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Now Opening: ‘All My Sons’ Starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

The Roundabout revival of the Arthur Miller classic opens April 22nd

Before making his Broadway debut in 1945 with The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams had written Battle of Angels, which closed on the road in Boston in 1940. Anyone Can Whistle, the first original musical Stephen Sondheim attempted (one not based on pre-existing source material), closed after one week in 1964. But that didn’t stop him from proceeding with his next musical, the highly original (and groundbreaking) Company. And when Arthur Miller’s first Broadway show, The Man With All the Luck, disappointingly closed after 19 performances in 1944, it didn’t dissuade him from going back to the drawing board and coming up with All My Sons, which in 1947, earned him a special Tony Award as “Best Author” (it was the first year of the awards and no Best Play award was given). I mention all this by way of the old adage, that if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Tracy Letts and Annette Benning star in ‘All My Sons’ on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Tracy Letts and Annette Benning star in ‘All My Sons’ on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Miller succeeded with All My Sons, and two years later, his magnum opus Death of a Salesman premiered, which cemented his reputation as one of the two most acclaimed post-war dramatists (Williams being the other). Proving close to being equally durable and nearly as often revived as Salesman, All My Sons is set to open April 22nd at the American Airlines Theatre in its fourth Broadway production. Under the direction of two-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, it stars Annette Benning, Tracy Letts and Benjamin Walker as members of a family ripped apart by the aftermath of crucial decisions during World War II that were made by its patriarch, Joe Keller.

World War II features prominently as an off-stage character in the play. Keller, a manufacturer of war materials, waves off any guilt he should have about certain defective airplane parts that he sold to the government, causing the death of his own son, as well as twenty-one other army pilots. His wife, Kate, refuses to take any of that into account, and is also in denial that their son Larry is really dead. Even the return of her surviving son Chris doesn’t bring her much joy. And when Chris announces he wants to marry his brother’s fiancé, the tension becomes heightened, reaching proportions that had Miller being favorably compared at the time to Henrik Ibsen, the father of modern drama.

When it first opened in 1947, Brooks Atkinson, then the New York Times theater critic, insightfully wrote about another reason for the play’s success: “There is something uncommonly exhilarating in the spectacle of a new writer bringing unusual gifts to the theater under the sponsorship of a director with taste and enthusiasm. In the present instance, the director is Elia Kazan.” In Kazan, there is no way to underestimate his influence on the history of the American Theatre. Not only did he stage All My Sons, but he also went on to direct Death of a Salesman. Additionally, helped craft Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as many other important plays and musicals over his twenty-six-year directing career on the New York stage.

The role of Joe Keller, first portrayed by the Tony and Academy Award-winning actor Ed Begley, has always attracted actors of a high caliber. The 1948 film starred Edward G Robinson, and PBS’s American Playhouse version in 1987 (also directed by Jack O’Brien) featured James Whitmore. Subsequent Broadway revivals saw Richard Kiley and John Lithgow play the part, and in 2006, I saw Len Cariou’s take on it on in Los Angeles, which also starred Laurie Metcalf and Neil Patrick Harris (yes, it was magnificent).

If great actors in a great play is your speed (and why wouldn’t it be?), All My Sons at the American Airlines Theatre might just be the ticket. 

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in April 2019.

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