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Review Roundup: Pre-Broadway TEA AT FIVE at the Huntington Avenue Theatre; What Did The Critics Think?

Tea at FiveThe Broadway-bound production of Tea at Five starring Academy Award-winner Faye Dunaway as Katharine Hepburn is now open in Boston. The Matthew Lombardo play directed by Tony Award nominee John Tillinger will be presented at the Huntington Avenue Theatre until Sunday, July 14th.

The impressive Tony Award winning creative team consists of Scott Pask(set design) Kevin Adams(lighting) and Jane Greenwood(costumes). John Gromada designs sound, Tom Watson creates wigs and Aaron Rhyne provides projections. The Boston production is being produced by Ben Feldmanand Scott Beck. General Management is RCI Theatrical in association with Lost in Boston Management. Bess Marie Gloriosowill be Production Stage Manager.

Ms. Dunaway portrays Katharine Hepburn, another Academy Award-winning legend, on Broadway later this year in Lombardo's new version of his acclaimed play.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Patti Hartigan, The Boston Globe: Lombardo's attempt to explain the inexplicable is skin-deep, and even his character knows it. More than halfway into the 75-minute performance, Dunaway wraps up a tale about the composer Stephen Sondheim, looks out at the audience with a sly grin and says, "You don't want me rambling on about Sondheim. You'd much rather have me talk about Spence," referring to her turbulent, decades-long relationship with co-star Spencer Tracy. "Why did I stay?" she asks. Who knows? It's complicated. It always is in a dysfunctional, abusive relationship. The play concocts some sort of answer, but the words don't feel genuine. In fact, when Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton saw the play in 2002, she said, "If my aunt saw this, she'd slit her wrists." That said, Dunaway gives a bravura performance, although on opening night, she was slightly rusty on her lines. The Broadway-bound production will bring her back to the Great White Way for the first time in 37 years, a triumph for an actress of a certain age. Both she and Hepburn complained - accurately - about the dearth of juicy roles for older women. Dunaway's performance is the real deal. Sitting in a plush chair on Scott Pask's stately set, she rocks back and forth, the picture of vigor and vulnerability. The sun has set. Snow falls. The grandfather clock is stuck in. But Dunaway is very much alive, and one can only hope she gets a chance to embody a role the way Glenda Jackson recently conquered King Lear. She deserves a stronger cup of tea.

Alicia Blaisdell-Bannon, Cape Cod Times: There is nothing spontaneous or organic about the dialogue or, sadly, the acting in this play. Dunaway, who occasionally stumbles over a line but gamely soldiers on for slightly over an hour, seems to be reciting rather than feeling the monologue. No wonder, since the words themselves are more rote than inspired, more like a standard biography than anything with half the zest of their subject. Part of the problem, of course, is the unique physical presence that was Hepburn: her voice, her mannerisms, the confidence she showed when she stuck out that chin. Dunaway is too laid-back, too hesitant, for the role. And the play seems more designed for that softer, subtle type of performance, focusing more on Hepburn's insecurities, her Broadway and film flops, her disappointments. You want to stand up and yell, "But this woman was a leading lady in Hollywood for, like, six decades! She won four Best Actress Academy Awards! She wore trousers! Where is that woman?"

Kobi Kassal, Theatre Talk Boston: The play beautifully weaves together moments of Hepburn's life from career highlights and failures to her 26 year love affair with actor Spencer Tracey. Lombardo sprinkles in charming anecdotes throughout the story that helps connect the bigger topics. Adapted from her personal memoir, this portrait of one of America's greatest actresses is a fascinating reflection of her life. For those musical theatre fans, there is a great tale of Hepburn and Stephen Sondheim as neighbors while he was writing his hit show Company. Director John Tillinger, who has been with the show since its premiere back in the early 2000s now has the pleasure of working with Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe winner Dunaway. Now at the age of 78, it has been almost 40 years since Ms. Dunaway has graced the Broadway stage. It was clear that Ms. Dunaway was having some trouble with her lines that she flubbed a few times throughout the night. Her ping-pong movements from one end of the stage to the other got mundane at points. Despite all that, Ms. Dunaway puts her heart and soul into the piece and plays Hepburn with heart and a fervorous passion. Her emotion shines in the monologue where Hepburn reflects on her brother's suicide. It is always a delight to see Dunaway back on the Boston stage, where she started her wonderful career many years ago.

Robert Nesti, Edge Media: Ms. Dunaway also gave life to another legend, this time on stage when she toured as opera diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's "Master Class" in 1996. She made for a commanding Callas - stern and authoritative, but vulnerable. She shows the same commitment here, which makes her Hepburn so fascinating to watch. It must be said that this is a performance in flux - not yet fully realized and with the occasional falter. (She slipped on her lines every now and then.) Nor has the arc of the performance fully realized; but Ms. Dunaway is most certainly on the right track, achieving moments of extraordinary connection with her audience.

Robert Netsi, Edge Media: Ms. Dunaway also gave life to another legend, this time on stage when she toured as opera diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's "Master Class" in 1996. She made for a commanding Callas - stern and authoritative, but vulnerable. She shows the same commitment here, which makes her Hepburn so fascinating to watch. It must be said that this is a performance in flux - not yet fully realized and with the occasional falter. (She slipped on her lines every now and then.) Nor has the arc of the performance fully realized; but Ms. Dunaway is most certainly on the right track, achieving moments of extraordinary connection with her audience.

Check back for more reviews as they come in!

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