Bradley Cooper has won over New York’s notoriously tough theater critics with his “stunning” transformation as The Elephant Man on the Broadway stage.
Cooper has reprised his role as severely deformed John Merrick in the Bernard Pomerance play and the revival officially opened at the Booth Theatre on Sunday, with reviewers praising the actor’s efforts to contort his body and his mouth without the use of prosthetics or any heavy make-up.
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter applauds Cooper for his “tremendously moving” performance, while Deadline.com’s Jeremy Gerard claims the Oscar nominee is “the best Merrick yet”, and Linda Winder of Newsday was wowed by his “smashing, heart-ripping portrayal”.
Variety‘s Marilyn Stasio is particularly impressed with his physical transformation, writing, “The piece de resistance is his depiction of the ‘wide slobbering aperture’ that is Merrick’s mouth. Shaping his own mouth into a fleshy oval, the thesp gives expressive voice to the sensitive and intelligent human being imprisoned in his own body. It’s a stunning performance, deeply felt and very moving.”
Joe Dziemianowicz from the New York Daily News credits Cooper’s spot-on delivery with bringing Pomerance’s humour to the stage, while the New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli admits, “The Elephant Man isn’t a great play, especially in the way it openly tugs at the heartstrings. But when it’s performed well, it’s satisfying on a primal level.”
Co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, who portrays the surgeon determined to understand Merrick’s condition, also garnered positive reviews for helping to turn the “starchy play from patronizing edification into a haunting emotional experience”, according to Rooney.
Cooper previously starred in The Elephant Man at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts in 2012.
The Elephant Man revival, directed by Scott Ellis, marks the actor’s first role on Broadway since 2006, when he co-starred with Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain.
David Bowie, Billy Crudup and Mark Hamill have all previously tackled the demanding role onstage, while John Hurt portrayed Merrick in David Lynch’s 1980 movie adaptation.