The Elephant Man BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: T Charles Erickson
  • The Elephant Man
  • NY TIMES

  • HR

  • NBC

  • AMNY

  • EW

Opening Night:
December 7, 2014
Closing:
February 22, 2015

Theater: Booth Theatre / 222 West 45th Street, New York, NY, 10036

Synopsis: 

Two-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper stars in Bernard Pomerance's Tony Award-winning classic, The Elephant Man, based on the real life of Joseph Merrick, a 19th century British man who became a star of the traveling freak show circuit. When a renowned doctor, played by Alessandro Nivola, takes Merrick under his care at the London Hospital, he is astonished by Merrick’s brilliant intelligence and unshakable faith. Soon all of Victorian high society becomes fascinated by Merrick, especially a beautiful actress who is played by Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson. But with Merrick's new life comes new complexity… and a "normal” existence begins to seem all but impossible.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF The Elephant Man

    A Chance to Stare. So Go Ahead. Bradley Cooper in 'The Elephant Man' on Broadway

    Ben Brantley

    December 7, 2014: O.K. already, can we just go ahead and pull back that curtain? A current of electric impatience runs through the audience during the opening scenes of the sturdy revival of Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, which opened on Sunday night at the Booth Theater. That’s because the only glimpse we’ve been allowed so far of the title character — and more important, of the man playing him — has been as a shadow behind a thin but view-obstructing curtain. There has been much discussion of the astonishing reality attached to this silhouette. A carnival barker type assures us that this exotic creature — who “exposes himself to crowds who gape and yawp” — looks like nobody else on the planet. Technically, the carny is describing the grotesquely deformed John Merrick, who makes his living as a sideshow attraction in Victorian England. But for much of the audience, the reference might as well be to the guy People magazine once crowned “the Sexiest Man Alive,” the movie star Bradley Cooper. Not to worry, dear theatergoers and film fans. Soon enough, Mr. Cooper is on full-frontal, clinical display, wearing nothing but a pair of period-appropriate underpants and a face as neutral as a death mask. Feast your eyes upon this image while you can, and perhaps be so good as to feel a little guilty for doing so.

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  • HOLLYWOOD REPORTER REVIEW OF The Elephant Man

    A passion project performed with a commensurate depth of feeling

    David Rooney

    December 7, 2014: Bradley Cooper, by his own account, traces his earliest desire to be an actor to seeing the David Lynch film, The Elephant Man, at age 12. His investment in the tragic real-life character of Joseph Merrick, known as John, intensified when he performed the physically demanding role in Bernard Pomerance's play for his Actors Studio masters thesis, and again further when he appeared in a full production at the 2012 Williamstown Theatre Festival. That staging now comes to Broadway, bearing ample evidence of Cooper's personal connection to the material, which goes far beyond technical craft to a place of wrenching empathy. Pomerance's 1977 bio-drama calls for the central role to be performed without special makeup or prosthetics. It seems almost absurd witnessing hunky Cooper so subsumed by a character renowned for his grotesque deformities that we forget whom we're watching. But in Scott Ellis' production, directed with as much compassion as precision, the illusion becomes complete. In fact, Cooper's tremendously moving performance, along with the sensitive work of co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, transforms this rather starchy play from patronizing edification into a haunting emotional experience. While Lynch's 1980 film starring Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt was adapted from other source material, the play covers more or less the same period. It concentrates on the few years leading to Merrick's death in 1890 at age 27, when he lived at London Hospital under the care of Dr. Frederick Treves (Nivola). Merrick's hellish early life is sketched with economy via quick scenes with Ross (Anthony Heald), the freak-show barker who acquired him from the Leicester workhouse where his mother had placed him as a child.

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  • NBC NEW YORK REVIEW OF The Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper Transforms Into "The Elephant Man"

    Robert Kahn

    December 7, 2014: Two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper transforms so methodically into the disfigured Joseph Merrick at the start of The Elephant Man, now in the midst of a limited engagement at the Booth Theatre, that you barely realize it’s happening. When you finally do, it kind of knocks the wind out of you. Early in this cold and spartan revival, directed by Scott Ellis (You Can’t Take It With You), we see movie star Cooper staring ahead, shirtless, on a bare and sloping stage. To his left stands Alessandro Nivola, as Dr. Frederick Treves, the London physician who would become Merrick’s confidante and caretaker. Between them hangs a projected image of the titular 19th-century Englishman, whose agonizingly human story has been chronicled in books, an Oscar-nominated film, and this, the often-revisited version by playwright Bernard Pomerance first staged in 1979. In a clinical, if sobering monologue, Nivola will describe Merrick’s appearance—“The thumb was like a radish, the fingers like thick tuberous roots”—to be met in turn by a reaction from Cooper, who, for this example, twists one hand into an angry ball.

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  • AM NEW YORK REVIEW OF The Elephant Man

    Cooper scores as the 'Elephant Man'

    Matt Windman

    December 7, 2014: The fall theater season comes to a finish with the unveiling of a solid Broadway revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 historic drama The Elephant Man, which is led by a transformative, fully committed performance from Bradley Cooper, named “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2011, as the severely deformed John Merrick. The production, which has been breaking box office records, premiered at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. It joins Broadway’s already crowded landscape of revivals featuring major film stars and playing short runs. Merrick became a medical curiosity in Victorian England after a hard life in a Dickensian workhouse and as a sideshow attraction. He is depicted as a tragic figure possessing an unexpectedly noble, unselfish and romantic attitude. Pomerance’s highly theatrical and presentational drama -- which is unrelated to David Lynch’s 1980 film of the same name -- is told from the point of view of Frederick Treves, the medical doctor who found Merrick and allowed him to stay at his hospital until his early death.

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  • ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY REVIEW OF The Elephant Man

    The Elephant Man (2014) Review

    Jason Clark

    December 7, 2014: You won't hear the phrase ''I am not an animal!'' uttered at any time during the sturdy but muted Broadway revival of The Elephant Man. (That now-famous bit is exclusively a product of David Lynch's transporting 1980 black-and-white film.) But the sentiment is still very much there, as Joseph ''John'' Merrick (gorgeously played by Bradley Cooper)—the cruelly disfigured man who claims his misshaped head ''is so big because it is so full of dreams''—continually finds himself at the service of the medical profession, curious onlookers, and even those looking to score a quick buck off of him. This is the first time a former Sexiest Man Alive has tackled the physically demanding role, but Merrick has a long history of being played by famous actors at the height of their careers (David Bowie, Billy Crudup and Star Wars vet Mark Hamill are among them). The always-on-display nature of the role seems to act as an allegory for the harsh judgment of those thrust into the spotlight, and given the rise of social media bile in our regions, the point is timely and extremely well-taken. Scott Ellis' lean revival of Elephant is light on frills, very much in line with the long-standing decision to have the actor playing Merrick take on no prosthetics or makeup to convey Merrick's contorted, compromised body. This production's preference is to highlight the short-burst scenes that make up playwright Bernard Pomerance's two acts chronicling Merrick's social transformation as led by Dr. Frederick Treves, a surgeon who assumes care of the abused former circus curiosity. Theatrical grande dame Mrs. Kendal (Patricia Clarkson) also becomes a confidante to Merrick, and awakens his romantic desires, which are unlikely to ever be reciprocated.

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