The fall theater season comes to a finish with the unveiling of a solid Broadway revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 historic drama “The Elephant Man,” which is led by a transformative, fully committed performance from Bradley Cooper, named “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2011, as the severely deformed John Merrick.
The production, which has been breaking box office records, premiered at the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. It joins Broadway’s already crowded landscape of revivals featuring major film stars and playing short runs.
Merrick became a medical curiosity in Victorian England after a hard life in a Dickensian workhouse and as a sideshow attraction. He is depicted as a tragic figure possessing an unexpectedly noble, unselfish and romantic attitude.
Pomerance’s highly theatrical and presentational drama — which is unrelated to David Lynch’s 1980 film of the same name — is told from the point of view of Frederick Treves, the medical doctor who found Merrick and allowed him to stay at his hospital until his early death.
Much of the play is tediously consumed by Treves debating notions of morality and normalcy with his colleagues. But even if the play lacks narrative power, the setup is still fascinating.
Unlike the film, where Merrick’s grotesque figure was displayed through prosthetics, Cooper solely relies on his physical and vocal abilities to convey all of this, keeping his face and body in twisted positions, speaking in a wobbly tone and moving with a pained gait. It is an extremely demanding role and he pulls it off.
The revival, directed by Scott Ellis, is relatively simple and straightforward, thus directing our attention to Cooper and the excellent cast, which also includes Alessandro Nivola, Patricia Clarkson and Anthony Heald. It also benefits from being in one of Broadway’s smaller theaters, adding much intimacy.
If you go: “The Elephant Man” plays at the Booth Theatre through Feb. 15. 222 W. 45th St., ElephantManBroadway.com.