BWW Reviews: RUPERT Makes U.S. Premiere at the Kennedy Center - Hold the Presses!
Once again the Kennedy Center is presenting theater from around the world. In a program entitled "World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014, patrons can see 22 theatrical offerings from 19 countries with 13 full-scale productions, 4 installations, 2 staged readings, and 2 forums.
RUPERT. What a name of a play. Is there any doubt who this play is about? There is only ONE Rupert, the octogenarian Rupert Murdoch. As Sean O'Shea walks toward the audience (with the house lights still on) he immediately bonds with us. He has great comedic timing. He explains the evening is "the real story of my life" and concerns "the most powerful man in the English speaking world." O'Shea (who reminded me of actor/journalist Ben Stein) introduces his younger self, played by the amazing Guy Edmonds (a Tom Cruise-type character). Edmonds is terrific as the younger Murdoch and works so hard you can see him shvitz so much his shirts in both acts are soaked. Before the lights are turned down, Murdoch asks "Is the Washington Post here". Post critic Peter Marks enjoyed the shout out.
Australia's Melbourne Theatre Company Playhouse hired playwright David Williamson (who was also responsible for the wonderful Australian film "Gallipoli") to write the piece and it was a great choice.
Director Lee Lewis explains in the Playbill "RUPERT is a fantasia, a theatrical daydream, a biographical delusion...we may a lot of stuff up. About everyone. Shamelessly. Slightly irresponsivley. Definitely deliciously. All for the sake of a little fun in the theater..." And it is fun.
It's a history play that students will never learn about in a school room...though they should. How does a man begin his career in Australia owning a newspaper, heads to England and later the U.S. and ends up owning a large group of newspapers, begins an American television network, a Hollywood movie studio, and hobnobs with political leaders.
Murdoch is known best for buying the tabloid New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, New York magazine, buying the 20th Century Fox movie studeo (responsible for "Home Alone"), combining independent television stations into the Fox Nework and hits like "Married with Children". He asked for a megahit and was rewarded with "The Simpsons". It was Jane Fonda and CNN that convinced Murdoch to start Fox News to give a conservative bent with the trademark slogan "Fair and Balanced". Murdoch commented, "Fox News was my savior." I won't go into the many papers in England and Australia and the television networks. It was Murdoch who began "Sky News" in Britain. He planned to make millions in China with satellite television but was snubbed when the government there outlawed satellite dishes.
O'Shea and Edmonds are aided with a superb ensemble who get to play iconic figures like Ronald Reagon, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. What a scene it was with Blair visiting Murdoch in the Cayman Islands. The talented ensemble includes Marg Downey, Daniela Farinacci, Simon Gleeson, Bert LaBonte, HaiHa Le, and Scott Sheridan.
Sitting next to me was a member of the Austrailian Embassy who wanted to know if I got "it". While much went over my head (especially the political leaders in Australia) it is "easy" to get it. I asked him if the Austrailian Ambassador enjoyed it and he pointed out he participated in the deserved standing ovation.
RUPERT is thoroughly entertaining. While a bit preachy with maybe too much exposition and detail about Murdoch's business and personal life, I highly recommend it. You will learn to appreciate how this one man could achieve so much.
RUPERT plays until March 15 at the Eisenhower Theater. Tickets start at $29. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org/worldstages.