Broadway’s Belasco Theatre is no stranger to madness. Recent home to Sally Field’s Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, Michael Moore’s Broadway debut in The Terms of My Surrender (where Bryan Cranston appeared as a one-time guest!), and Mark Rylance’s mentally troubled monarch in Farinelli and the King, Cranston’s back in the building – and he’s “MAD AS HELL.”
A trip to Network’s UBS newsroom is an astonishing occasion, and Broadway Spin’s Juliet Mazer-Schmidt is here to provide some spoiler-free fuel to get you appropriately amped for the show.
1. Network is a film fan’s fantasyland.
Abandon all expectations of a “theatre experience”: this thrilling two-hour one-act fuses film with theatre to create an unparalleled multimedia smorgasbord that rewards wandering eyes and an open mind.
Network’s news comes together in real-time from a fully-functioning on-stage control room: camerawork and editing happen live, in plain view – inside a play that features TV actor titans who tackled characters like Breaking Bad’s Walter White (Cranston), Scandal’s President Grant (Tony Goldwyn), and Orphan Black’s Sarah Manning (et al., Tatiana Maslany).
Jan Versweyveld’s set design scatters screens throughout the house, including opera boxes; a giant screen projects live footage shot throughout the theatre from stage to wings – to outside on West 44th Street.
Network offers numerous places to look – and they all help tell the story. Settle in early for pre-show entertainment (several cast members warmup on-stage) and scope out the sightlines as a literal countdown to curtain ticks away – but time bar and restroom runs accordingly: the play starts promptly at the 60-second mark, not the zero.
2. If that’s not enough, Network’s stage also includes a “restaurant.”
FOODWORK serves ten stage-seated patrons a five-course meal during the show, designed by a former White House Executive Pastry Chef, complete with a custom “Mad As Hell” cocktail (insider intel: it’s bourbon-based).
3. Mainline a monumental Bryan Cranston performance as legendary as Heisenberg’s blue crystal.
A craftsman with a long history of commitment to character, five seasons of Breaking Bad and a 2014 Tony-winning portrayal Lyndon Johnson in All The Way prepared Cranston well for the heroic stamina required to embody Howard Beale nightly in Network. (He’s already won an Olivier Award for the show’s West End debut.) This is a performance no writing can capture fully – it needs to be experienced in the room.
4. Move over, Hamilton: THIS man is Non-Stop.
Also the author of a 2016 bestselling memoir, as “Bryan Cranston” he’s been everything from a murder suspect to midair wedding officiant. His morning-after response to being fired from a soap opera in the ‘80s was to train for – and run – the New York City Marathon. Prior to the start of his formal acting career, Cranston spent America’s Bicentennial riding a Honda 550cc motorcycle cross-country with his big brother, camping out everywhere from homeless shelters to golf course fairways to mortuary driveways, working odd jobs that included breaking down rides for traveling carnivals.
5. Cranston and Co-Star Tony Goldwyn have been to the moon and back (in an HBO miniseries).
Back in 1998, Goldwyn first met Cranston when they played astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in HBO’s 12-episode docudrama From the Earth to the Moon, dramatizing the history-making Apollo expeditions.
6. Network director Ivo van Hove doesn’t just adapt or revive; he revolutionizes.
Artistic Director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Belgian director Ivo van Hove made his Broadway debut three seasons ago with a Tony-winning revival of A View from the Bridge that stripped Arthur Miller’s portrait of the 1950s Brooklyn waterfront down to a bright white box, contrasted by a breathtaking finale that bathed its ensemble in the play’s chaos. Network, another spellbinding production with van Hove’s visionary touches, takes an opposing approach: the chaos is everywhere, unavoidable; the audience is part of it.
An adaptation of the 1976 film written and directed by Oscar-winning Paddy Chayefsky (by no means required viewing to enjoy Lee Hall’s play), van Hove informed Network’s cast at first rehearsal: in ’76 this was satire, it’s not satire anymore – it’s very real. Confronting 21st Century America’s shocking state of information gathering and journalistic integrity head-on, van Hove presents Network as an immersive – and explosive – dive into all shades of the human psyche.
7. A [social] Network that connects us all.
A “mad” coincidence: Tony Goldwyn first read the role of Max Schumacher by chance, at a 2015 Live Read performance of Network’s screenplay at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Aaron Sorkin played Howard Beale: Sorkin had cited Chayefsky upon accepting his 2011 Academy Award for The Social Network, writing subsequently that “no predictor of the future — not even Orwell — has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network.
No stranger to theatrical adaptation, Sorkin’s To Kill A Mockingbird plays presently just down 44th Street at Shubert Theatre starring Jeff Daniels – whose last Broadway appearance brought him to madness [alongside Michelle Williams in Blackbird] on the Belasco stage.
Beyond the UBS Studio, Cranston invites one and all to amplify the Belasco’s madness via Network’s #MadAsHellBway video campaign.
Be prepared to feel the full spectrum of emotion – and be prepared to scream. Network runs through April 28 and tickets are in play through Broadway Roulette.
Juliet Mazer-Schmidt is a Detroit-born performer, turned DC-based litigator, turned Chicago-based theatre developer – turned NYC-based all-of-the-above… and in case it’s not obvious, she is also a writer.