By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - British import "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" mesmerized audiences on Broadway in its New York opening with a dazzling display of technical wizardry and an "extraordinary" debut performance by newcomer Alex Sharp.
The London National Theatre production led by Sharp, 25, who graduated from The Juilliard School in the spring, opened on Sunday night, thrilling audiences and critics alike.
The New York Times called it "one of the most fully immersive works ever to wallop Broadway," while trade magazine Variety described it as "spectacular," with Sharp giving an "extraordinary debut performance."
The play is based on the 2003 best-selling book by Mark Haddon. It follows Briton Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old math whiz with Asperger's Syndrome as he investigates, against his father's wishes, the mysterious killing of a neighbor's dog. It leads him and the audience on a spectacular journey.
Christopher cannot tell a lie, does not like being touched, loves numbers and trains, and lives with his father and a much-loved pet rat. After discovering how the dog died, he embarks on a frightening trip alone from his home in Wiltshire to London.
"The genius of director Marianne Elliott, who co-helmed the similarly brilliant 'War Horse', is to visualize what happens inside Christopher's head," said The New York Post newspaper.
The stark three-walled set and floor resemble a giant grid and Christopher draws faces and math formulas on it. But when he is confused and troubled, it transforms into a huge projection screen full of moving numbers to convey his internal chaos.
"The technical elements alone are breathtaking," said The Hollywood Reporter. "Everything here puts us inside the machine-like, coded order of math prodigy Christopher's mind, allowing us to experience events as he does."
When Christopher sets off for London, the set becomes a loud, bewildering train station with the supporting cast as passengers, and then the London Underground with its blaring announcements, signs and bustling commuters.
The cast play a multitude of roles and constantly shift an array of white boxes to convey the changing scenes in the story, as Christopher questions a neighbor, argues with his father, buys a train ticket and takes a math exam.
Through it all, Sharp never misses a beat in conveying the fear, frustration and chaos Christopher endures.
USA Today said the young actor was "a revelation, his movement, expressions and voice making the boy's terrors and his ferocious intelligence seem equally natural."
The New York Times described the experience as "the kind of smashing Broadway debut young actors classically dream about." The New York Daily News said Sharp "dazzles as bright as the high wattage effects with a physical and emotionally intense star turn."
Over all, the Hollywood Reporter said the production shows the power of theater.
"It makes us want to reconsider the world around us, without missing a single one of its infinite details," it added.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Gunna Dickson)