Tyne Daly in ‘Master Class’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?


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The first big production to open in the new Broadway season -- aside from ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ -- is a revival of Terrence McNally’s ‘Master Class,’ starring Tyne Daly as opera diva Maria Callas.

Directed by Stephen Wadsworth, this production by the Manhattan Theatre Club also stars Sierra Boggess, recently of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical ‘Love Never Dies,’ playing an opera student who endures Callas’ brutally honest and sometimes sadistic form of teaching.


McNally’s play was performed at the Mark Taper Forum and then on Broadway in 1995, with Zoe Caldwell and Audra McDonald, who both won Tonys. The play is set in an auditorium at the Juilliard School where Callas, now in semi-retirement, is instructing a set of eager students in the art of bel canto.

Since the play debuted, the role of the past-her-prime Callas has become a plum part for actresses of a certain age. Some big names to have assayed the role include Faye Dunaway, Patti LuPone and Dixie Carter. (French movie star Fanny Ardant starred in a 1996 Paris production, directed by Roman Polanski.)

The new Broadway revival at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre opened out of town last year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, with Daly in the lead role.

Daly, who won a Tony for ‘Gypsy’ in 1990, is receiving raves, though the play itself hasn’t held up well, according to some critics.

Ben Brantley in the New York Times wrote that ‘Master Class,’ is not, ‘by even a generous reckoning, a very good play, though it can be an entertaining one.... Yet Ms. Daly transforms that script into one of the most haunting portraits I’ve seen of life after stardom.’ The Washington Post’s Peter Marks wrote that ‘Daly’s performance can safely be diagnosed as top of the line.... If anything, the performance has grown since Washington.’ But the play itself suffers from McNally’s insertion of too much spoken back story -- ‘a clumsy biographical device that sucks a goodly amount of air out of the evening.’

Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg described Daly’s performance as ‘a master class in technique to inspire any acting student or colleague.’ Through she bears little physical resemblance to Callas, the actress captures the singer’s ‘spirit and fire, her carriage, and learned hauteur. Most eerily, she nails Callas’s speaking voice.’


The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout called Daly’s performance ‘a bit broad’ but added that it ‘smolders with remembered heartbreak.’ The actors who play her students, including Alexandra Silber and Garrett Sorenson, ‘all pierce the veil of caricature and give effective performances.’

Howard Shapiro of the Philadelphia Inquirer described the revival as ‘steady and sure,’ its ‘pensive quality gives Daly room to reflect, to stunning result. She delivers more without moving a single facial muscle than many actors say with a wide range of emotions.’


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-- David Ng