"This Is Our Youth," the 1996 play by Kenneth Lonergan about affluent but disaffected college-age Manhattanites, will get a new, Chicago-to-Broadway production this summer from the powerful movie and Broadway producer Scott Rudin in collaboration with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The fast-tracked project will include a starry cast of young talent, seemingly designed to attract a new generation to the theater: Michael Cera ("Arrested Development"), Kieran Culkin ("Igby Goes Down") and Tavi Gevinson, the 17-year-old high-school senior from Oak Park whose teen-oriented Web fashion magazine, Rookie, has turned her into a fast-rising media darling with a big-time agent and a nascent Hollywood career.
"This Is Our Youth" has a cult following and will be the first Lonergan play to be staged on Broadway. It will begin performances in the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre on June 10, open June 18 and play through July 27. It then will reopen at the Cort Theatre on Broadway, with performances beginning Aug. 18 and opening night slated for Sept. 11, likely kicking off the 2014-15 Broadway season in New York.
The show is to be directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the Steppenwolf ensemble member whose production of "Of Mice and Men" opens April 16 on Broadway, starring James Franco and Chris O'Dowd. At Steppenwolf, "This Is Our Youth" will be staged in the round; on Broadway, it will be restaged for a proscenium theater.
"Anna really wanted to do it this way," Rudin said in an interview Tuesday, saying that he was determined to see a Lonergan play make it to Broadway, "where his plays belong," and was pleased to accommodate the wishes of a director who has been remarkably successful of late in persuading Broadway producers to allow her to do the bulk of her work in Chicago. Shapiro lives in Evanston with her family.
Shapiro said that first doing the show in the round would, she thought, be a way to build her company. "Working in the round in an intimate setting does a lot for the forming of an ensemble," she said. "You have to be pretty tight as a company. Then we can take another look at it before confronting that great rush of energy you get from a Broadway theater."
Gevinson will make her professional stage-acting debut as Jessica Goldman, an "anxiously insightful," 17-year-old fashion student.
"Tavi really wanted to do this," Rudin said of his young star, who also appeared in the 2013 movie "Enough Said." "And she was very smart at how she went about convincing us she could do it," Rudin said.
For her part, Gevinson, who fortuitously was home from school Tuesday, said that she had decided the chance to do a Broadway show was worth missing her last couple of weeks of high school. "I guess Jessica is often played by people who are older and have more distance from that time," Gevinson said. "But I am living it. I really am cocksure of all my opinions, and I really do feel anxious when challenged. My issue, I think, will be having to zoom out of what I actually am experiencing."
The other stars are a tad less youthful and far more experienced, but similarly enthusiastic. "This play is like my favorite book," said Culkin, who has not worked in a Chicago theater before. "I carry it around when I travel."
Cera, who starred alongside Jonah Hill in the 2007 film "Superbad" and has the kind of fan base that can sell a theater ticket, said he thought the play captured "the pivotal moment when you start to outgrow the roles you play in your youth." This also will be Cera's Chicago stage debut. Cera and Culkin appeared together in 2012 in a separate, Australian production of "This Is Our Youth."
Lonergan said he had no plans to change or update the play, beyond "maybe one line I want to take out and one line I want to put back in." He said he was thrilled the play, written between 1993 and 1995, finally was going to Broadway and that the cast was young. "It is about being 19 or 20," he said. "If the actors are not young, it does not make any sense."
For Steppenwolf, said artistic director Martha Lavey, the project represents a chance to further energize the summer with a project involving an ensemble member.
Notwithstanding Rudin's originating role, "This Is Our Youth" will be billed on Broadway as "The Steppenwolf Theatre production of ..." — which is much the same arrangement as when the theater licensed such shows as "August: Osage County" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" to commercial producers, said Steppenwolf Executive Director David Hawkanson. This is a win-win situation: Steppenwolf gets the financial support of a commercial producer with deep pockets, high standards and a theater already booked, not to mention a cast it would be unlikely to attract without the lure of Broadway. Rudin gets the cost savings of developing the show in Chicago, his director of choice, a useful tryout engagement and the Steppenwolf imprimatur, which has a very strong track record on Broadway.
In Chicago, the limited-run show will be sold as a one-off attraction, although subscribers will get first dibs on tickets that seem likely, in Chicago at least, to fly out the door. Tickets go on sale to the public the morning of April 25.
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