-imposed isolation, first at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, which is the basis for fictional Grover’s Corners, where the play is set; later at a hotel outside Zurich, Switzerland. In his 1938 opening night review in the New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote that the playwright “transmuted the simple events of human life into universal reverie.” Performed without a curtain or scenery, it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, one of three for the playwright and novelist.
“It’s about what brings Americans together, not what pulls us apart,” Sher told Seattle Times drama critic Misha Berson in 2004, as Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, which Sher ran, prepared to present the play.
It’s frequently performed around the country, particularly in high schools and colleges, but it hasn’t returned to Broadway since Paul Newman played the Stage Manager in 2002. A 1988 version at Lincoln Center Theater, directed by Gregory Mosher and starring Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager, won the Tony Award for best revival. In 2009, David Cromer staged and starred in a hit off-Broadway production that ran for nearly two years at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Our Town may have particular resonance when theater performances resume in New York, which had been an epicenter of the pandemic. Howard Sherman, the author of a forthcoming book about the play, wrote that it reminds us “of the inevitability of lives passing away all too fleetingly, and that we must take our pleasures and joys in the everyday even as we come to understand how brief and indeed insignificant our existence is in the face of the vast universe and the infinity of time.”