Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How One Young Director Made the Leap to Broadway

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How One Young Director Made the Leap to Broadway

Article excerpt

The familiar theater cliche, thanks largely to Hollywood, depicts a vibrant young actress bursting on the scene, an overnight Broadway star. Rarely, if ever, is the same story told about directors.

Yet Scott Elliott qualifies for the same description. The director opened his second Broadway play last month with the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters." It arrives on the heels of his successful interpretation of Noel Coward's "Present Laughter," which opened last November. With these productions, he is drawing attention from every corner of the theater world.

"I was just doing my thing at my little theater, and then it got noticed," the self-effacing director says before the start of rehearsals on the Chekhov revival. Wearing a pullover sweater and jeans, and sipping a soda in the lounge off the theater's main lobby, Elliott expresses hope that his version of the classic play will attract a younger audience. "I think the fact that people like Lili Taylor and Eric Stoltz are in it will make them come. They'll come to see them, and then experience the play. I'm shocked at how many people don't know Chekhov." When he first started out, Elliott pounded the pavement in the traditional manner, looking for acting jobs in New York soon after receiving a degree at the Boston Conservatory of Music. His efforts led to roles in regional theaters and in Broadway's "Les Miserables." Along with a few friends, he later founded a theater company called the New Group "in a little space with 50 seats on 42nd street, on the third floor." After he produced a few plays "by younger, up-and-coming writers," the opportunity came along in the spring of 1995 to direct "Ecstacy," by British filmmaker Mike Leigh (of "Secrets & Lies" fame). Public attention for that production put him on the map. Three smaller productions followed, all of which earned acclaim and showcased his talent for building a sparkling cast to perform difficult pieces. The offer to direct a Coward revival brought with it the risk of moving into the largest, most-watched arena a stage director can encounter, coupled with the inevitable assumptions made about a familiar work. "I tried to breathe a new kind of life into it, and to reveal the play in a different way, without being disrespectful," Elliott explains. Critics registered opinions of every variety, from glowing reports to scathing denunciations. But audiences basked in its engaging wit and accessible style. Elliott dug deep into both the text itself and the era in which it was written. He noted astutely that the usual depiction of many of the secondary characters in the play as stuffy, emotionless business types didn't fit with the story. "The fact that they're all close friends said to me that there had to be a string of similarities between them. …

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