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A CurtainUp Review: Macbeth

by Les Gutman  
 Macbeth: If we should fail?
Lady Macbeth: We fail! But screw your courage 
to the sticking place, And we'll not fail.
---Act I, scene 7
Photo: Joan Marcus

Circumstances have transformed this review into something more akin to a post-mortem. The first Broadway production to open in the 2000-2001 season, Macbeth will also be the first to close. That's before I could review, after only ten days. 

Is it that bad? Actually, no. Its director, Terry Hands, is best remembered for having helmed the famously awful musical, Carrie. This Macbeth is not very good, leaden to be sure, but this is no Carrie: no one needs to be ashamed of what transpires onstage. Rather than dancing on its grave, a bit of reflection seems in order.

If anything were to be singled out as the source of this production's woes, it would have to be the direction. In almost every respect, this may well be the most two-dimensional staging I have ever seen. The exceptions are noteworthy for their scarcity. 

This is immediately telegraphed by the color scheme. A raw matte black stage sports actors dressed in black, occasionally with white undergarments. (The witches seem to have a touch of brown in their costumes, but the only shock of color comes briefly, from Lady Macduff and her soon-to-die little ones, adorned in an interesting shade of matching blue outfits.) The set is lit, dramatically, in white light. There's not a color gel in evidence. The only other visitors on this stage from the color wheel are the obligatory red of blood, and the green of Birnam Wood.

These design choices can easily be defended, but the performances, which seem to take their cue from them, cannot. Most, including especially significantly Kelsey Grammer's Macbeth and Diane Venora's Lady Macbeth, seem to have but two positions: on and off. Others, like Bruce A. Young's Macduff, have virtually no amplitude at all. (His "horror" upon finding Duncan murdered, as an example, is conveyed in tones more suitable to discovering a royal tummy ache.) The only exception to this tone, Peter Gerety's eccentric rendition of the Porter, is like an oasis in the desert. The net effect is of a Macbeth robbed of its power. 

It's easy to take blind pot shots at television sit-com stars undertaking Shakespeare, but Kelsey Grammer is a competent Shakespearean, and so is the rest of the cast. But there is a foolish notion (evidenced by the cynical opening number on the recent CBS telecast of the Tony Awards) that all it takes to attract new audiences to Broadway is to use television stars as bait. Maybe this Macbeth can show that idea "the way to dusty death".

Curtainup reviews of other versions of the Scottish play include: Macbeth/Shakespeare -- the Public Theater's attempt to add Hollywood glamour
Macbeth --Theatre New Audiences
Macbeth -- London
Macbeth -- the most recent RSC production with Anthony Sher currently garnering excellent notices in New Haven

by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Terry Hands 

starring Kelsey Grammer and Diane Venora with Michael Gross, Stephen Markle, Kate Forbes, Peter Gerety, Peter Michael Goetz, Bruce A. Young, John Ahlin, Starla Benford, Ty Burrell, Parris Nicole Cisco, Kelly Hutchinson, Austin Lysy, Mark Mineart, Jacob Pitts, Grant Rosenmeyer, Myra Lucretia Taylor and Sam Breslin Wright 
Scenic and Costume Design: Timothy O'Brien  
Lighting Design: Terry Hands 
Sound Design:  Tom Morse  
Fight Direction: B.H. Barry  
Running time: 1 hours, 50 minutes with no intermission  
The Music Box, 239 West 45th Street (Bdwy/8th Av.) (212) 239-6200 
Opened June 15, 2000 closes June 25,2000 
Reviewed by Les Gutman 6/21/2000 based on a 6/20/2000 performance. 
©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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