John Lithgow's turn as King Lear in New York has failed to conquer the critics. The new production of the William Shakespeare tragedy opened at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Manhattan's Central Park on Tuesday night (05Aug14) with Lithgow in the title role opposite Annette Bening, marking her first New York stage part in more than two decades.
Theatre reviewers mostly praised Lithgow's portrayal of the king's decent into madness, but many were scathing about the production.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times calls the play "stiff-jointed" and "emotionally numb", while the New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli gives it just two stars out of a possible five, adding, "The letdown matches the anticipation."
Frank Schek of The Hollywood Reporter writes, "(The production is) devoid of interpretive insight and lacking emotional immediacy... Lithgow here never plumbs the depth of the tortured Lear, staying stubbornly on the surface... (It is a) dutiful but uninspired production, which never scales the heights of Shakespeare's timeless tragedy."
Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal was particularly scathing about the supporting cast, writing, "Annette Bening... is cautious, even bland, as Goneril, while Jessica Hecht's Regan is fussy and insipid. I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Bening finds her sea legs - she is, after all, a superlative film actress with classical stage training - but Ms. Hecht is miscast, pure and simple."
Variety's Gordon Cox concurs, writing, "There's no bite... to Annette Bening's matronly Goneril and even less poison in Jessica Hecht's oddly giddy Regan."
A number of reviewers also criticised the staging of the show, complaining that the view of Central Park which usually enhances productions at the Delacorte Theatre was cut off by a brick wall in the set.
Country music couple Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert are to headline the inaugural Route 66 Harvest festival in Las Vegas in October (14). Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley and Brantley Gilbert will join them at the The Lot at the Luxor Hotel & Casino for the three-day country music event.
James Franco's directorial debut on the New York stage has been savaged by critics. The Spider-Man star, who is currently starring in a Broadway production of Of Mice and Men, has also been working on an off-Broadway show during his time in New York.
Franco's staging of Robert Boswell's play The Long Shrift, starring his ex-girlfriend Ahna O'Reilly, opened at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater on Sunday night (13Jul14) and received a number of scathing reviews from critics.
Variety's Marilyn Stasio calls the play "preposterous" and "phony" and takes aim at lead actor Scott Haze, accusing him of mimicking his director's acting style, writing, "Unfortunately, Franco isn't the star but the director of this play, and he's entrusted the lead to a thesp who hasn't a clue what to do - except imitate James Franco."
Frank Scheck of the New York Post gives the production one star out of five and writes, "Somehow, between doing eight shows a week of Of Mice and Men, teaching, making movies and flirting on Instagram, James Franco's found time to make his stage directorial debut. Judging from his work on The Long Shrift... there's a limit to his talents."
The New York Times' Alexis Soloski also had harsh words for Franco's work, calling the show "untidy, at times annoying, at times ridiculous," but added, "Mr. Franco achieves mixed success as a first-time Off Broadway director. The rhythms of the first scene are a mess, a section at the reunion too sensational... and many of the lines sound downright weird in the actors' mouths. Yet Mr. Franco elicits emotionally vivid performances from his cast."
Franco previously won mixed reviews for his Broadway acting debut in Of Mice and Men and chastised New York Times writer Ben Brantley with a foul-mouth rant for giving his performance a less-than flattering write-up.
Ed Sheeran has scored his first U.S. number one album with the fourth biggest sales week of the year. The British singer/songwriter's x has debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 with 210,000 sales. Only Coldplay, Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert have landed bigger first weeks in 2014.
Sheeran also claims the largest sales week for a British male artist in almost a decade - Rod Stewart's Stardust... The Great American Songbook Vol. III debuted at number one with 240,000 sales in October, 2004.
Sam Smith makes it a one-two for the Brits at the top of the countdown - his debut In the Lonely Hour stays put at two for a second week, while rapper G-Eazy enters the chart at three with These Things Happen.
Last week's number one, Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence, and the Frozen soundtrack round out the new top five.
Rocker Jack White has returned to the top of the U.S. album charts with the biggest vinyl sales week since 1991. Lazaretto bows atop the Billboard 200 with 138,000 first-week sales and 40,000 of those were old school records - 6,000 more than Pearl Jam's Vitalogy back in 1994.
The vinyl release of the album features unique qualities - it plays at three different speeds, has a hidden track under the centre label and features an angel hologram effect.
Last week's Billboard 200 chart-topper, Miranda Lambert's Platinum, slips to a distant number two, while the Frozen soundtrack slides a spot to three, and Brantley Gilbert's Just As I Am and the soundtrack to The Fault in Our Stars round out the new top five.
Miranda Lambert has landed her first U.S. number one album, becoming only the 11th country artist to make it to the top of the Billboard 200 countdown. Her fifth release, Platinum, has rocketed to the top of the charts with 179,000 first-week sales.
It's also her fifth straight number one on America's Top Country Albums countdown.
Meanwhile, the Frozen soundtrack is on the rise again, moving from four to two on the new Billboard 200, while Brantley Gilbert's Just As I Am slips a spot to three.
