'Where's The Lightning Bolt!?': Inside the Broadway Opening of Joshua Harmon's Prayer for the French Republic | Playbill

Opening Night 'Where's The Lightning Bolt!?': Inside the Broadway Opening of Joshua Harmon's Prayer for the French Republic

The Manhattan Theatre Club production opened January 9 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

Cast and creative team of Prayer for the French Republic Tricia Baron

On January 9, Joshua Harmon's Prayer for the French Republic officially opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway. The storm raging outside the opening night festivities juxtaposed the serene quiet professed by the cast.

"I'm just sort of peacefully content," director David Cromer explains. "I've been involved with this for five years, and it never gets old. To see the kernel of something, to look at it in those early stages, to try to workshop it, to bring it to Broadway. It doesn't happen that often, so it never gets old when it does. I feel at peace now that we have arrived."

Actor Ari Brand, making his Broadway debut, echoes the sentiment of arrival. "I'm feeling relieved that we made it here!" Brand chuckles. "It's been a long road. I did the workshop of the play before COVID, and it has been a solid five years that the story has been with me. To do it here, on this big stage, is a dream. I'm so grateful."

A Prayer for the French Republic began previews December 19, 2023, and will continue through February 18. The play begins in 1944 with a Jewish couple awaiting news of their missing family, and follows five generations of a French Jewish family in its examination of history, home, and the effects of an ancient hatred. The Off-Broadway run won the 2022 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Off-Broadway Play.

The cast features Betsy Aidem as Marcelle Salomon Benhamou, Noel Nacer as Charles Benhamou, Francis Benhamou as Elodie Benhamou, Aria Shahghasemi as Daniel Benhamou, Edwards as Patrick Salomon, Molly Ranson as Molly, Richard Masur as Pierre Salomon, Nancy Robinette as Irma Salomon, Daniel Oreskes as Adolphe Salomon, Ari Brand as Lucien Salomon, and Ethan Haberfield as Young Pierre Salomon.

"Well I'm feeling really happy!" laughs Anthony Edwards, who plays Francis' uncle within the show. "I'm feeling like I just had five weeks of great rehearsal, and then previews, with all the exploring and learning and watching that involves, watching technicians bring the magic of their light and their set and their sound all of that together to support this play that we all love. I'm like, where's the lightning bolt!?"

Nacer and Aidem, who play the leading Benhamou couple, brought that bolt of energy to the evening with the mutual delight. "Oh, I'm so excited!" Nacer declared proudly. "I could not be more thrilled. I think the play just keeps getting richer and richer, and more complex and nuanced. Having the audience there has been a huge part of our learning process and feeding off of the energy that they're giving us. I think we're at a point now where we sort of feel like we have something really special, and it's really exciting to get to share it."

"Oh, it's been hell!" Aidem laughs warmly. "Of course we're excited! This group of 11 actors, including myself, is just a great, great ensemble. And we have great leaders in David Cromer and Joshua Harmon. It's like the luck of a century to get to say his words."

READ: Betsy Aidem's Family Was Killed During the Holocaust. Doing Leopoldstadt and Prayer for the French Republic Reconnected Her to Them

"For me, it's been eight and a half years, so I'm tired, but happy," Harmon brushes off the praise, preferring to focus on Cromer's dedication to the piece. "David digs in with the actors, it's exciting to be in a room to watch them really drilling into who these people are-"

Cromer interrupts Harmon, turning the spotlight back on the playwright. "It all starts with the writing. The intricacy of his writing... I mean, really, it must flow out of you. It's incredibly densely written, and probably very painfully crafted. It starts with the writing, then with a brilliant cast who know how to harness it... then, hopefully, the director doesn't get in their way too much, so the nature comes in." 

With the setting of the play in France, we thought we'd see how much cultural research the company did with our opening night question, "How many dishes from the French cuisine can you name?" See their answers in Instagram post below. 

Aidem, Benhamou, Brand, Ranson, and Robinette are all reprising their performances from the work's 2022 Off-Broadway world premiere, also staged by Manhattan Theatre Club. Rounding out the company are understudies Joshua Chessin-Yudin, Lauriel Friedman, Zachary Lindberg, Dale Place, Stephen Schnetzer, and Lori Wilner.

Cromer has reassembled his Off-Broadway creative team, including scenic designer Takeshi Kata, costume designer Sarah Laux, lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker, composer and sound designer Daniel Kluger (taking the reigns solo after co-sound designing the Off-Broadway run with Lee Kinney), and hair and makeup designer J. Jared Janas. Gigi Buffington is vocal coach, and casting is by Caparelliotis Casting's Kelly Gillespie. Richard A. Hodge is production stage manager.

Photos: Opening Night of Prayer for the French Republic on Broadway

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