Event Report: “MISERY” with Bruce Willis & Laurie Metcalf on BroadwayBooks/Art/Culture,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
This writer must admit that it’s a bit surprising that not more horror takes to the stage in a serious context. Of course, there are the many macabre musicals that infuse the flamboyant Broadway attitude and the splattery, insane properties of horror films past, including musical adaptations of EVIL DEAD, RE-ANIMATOR and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But the stage is rarely approached for traditionally frightening fare these days, even with the potential of genuinely frightening a room full of people being a logical step from the increasingly interactive haunt experience. But at least one live show is making the bold step of attempting to do so, and with a property that is beloved by many horror hounds: Stephen King’s MISERY, starring Bruce Willis, Laurie Metcalf and Leon Addison Brown.
Going off of William Goldman’s script for Rob Reiner’s film adaptation, Will Frears’ stagebound take on MISERY isn’t going to be necessarily an unpredictable ride for those familiar with the story, but it will certainly be a different experience than one might expect. Rather than use the claustrophobic nature of MISERY to go for a one-room set-up, this adaptation is much closer to a more naturalistic take on the material, allowing the famous exchanges and cringier moments (including a jaw-dropping recreation of the hobbling scene) to play out with real time tension as opposed to the haunting editing of the film. But above all, MISERY allows the interpersonal drama between Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon play out in front of your eyes, allowing the smaller ticks and nuances of each performance to be absorbed as it all happens.
And while those familiar with the story will know what to expect from the play, patrons will certainly be surprised by the more immersive technical elements on display. Of course, the incredible stage design by David Korins brings new life to Annie Wilkes’ house, giving a true depth to the space where Willis, Metcalf and Brown get to play out the suspenseful scenario. Meanwhile, the new musical score from Michael Friedman adds a Hitchcockian flair to the proceedings, which actually helps sell the tension in ways the performers may not as they’re confined to the perceptions of the audience. And the special FX from Gregory Meeh is rather spectacular, earning gasps, nervous laughter and applause from the edgy audience.
MISERY also works on the strengths of the performances at hand as well, which is crucial to a piece that’s largely comprised of two characters. Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch is Laurie Metcalf as Wilkes, who adds just the right desperation and introverted anxiousness to the role. While taking some inspiration from both King’s version of the character as well as Kathy Bates iconic performance, Metcalf really makes the role her own both in physicality and delivery of Goldman’s breakneck dialogue. Her anger feels more venomous, and there’s an emotional truth in her stage presence that one can’t find on the screen, which makes her psychopathic turn that much more affecting.
Meanwhile, Willis goes for a more restrained performance, offering something a bit more closer to the chest and further away from James Caan’s unforgettable take. Willis almost approaches the role with a poker face, playing towards Metcalf’s nervous performance with a careful deliberation. Willis is aiming for a more realistic, true-to-form take on Paul Sheldon, and while some might be underwhelmed that he doesn’t go into hysterics, others will surely appreciate that he pulls his weight in grounding the play. Brown also does a great job of balancing realism and Goldman’s heightened screenplay, and is rather fantastic at conveying a small town attitude to bounce off Wilkes fanatical behavior.
Overall, while MISERY isn’t going to frighten or disturb as the original story and film once did, partly just because the turn of events are so damn familiar to audiences, the Broadway version is still damn thrilling and suspenseful. With an amazing practical payoff to the more shocking moments and a collection of top tier performances, MISERY is a great and unique experience guaranteed to put a wicked grin on the faces of horror hounds and casual fright fans alike.