50 Cent's new album Animal Ambition debuts at four and last week's number one, Coldplay's Ghost Stories, falls to five.
Meanwhile, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea scores a third week atop the Hot 100 singles chart with Fancy, keeping Problem, her own collaboration with Ariana Grande, at number two.
John Legend's All of Me is also unmoved at three, while British star Sam Smith scores his first top 10 at 10.
He tells Billboard.com, "I am genuinely gobsmacked (amazed). I keep asking my team if they've made a mistake. Thank you so much, America, for everything."
British thespian Kenneth Branagh is the new darling of the New York theatre scene after winning rave reviews for his "epic" and "breathtaking" stage debut in the Big Apple. The actor/director took his production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth across the Atlantic after launching it in Manchester, England last summer (13), and the curtain went up at the Park Avenue Armory's Drill Hall on Thursday night (05Jun14).
Branagh, who co-directed the show with Rob Ashford and stars alongside Alex Kingston, has won rave reviews for his turn as the tragic Scottish king and for the immersive production. Peter Marks of the Washington Post calls the show "epic", adding, "Forget the pesky glasses. You want a movielike experience in 3D? Feast your eyes on Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford's breathtakingly visual new staging of Macbeth."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney praises the "sensational" stage set and describes the production as a "medieval, mystical blockbuster that combines superlative, fuss-free classical theatre acting with muscular storytelling, visceral physicality and propulsive rollercoaster pacing. Oh, and lots of mud."
Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News gave the show five stars out of five, writing, "Any Macbeth rises or falls on the actor in the title role. Silver-tongued, sexy and deft with a sword, Branagh oozes charisma and carnality as his Macbeth murders his way to the throne - and his undoing. It's about time Branagh graced New York audiences with a flesh-and-blood Shakespeare star turn. It was worth the wait."
The New York Times' Ben Brantley writes, "This is the summer blockbuster that we wait for every year and too seldom find at the multiplexes, one of those action-packed, spectacle-drenched shows that sweep you right into their fraught, churning worlds and refuse to release you until the lights come up - and maybe not even then."
Coldplay have scored a second week at number one on the U.S. album chart with Ghost Stories. Chris Martin and his bandmates keep country star Brantley Gilbert off the top of the Billboard 200 for a second week, while Mariah Carey debuts at three with Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse.
Ghost Stories has already sold a total of 466,000 copies in the U.S., making it the sixth biggest-selling album of 2014.
Carey's new entry is her 17th top 10 album.
Meanwhile, on the Hot 100 singles countdown, rapper Iggy Azalea enjoys a second week in the top two spots as her solo hit Fancy scores a second week at number one and her collaboration with Ariana Grande on Problem holds at two.
Last week (ends30May14), Azalea became the first artist since the Beatles to rank at number one and number two in the same week with their first two Hot 100 entries.
John Legend's former number one, All of Me, rounds out the new top three.
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea has matched a U.S. pop chart record set by the Beatles after taking her hit Fancy to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The hip-hop star also lands a spot at number two as a guest on Ariana Grande's Problem, making her the first artist since the Fab Four in 1964 to land the top two places on the chart with her first two Hot 100 hits.
The Beatles managed the feat with I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You over 50 years ago, following their breakthrough appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Azalea also becomes only the 15th act to score a one-two punch at the top of the countdown in the same week, and just the third woman behind Mariah Carey in 2005 and Ashanti in 2002. She also becomes only the fourth solo female rapper ever to top the Hot 100 - Lauryn Hill, Lil' Kim and Ludacris' sidekick Shawnna previously landed at number one.
It's a great early birthday gift for Azalea, who turns 24 on 7 June (14). Her Fancy ends John Legend's reign at the top of the Hot 100 with All of Me. The ballad slips two spots to three on the new chart, while Pharrell Williams' Happy and DJ Snake and Lil Jon's Turn Down for What round out the top five.
Meanwhile, Coldplay have stormed to the top of the U.S. album charts with the biggest first-week sales of 2014. Their new release, Ghost Stories, sold 383,000 copies to become the band's fourth Billboard 200 number one. It's also the first release to top 300,000 sales in a week this year. Country star Brantley Gilbert's Just As I Am debuts at two with impressive first-week sales of 211,000, and Michael Jackson's posthumous release Xscape slides a spot to three. Former number ones the Frozen soundtrack and the Black Keys' Turn Blue round out the new top five.
Country singer Brantley Gilbert is hitting the road with a military charity for a motorcycle ride up the U.S. east coast to promote his new album. The star will kick off the trip in Athens, Georgia, not far from his hometown of Jefferson, on 21 May (14), two days after the release of his upcoming record, Just As I Am.
Gilbert, an avid motorcycle fan, will be joined by representatives from Harley-Davidson and military charity Folds of Honor Foundation, an organisation which helps families whose family members have been disabled or killed in active duty.
In addition, the foundation's organisers asked Gilbert's fans to submit names of family members who have died in service, and they will be displayed on the side of a tour bus which will follow Gilbert on his trek.
The singer's ride will end on 26 May (14) in Washington, D.C. at the Arlington National Cemetery.