The eek! factor is largely missing from "Misery," starring a laid-back Bruce Willis as the bed-bound author held hostage by his "greatest fan," played here by Laurie Metcalfe. Despite the physical intimacy imposed by its stage setting, William Goldman's theatrical version of the 1987 Stephen King novel lacks the stifling sense of claustrophobia that made Rob Reiner's 1990 movie version starring Kathy Bates and James Caan so unnerving. Or maybe the atmosphere of fear and dread was just wiped out by the show's undercurrents of arch humor.
MISERY Broadway Reviews
Reviews of Misery on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for Misery including the New York Times and More...
Since coming to Broadway after winning three Emmy Awards for playing the low self-esteemed Jackie in ROSEANNE, Laurie Metcalf has yet to strike a false note in her rich and diverse collection of stage portrayals... It's her unbending commitment to honesty, even in the most heightened of melodramatic situations, that drives director Will Frears' marvelously entertaining production of William Goldman's play based on novelist Stephen King's Misery.
From those first moments, it is clear that the people behind Broadway's adaptation of Stephen King's popular thriller and the hit 1990 movie know exactly what they are doing. They know that the bulk of their audience - anyone who didn't just come to see the very good Bruce Willis - is wise to the plot turns and blunt-force terrors in their modern-gothic junk-food entertainment... The box-office catnip is Willis, totally convincing in his first play since his early off-Broadway days in the '80s.
Well-adapted by William Goldman, the horror-tinged thriller "Misery" is popcorn theater - it's a carnival ride that piles on the twists and thrills, complete with ominous thunder and lighting during particularly tense moments. It's genre theater that's gotten rare on Broadway, which is too bad: The show is shameless, and that's what makes it so fun.
In the New Jersey-reared actor's Broadway debut in "Misery," Willis delivers an underpowered, half-interested performance - all the more puzzling considering that he's playing a character being tormented by a psychopath. That "Misery" succeeds is a testament to the ingenuity of King's original material, the deftness of director Will Frears' staging, and especially the roller-coaster force of Willis' co-star Laurie Metcalf (from TV's "Roseanne"), who (almost) makes you forget the iconic stamp Kathy Bates put on the same part in the film version. Despite Willis' flat performance, "Misery" turns out to be something Broadway hasn't seen in years: an old-fashioned chiller from the Ira Levin/"Deathtrap" school, where the gasps and the giggles are deliciously jumbled together.
You can't help but feel for Bruce Willis, now making his Broadway debut in Misery (**1/2 out of four stars), a new adaptation of the Stephen King novel. ... But Misery isn't really Paul's play, any more than the 1990 screen version -- penned by William Goldman, who also wrote this play -- was his movie. You may remember that James Caan played Paul in that film, but he was vastly overshadowed by Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, the obsessive fan who retrieves the injured writer from the site of the crash. Annie brings Paul to her farmhouse -- conveniently close to the hotel in Silver Creek, Colorado where he has just finished his latest work -- and holds him captive, through a combination of psychological torture and physical violence.
Annie, get your gun! How much more do you want to know about Misery, which hobbled to its opening Sunday night on Broadway? William Goldman wrote the script, as he did the screenplay for Rob Reiner's 1990 Castle Rock film based on Stephen King's novel. Bruce Willis is meh as super successful schlock writer Paul Sheldon... If you can put aside the fact that the show offers about five seconds of actual, thriller-type suspense during its 90 intermissionless minutes, you can see glimpses of a younger and extremely likable Willis in Misery.
The fundamental problem, alas, with the performance of Willis, the star of some of the highest-grossing action movies in Hollywood history, is that his reaction to all of those realizations, upon which the forward trajectory of this theoretically scary play depends, are wholly homogenous - to the extent, that is, that one can detect any reaction from him at all. Metcalf is, of course, an inveterate creature of the stage, and in the first few minutes of "Misery," which is directed by Will Frears without enough attention to those old-fashioned fundamentals, you can enjoy her fussy, annoying Annie. In those early scenes, she's a carefully wrought Metcalf creation, credibly rooted in a certain reality - you feel, as you should, like you have met this Annie on a prior occasion.
However, though the technical specs are excellent, the production suffers from a curious lack of tension. And, moreover, fun. The movie version had the benefit of close-ups, which Reiner took advantage of to the hilt, but in the play we feel too distanced from the intimacy and battle of wills that develops between Paul and Annie - or the notes of sympathy that is woven into each of them. Willis plays Paul with a flatness and passivity that feels too inert, even for a character who is bedbound. And as Annie, Laurie Metcalf is overly conscious of not echoing the line readings as they were delivered by Bates. During Annie's famous freak-out over Paul's decision to kill off his literary creation ("You murdered my Misery!"), Metcalf chooses the opposite tonal delivery for each of Bates' lines. And unlike in the book and the film, there's no grace period in which we discover that Annie is nuts. That's a symptom of making a play from material that is extremely well known, but it renders a great-looking production somewhat - to use a word - hobbled. B-
Watching Broadway's "Misery" is like playing a 33 LP set to 45. It's Stephen King by way of the Chipmunks, and with as much gravitas. (The set, which I loved, is a turntable, by David Korins, of "Hamilton"-it spins to reveal the bedroom where Annie imprisons Paul, and the kitchen, where Paul and Annie have a dinner that is a high point of this staging.) Don't blink, or you'll miss a lot... The thrilling cinematic climax, a protracted battle to the death, here is reduced to one good whack Paul gives Annie with his used typewriter, the one missing an "N" key, and a few seconds of neck-throttling. Die-HARD? Die-easy is more like it.
