"Roza"--which had successful trial runs at the Baltimore Center Stage and the Mark Taper Forum--has run into heavy weather in New York.
The new Harold Prince musical, based on the Simone Signoret film "Madame Rosa," had its Broadway opening Thursday night at the Royale Theatre. The notices ran from mildly approving to disgusted.
Clive Barnes of the New York Post didn't mind the show itself too much, although he thought it seemed more like a play with music (by Gilbert Becaud) than a musical. The main reason to see it, for him, was Georgia Brown's performance as Roza, the ex-hooker turned housemother.
Barnes called it Brown's "role of a lifetime."
"With her frazzled ginger hair, her blowsy air of defiant desperation, her gift for survival, her Madame Roza is bigger than strife. She is alive--flamboyantly, crazily, dangerously alive. . . ."
Frank Rich of the New York Times conceded that Brown was "formidable" in the role, but not formidable enough to rescue a lame show.
Rich found the show's story so gooey that it made him want to kick the dog, and thought its folk wisdom about as profound as an American Express commercial. ("You can't leave home until you know where you came from") The tip-tilted set, by Alexamder Okun, was "a true folly," and the children in the cast were "an active nuisance."
The AP's Michael Kuchwara wasn't that annoyed, but clearly was reaching for nice things to say. Brown projected "a conviction and sense of urgency missing from the rest of the show." Bob Gunton, as Roza's transsexual neighbor, conveyed "dignity and grace, two qualities not found in abundance in this production."
Allan Wallach of Newsday liked Prince's "atmospheric" staging and Brown's raspy Roza, but "this UNICEF card of a musical left my own heart unwarmed. "
Frederick Winship of UPI: "A wilted, pointless posy of a musical. Sentiment is slopped over everything and it doesn't work because it lacks sincerity."
Howard Kissell of the Daily News: "'Roza' gives vulgarity a bad name."
Perhaps "Roza" should go on the road again.
London hasn't seen Alan Ayckbourn's new play, but Houston is about to do so. Directed by Ayckbourn, at that.
His "Henceforward" had a trial run at his home British theater, the Steven Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, in August, to excellent reviews. "The most original and unsettling English comedy since Peter Nichols' 'A Day in the Death of Joe Egg,' " wrote John Peter in the Sunday Times.
A London production is assured. But for now, Houston's Alley Theatre--Ayckbourn's favorite American theater--has got the play. It opens Thursday, starring George Segal and Judy Geeson.
ABOUT TIME: South Africa is seeing its first black Othello. John Kani (featured at the Taper in '75 in "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead" and "The Island") is playing the Moor for Johannesburg's Market Theatre, directed by actress Janet Suzman.
Suzman, who was born in Johannesburg, said it was obvious why she wanted to direct the play in her native land. "The overtones, undercurrents and reverberations for our country are hauntingly evident."
Kani said Suzman's production was forcing him to confront a prejudice of his own. "I am an African man and, as such, I find it very hard to take orders from a woman."
IN QUOTES. Peter Brook, in his new book, "The Shifting Point" (Harper & Row, $22.50): "You become a director by calling yourself a director and you then persuade other people that this is true."