Playing a queen, Helen Mirren reigns on screen, stage

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Playing a queen, Helen Mirren reigns on screen, stage

NEW YORK - National Theatre Live, which broadcasts stage shows from England to movie screens worldwide, said Monday that its June 13 live broadcast of Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in the play “The Audience’’ has captured its largest audience to date.

“We were expecting a big audience for it because there’s been great buzz but it’s turned out even greater than expected,’’ David Sabel, executive producer of NT Live, said from London. “It’s very exciting.’’

Peter Morgan’s play performed at London’s Gielgud Theatre was seen by nearly 30,000 people in North America and nearly 80,000 people in the United Kingdom, a record for the 4-year-old program which began with a screening of “Phedre’’ starring Mirren.

The response has prompted more encore screenings of the play. In North America, there are 700 screenings scheduled throughout the summer, with more to be added. In the UK, nearly 800 screenings will take place.

“The Audience’’ imagines the private weekly meetings between the monarch and Britain’s prime ministers - 12 in all - over her six-decade reign. In the play, the queen grows from a tentative 20-something to a wise octogenarian while retaining a core of solitude.

Mirren won an Oliver Award in April for the role. The actress also won an Academy Award in 2007 for her performance as the same British monarch in “The Queen,’’ a drama about the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana.

“You never quite know the ingredients that will make the recipe for success in theater,’’ said Sabel. “But before ‘The Audience’ opened, this felt like an exciting and tantalizing offer to see Helen play a role that she played so ironically on-screen in her Oscar-winning performance.’’

National Theatre Live’s fifth season will include Shakespeare’s “Othello,’’ starring Adrian Lester and directed by Nicholas Hytner on Sept. 26; “Macbeth’’ with Kenneth Branagh that will be broadcast internationally on Oct. 17; and the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus’’ on Jan. 30.

In addition, the Tony Award-winning play “War Horse’’ will be broadcast live from the West End for the first time in 2014. The play, about horses sent to the battlefields during World War I, played some 750 shows on Broadway after premiering at the National Theatre in London in 2007 and triggering multiple tours.

“We think both that there’s a huge audience for it still and there’s going to be a lot of people who haven’t had a chance to see it still or might want to see it again in a different guise,’’ said Sabel. “It’s a different experience. Of course, it’s not the same as being there. It can never be, but it’s no different than watching sports or a live gig on television.’’

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