There was an article in Newsweek last week which mentioned Frank Langella playing Richard Nixon in a new play, Frost/Nixon, which opens on Broadway this week. The Newsweek article is more about Nixon as the subject of books/movies/plays, but here are some more links to the play:
The press release for the play, which has been playing in London:
One of the hottest tickets in the London theatre and winner of an Evening Standard Award, Frost/Nixon, the new play by Peter Morgan, directed by Michael Grandage, will open on Broadway this spring starring Frank Langella (as President Richard Nixon) and Michael Sheen (as Sir David Frost).
acclaimed Donmar Warehouse production, which has received three Olivier
Award nominations including Best New Play, will officially open on
April 22, 2007 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (242 West 45th Street)
for a 20-week limited engagement. Preview performances will begin
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen have also each received Best Actor Olivier Award nominations for their roles in Frost/Nixon.
Frost/Nixon recently transferred to
London’s West End following a sold-out run at the Donmar Warehouse.
Prior to coming to Broadway, the production is playing at the Gielgud
Theatre through February 3, 2007.
Revisiting Frost/Nixon, critic Nicholas de Jongh said in The Evening Standard: "No other West End production surpasses Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon
for serious-minded excitement and black comedy, or offers a performance
to which that misused adjective ‘great’ applies,” and continued, “As
Nixon, Frank Langella manages an extraordinary acting feat. Michael
Sheen's Frost, already an expert piece of mimicry, has magnificently
deepened and darkened. Michael Grandage stages a swift, brilliant
production. I was enthralled, amused and enlightened."
tackles the question: How did David Frost, a famous British talk-show
host with a playboy reputation, elicit the apology that the rest of the
world was waiting to hear from former President Richard Nixon? The
fast-paced new play shows the determination, conviction and cunning of
two men as they square off in one of the most monumental political
interviews of all time.
...Frost/Nixon is based on the television interviews, conducted in
1977 by the British talk-show host, which became the most watched
interview ever in TV history. They also elicited a remarkable admission
from the former U.S. President, whose incrimination in the break-in at
the offices of the Democratic Committee at the Watergate Hotel in
Washington led to his ultimate resignation.
The Chicago Tribune:
...As with "The Queen," Morgan's play,
performed without intermission, concerns what Michael Billington,
critic for The Guardian of London, has called "the politics of the
media" and places its principals at a crossroad in their lives. For
Frost, the talks with Nixon, which gathered the largest audience ever
for a news interview (45 million viewers in America), were an
opportunity to revive a fading TV career and prove that he was more
than an entertaining lightweight; for Nixon, the interviews were a
chance for badly needed cash and the possibility of restoring him to
some public favor.
There are other characters in the play
portraying various aides and allies in the Nixon and Frost camps,
including superagent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, who squeezed $600,000 out
of Frost for the exclusive interview rights; but it is the two
principals who are crucial to the play's aura of authenticity, and
casting those roles was a key to the production's success.
role was relatively easy to cast, because Morgan, who knew Michael
Sheen's work well (he plays Prime Minister Tony Blair in "The Queen"),
wrote the part of Frost for him; but Nixon was tougher. He had already
been endlessly imitated and finding a fresh, convincing take on his
character was a problem.
Enter Langella. He is a two-time Tony
Award winner and had been a box office sensation as a sexy Dracula on
Broadway in 1979, but his earlier two stage appearances in England had
been resounding flops, and no one (including Langella) would have
thought him a likely candidate for Nixon. However, according to
director Michael Grandage, "I was keen to find an American actor -- he
had to be American -- who could bring something of the office of
president on stage with him -- a charisma, a power, a sense of `other.'
Langella was an imposing man with a huge voice, and he is a stage actor
first and foremost. Moreover, he had just opened in the film `Good
Night and Good Luck' [in which he gave a powerhouse portrayal of
William S. Paley, board chairman of CBS] and his profile was in a
strong place. After a few conversations with him, it was clear he was
the man for the job."
Langella, a self-described "stage
monster," attacked the role with his usual ferocity. He viewed and
re-viewed the original videotapes, talked at length with Nixon
colleagues and confidants, read everything he could find on the
subject, and took exhaustive notes on Morgan's script. Arriving for
rehearsals, he showed his pages of notes to Grandage, who said, "Well,
at least you're taking the job seriously." He also showed his notes to
Morgan and asked him if he could use any of them. Morgan replied,
"Maybe one or two."
However and whatever, the resulting Nixon
evoked by Langella is a stunning piece of work. Shambling on stage in
the play's first scene, making lame wisecracks as he prepares to
announce his resignation on television, he immediately summons up the
body language, the vocal rhythms and the inner workings of his subject.
His Nixon is a man used to command but now an outcast desperate for
recognition, Sharp, sly and quick in his political instincts, he bulls
forward to the interviews, hoping he can turn them to his advantage.
This portrayal, according to Matt Wolf, an American critic based in
London, "forsakes all facile attempts at mimicry to take us far inside
the wounded psyche of a leader adrift in a hubristic landscape of his
"I'm tall, like Nixon, and I'm in my 60s," says
Langella. But, aside from a small hairpiece, he uses no makeup to give
him the Nixon look. "I wash my face," he says, "put on my blue suit and
walk on stage,"
Tug of war
Pitted against the
slight, debonair Frost of Sheen, he spins out an amazingly suspenseful
tug of war between the two men, the play's swift progression of scenes
climaxing when they meet in the taping of the interviews. Here, with a
giant television screen in the stage's background capturing the
proceedings, Morgan's script quotes the actual language of the
interviews. But it is the physical presence of the two actors -- Sheen
perched on the edge of his chair, leaning forward in his eagerness,
while Langella shifts, squirms and finally collapses under fire -- that
gives this re-created event its sense of convincing reality. And in
that moment when Nixon finally faces the camera to admit his
culpability, there is a brilliant theatrical stroke when the TV screen
shows Langella/Nixon's anguished face in extreme close-up.
will be interesting to see how all this plays out when Sheen, Langella
and an American supporting cast open April 22 in the always risky
territory of Broadway. In London, where I saw the play, critics and
audiences, including David Frost (or Sir David, since his 1993
knighthood) were generally approving.
This is not the old
Tricky Dick, nor is it necessarily the making of a new Nixon Agonistes.
But it does offer a fresh perspective, taking place at a particular
point in time, on the nature of a man whose life, one would have
thought, has been explored from every possible angle.
not to be a caricature," Langella says, "and I tried to follow the
wishes of a close Nixon friend who told me, `Whatever you do, don't
make him into a boor or a drunk, because he was neither.'"
Langella's own attitude toward the man he so intensely studied and so
spectacularly plays, is simple: "Surely he was capable of great evil.
Some of the things he did were unforgivable. But he had intelligence
and ambition and the overwhelming desire to be great. And then, because
of greed or paranoia or some terrible flaw, he threw it all away.
"It's not a tragic story. But it is certainly sad. Very sad."