Misery" the play is saturated in what feels like an amused, nostalgic distance from its source material. It's as if Mr. Willis and Ms. Metcalf had shown up at the behest of a "Misery" fan club to share memories of our enjoyment of the book and movie and to chuckle over how they once scared the wits out of us. Even the requisite dark-and-stormy atmospherics (with lighting by David Weiner, sound by Darron L West and creepy music by Michael Friedman) register as gentle, teasing reminders of guilty thrills past.
That the play, borrowing heavily on the movie, is neatly plotted does not mean it is structurally satisfying. Basically it has only two actions, which keep alternating: Sheldon develops a plan, and Annie foils it. The movie, with its variety of shots and its focus on details, could disguise that endless tick-tock, but onstage the drama flattens out and separates.
Thanks largely to the wacko humor infused throughout Metcalf's diabolically folksy performance, and to the ingeniousness of David Korins' revolving set - which invites us to follow the action from room to room exactly like a camera - this Misery is an enjoyable enough rerun that recaptures some of its predecessor's B-movie pleasures. But there's a strong whiff of cynicism about the enterprise. The suspicion takes root virtually from the start that the only reason it exists is because Warner Bros. and screenwriter William Goldman - who has adapted the work as a stage play with minimal invention - figured there were still a few more bucks to be milked out of a popular commercial property.
In the end, "Misery" isn't total misery. It's just weird. Apart from the fact that it's a completely unnecessary adaptation, you oddly start to root for the monster, not the bona fide action hero. That's because Bruce Willis makes an appallingly ill-conceived Broadway debut in the thriller that opened Sunday at the Broadhurst Theatre. But Laurie Metcalf rescues the "Die Hard" stud by doing enough good acting for both of them.
Watching Bruce Willis move around in his wheelchair in "Misery," which opened Sunday at the Broadhurst Theatre, is like watching "Rope," a film made in very long takes with next to no editing... Shouldn't there be cuts to Metcalf in a car as she races home to inflict further pain on her idol, a best-selling novelist? Of course, there are no cuts. It's a play! And that's just one of the major problems with William Goldman's stage adaptation of Stephen King's 1987 best-seller, which became a successful 1990 movie scripted by Goldman. Korins's turntable set keeps spinning around and around as Willis and Metcalf play crazy cat and injured mouse, but there's no suspense.
Willis's weirdly narcotized and passive Broadway debut goes above and beyond the drugged, physically diminished circumstances of his character. On a meta level, Misery is about Willis playing film star Willis being terrorized by Metcalf's superior acting talent. For any poor soul who shells outs $165 a ticket rather than, say, streams the flick while enjoying a nice cup of cocoa, there's partial compensation: a majestically loony turn by Metcalf as the deranged "number-one fan" of Sheldon's Gothic romance series. Filling the vacuum left by a deadpanning Willis, Metcalf hoots, purrs, howls and tears around her kitsch-filled Colorado home, where Sheldon is imprisoned and forced to write her favorite character back to life.
Whereas Rob Reiner's film was chilling, the 90-minute Broadway production (directed without focus by Will Frears), comes off as a psycho version of "The Odd Couple," with audience members laughing throughout at Annie's apparent insanity. Those who don't see the humor are likely to find it a pointless star vehicle. Metcalf is big, loud and over-the-top as Annie. On the other hand, the gruff-looking Willis displays little energy or presence, which easily allows Metcalf to overtake the show.
Indeed, you can imagine novelist King having some droll pleasure with the idea of a best-selling author encountering reader fury by changing literary forms. What would be the blowback, you can imagine him wondering, if he suddenly switched from writing horror to haiku?
As lovable as wise-cracking Bruce Willis was in "Moonlighting" and the "Die Hard" films, he is deadly dull in the stage version of Stephen King's novel. This big Hollywood star musters just enough emotion to stretch from A to B in his Broadway debut... "Misery" reminds how hard it is to make a thriller click on stage, whether Annie is terrorizing Paul or contending with a nosey cop (Leon Addison Brown). When Annie gets her gun, it's a riot. Anyone who's seen the movie knows what's coming, but Metcalf largely hits her mark with her sledgehammer and her block of wood.
When Misery cooks, it is in the Grand Guignol moments, particularly the scene of hobbling, so why not go ahead and make that Guignol so much grander, sillier, more deliciously absurd? Had the violence been increased, as well as the comedy and the sense of sexual sublimation, Misery might have been a real scream.
Willis struggles to project to the back of the theater and delivers most every line in a low-key, off-hand manner, whether he's asking for some water or trying to convince Annie not to kill them both. While his fumbles with the lines are not surprising (he hasn't been on stage in decades) even Metcalf stumbled here and there on the night I saw it, a distressing sight for such a veteran... Somebody knows something, because the reviews won't matter here. Willis will either decide Broadway was a bad idea or dive into something better down the road. Metcalf will hungrily move on to the next, more demanding, more interesting part. And Goldman will hopefully turn again to something more challenging and fulfilling, like that stage adaptation of The Princess Bride.