It is a blend of faithful adaptation and fanciful splicing. It is the middle ground between artistry and commercialism, between reasonable prices and premiums, and it lies in London right now but aims for the summit of Broadway. It is a play we call . . . “The Twilight Zone.”
The Almeida Theatre in London has a hit on its hands: a stage version of Rod Serling’s enduring ’60s sci-fi television series. It’s one of the toughest tickets in town, proving that England loves “The Twilight Zone” as much as “Dr. Who.”
It runs until Jan. 27 before moving to the West End in March, and New York producers and theater owners are headed to London to check it out. As one says, “ ‘The Twilight Zone’ on Broadway could clean up.”
American playwright Anne Washburn (“Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play”) watched all 156 “Twilight Zone” episodes before settling on eight to adapt for the Almeida. She picked a couple of classics, including “The Shelter” (episode 68, as die-hards know), about a group of friends who turn on one another while holed up in a bomb shelter during a potential nuclear attack.
“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (episode 64) is also in the mix. It’s set in a diner after a UFO landing, and the customers, increasingly paranoid, try to figure out who among them is a Martian. There’s a third arm — and a third eye. That’s all I’m saying.
Mummies, missing children and ventriloquists flit through the play. Washburn mashes up the episodes, and some critics complain that the play is confusing at times. But if you know the stories, you won’t be in the dark too long.
The themes resonate today: paranoia, racial tension, income equality. And, yes, the show opens with Marius Constant’s famous theme song.
John Marquez plays the narrator — Serling — with appropriately bushy eyebrows. (For New York, I nominate David Pittu, who was just in “The Girl From the North Country” at the Public. He has bushy eyebrows, too.)
The director is Richard Jones, who staged the Tony Award-winning “Titanic” on Broadway in 1997 as well as the Met’s “Hansel and Gretel.” His “Into the Woods” at the Delacorte in Central Park disappointed, but he did direct one of the most brilliant productions I’ve ever seen: “Too Clever by Half,” at the Old Vic in London in 1988. It starred a young Alex Jennings, now known as the nasty Duke of Windsor in “The Crown.”
Jones has framed “The Twilight Zone” in a giant television set. Psychedelic effects abound. The style is camp, but with the occasional serious moment thrown in to good effect.
All in all, it’s a recipe for fun. I’ll let you know if — and when — Broadway enters “The Twilight Zone.”
A few Carol Channing stories to mark the death of a legend:
Passing through San Francisco on an umpteenth tour of “Hello, Dolly!,” Channing learned that a local cabaret was holding a Carol Channing imitator contest. She entered without telling the club owner who she was. She came in third.
While spending the weekend with “Hello, Dolly!” creator Jerry Herman on Fire Island, Channing danced at the Pavilion disco, which was frequented by drag queens. “If she were an inch taller,” someone told Herman, “everyone would think she was the real thing.” Herman replied, “Well, this one has had a lot of practice.”
In Indianapolis, a tour of “Dolly” shared an exhibition hall with another event. The marquee read: “Carol Channing in ‘Hello, Dolly!’/Antique Show, February 21-24.”
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.
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