Julianne Moore made her Broadway debut Thursday night, starring opposite Bill Nighy in British playwright David Hare’s political drama The Vertical Hour.
“She definitely gets a little nervous,” her husband, Bart Freundlich, told PEOPLE before the premiere at the Music Box Theatre. “Every actor I know gets the sweaty hands a couple of hours before they go on. She’s excited.”
She needn’t have worried. Unlike Julia Roberts, whose performance last season in Three Days of Rain was clobbered by critics, Moore – in her role of Nadia Blye, a former war correspondent who has abandoned journalism for a professorial chair at Yale – received mostly warm notices.
“She’s firm, understated and superb,” writes Clive Barnes of the New York Post, who calls her “splendidly handsome” opposite “the splendidly disheveled Bill Nighy.” (Yes, the same Bill Nighy who played the tentacle-faced Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.)
The New York Daily News’s critic, Joe Dziemianowicz, was similarly won over. Though she was tentative at first, he writes, Moore “goes on to give a richly layered, heartfelt and feisty performance. On stage, as in films, she excels at turning herself inside out to expose the rawness within.”
Even the famously tough critic John Simon, writing for the Bloomberg News Service, succumbed to the actress’s charms. “Her voice lacks a certain richness and variety,” he writes. “But she does display a nice mix of sass and self-doubt.”
But she does have some detractors. The New York Times’s Ben Brantley writes: “Though Ms. Moore appears at home on the stage, her American star shine is no match for Mr. Nighy’s wily British craftsmanship. Mr. Nighy, to put it bluntly, mops the floor with Ms. Moore.”
Equally tough is Newsday’s Linda Winer. “Moore’s Broadway debut – and first New York stage appearance in 14 years – is a crushing disappointment,” she writes. “She knows the lines but has no character.”