Cast of “The Columnist” (credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
The Tony Awards — theatre’s biggest night — are nearly upon us. With so many nominated actors, actresses and shows vying for the coveted awards, it’s tough for Broadway fanatics to decide what to go see. One show I really enjoyed was Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of David Auburn’s The Columnist, featuring 2012 Tony Award nominee John Lithgow.
From Footloose and Shrek to 3rd Rock from the Sun and Dexter, John Lithgow has been a recognizable face and voice in movies and TV for decades. But he is also an experienced stage performer. Lithgow is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for his portrayal of “Joseph Alsop.” And after seeing The Columnist, I understand exactly why he deserves this honor. His wonderfully emotional performance is mesmerizing, commanding the audience’s attention. I felt the character’s angst, sadness and frustration.
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Brian J. Smith (credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Rising actor Brian J. Smith shares the stage with John Lithgow at two different points in the show. Perfectly cast as “Andrei,” Smith proves to be more than just a pretty face. His performance holds up next to Lithgow’s considerable presence, allowing the audience to focus equally on the pair.
I asked Brian what attracted him to The Columnist. “I knew right away I was reading one of the best plays I had read in a long time,” he replied. “Even from the first scene, between ‘Andrei’ and ‘Joe,’ I was aware of how layered the writing was. And then scene after scene went by and I didn’t want it to end,” he continued. “And it’s also really, really funny. I was already a huge fan of David Auburn’s, and some of the best theatre I’ve seen in New York has been directed by Dan Sullivan, and of course the prospect of acting with John Lithgow just sealed the deal.”
Margaret Colin manages some quality moments with John Lithgow as well. During an emotionally tense scene, her character, “Susan Mary Alsop” (“Joseph’s” fiancée), truly discovers herself with one of the most powerful lines I’ve ever heard in a play, “I don’t want to be busy. I want to be necessary!” Rising actress Grace Gummer, who plays “Abigail,” pulls off a touching scene with Lithgow, as does veteran Boyd Gaines, in the role of “Stewart Alsop.”
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It’s no surprise that Lithgow has received so many accolades for The Columnist. His performance is very strong, which alone makes him nomination-worthy. But he’s surrounded by immense talent both on and off stage. In addition to an amazing cast, The Columnist has a book by David Auburn, whose play Proof won the 2001 Tony Award for “Best Play.” Columnist director Daniel Sullivan also won a Tony for directing Proof.
The Columnist is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in NYC (261 West 47th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue) through July 1.
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