Vanya on 42nd Street
is a 1994 film
by Louis Malle
and Andre Gregory
. The film is an intimate, interpretive performance of the play Uncle Vanya
by Anton Chekhov
based on the English translation by David Mamet
. The film starred actors Wallace Shawn
and Julianne Moore
Over the course of three years, director Andre Gregory and a group of actors came together on a voluntary basis in order to better understand Chekhov's work through performance workshops. Staged and filmed entirely within the vacant shell of the then-abandoned and decrepit Amsterdam Theater
on 42nd street in New York City, they enacted the play rehearsal style on a bare stage with the actors in street clothes. Free from any commercial demands, their performances were for an invited audience only. Gregory and Malle decided to document the play as they had developed it. The film was the result of the collaborative process.
Workshop rehearsals with Gregory and the cast originally took place at the abandoned Victory Theatre on 42nd Street
in New York City. The filmed version was shot entirely within the New Amsterdam Theatre
, also on 42nd Street. Built in 1903, the theatre was the original home of the Ziegfeld Follies
, a historical tidbit mentioned in the film during some pre-show banter. In the late 1930s, the New Amersterdam Theatre was transformed into a movie palace. The theatre remained a movie palace until "temporarily" closed in 1982.
At the time Vanya on 42nd Street was filmed, the theatre had been abandoned for over ten years and was in a state of severe disrepair. Rats had chewed through much of the stage rigging, thus making the stage unusable. For the film production, some rows of seats were removed and a small platform was built for the cast and film crew. Shortly after the production of Vanya, the New Amsterdam was leased to The Walt Disney Company. Disney restored the theatre to its grand original design and reopened it in 1997.
Cast and Crew
- Shawn, Gregory, and Malle had previously collaboratorated on the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre. Vanya on 42nd Street was considered a long-overdue follow-up. The film would be the last of Malle's career.
- Julianne Moore, whose film career had recently been gaining notice from a critically acclaimed role in Short Cuts, was the actor predominantly featured in the advertising campaign for the film. The campaign didn't highlight the ensemble nature of the production, which led some confused movie-goers to think the film was about a woman named Vanya.
- Vanya on 42nd Street also features several fine actors known to the New York stage, including George Gaynes (also recognizable from the hit TV series Punky Brewster), Larry Pine, Phoebe Brand, Brooke Smith, and Lynn Cohen.