The Godfather star tackles the role of Shylock opposite actress Lily Rabe in the Shakespeare play.
The show officially launched at New York's Broadhurst Theatre earlier this month (Nov10) but the press opening was postponed until Saturday (13Nov10), after Rabe was forced to take a leave of absence following the death of her actress mother, Jill Clayburgh, days before the scheduled date.
But the delay has not affected the pair's chemistry on stage and critics have given The Merchant of Venice top marks.
The New York Times' Ben Brantley writes, "Giving what promises to be the performances of this season, Lily Rabe, as Portia the heiress, and Al Pacino, as Shylock the usurer, invest the much-parsed trial scene of this fascinating, irksome work with a passion and an anger that purge it of preconceptions."
He adds the play "feels utterly fluid and original."
The Wall Street Journal hails Pacino as "a galvanic Shylock", while the New York Post congratulates director Daniel Sullivan for producing a "fast-paced, engaging, accessible" play.
And the New York Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz admits he is in awe of Pacino: "He's an actor known for big whoo-ha-sized portraits, but Pacino is a study in control on stage. He makes his shaggy Shylock dynamic and believable. He's slightly eccentric, always compelling, right down to deliberate a singsongy cadence that seems intended to irritate."
It's the second time Pacino has wowed theatre critics this year (10) - he led the cast in a production of The Merchant of Venice in New York's Central Park this summer (10).
The actress, who starred opposite Burt Reynolds in 1979's Starting Over, passed away on Friday (05Nov10) at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut following a long illness.
Clayburgh's husband, playwright David Rabe, has revealed she suffered from chronic lymphocytic leukaemia for over 20 years, reports the Associated Press.
She was nominated for two Academy Awards throughout her career, for her roles in Starting Over and An Unmarried Woman, which won her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978.
Clayburgh later turned her hand to television acting, appearing in shows including Nip/Tuck, Law & Order and Ally McBeal, and more recently Dirty Sexy Money.
She starred opposite Amanda Peet in 2006 Broadway production Barefoot In The Park and she made her big screen return in 2008's Running With Scissors alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes.
Clayburgh is survived by her husband, as well as their son Michael and actress daughter Lily, who pulled out of several performances of Al Pacino's Broadway production of The Merchant Of Venice this week (beg01Nov10) because of her mother's ill health.
Rabe, who plays wealthy Portia in the Shakespeare play, has been forced to pull out of several performances at the Broadhurst Theatre this week (begs01Nov10) due to an unspecified personal reason. She is expected to miss more shows, reports Playbill.com.
The official press opening was originally scheduled for Sunday (07Nov10) but it has now been delayed to ensure critics are able to review the whole cast.
The new press opening has yet to be confirmed.
It has been estimated that Pacino, who is tackling the role of Shylock, has helped draw in $1 million (£666,670) a week in box office takings since previews began in October (10).
The Oscar winner is the headline act at 2010's Shakespeare in the Park series, playing Shylock in The Merchant of Venice - a role he played on the big screen back in 2004.
Pacino will be joined by Law & Order stars Jesse L. Martin and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, No Reservations' Lily Rabe and actors actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Max Wright.
The Merchant of Venice will alternate on the Central Park stage with a production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.
The Public Theater series will run from 9 June to 1 August (10).