Critics are unanimous in praise of what Variety calls Cooper's "deeply felt and very moving" performance

By Alex Heigl
Updated December 08, 2014 07:40 AM
Credit: Walter McBride/WireImage

PEOPLE’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive is making a serious play for dominance in 2014: His voiceover performance in Guardians of the Galaxy wrung a surprising amount of pathos from the role of a gun-toting space raccoon, his performance in American Sniper is already garnering Oscar buzz, and he’s starring in playwright Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, which officially opened on Broadway Sunday night.

Unlike John Hurt in director David Lynch’s 1980 movie about the life of Joseph “John” Merrick, actors playing the real-life role on the stage do so without prosthetics, and tradition has so far held that those actors are typically handsome leading men: David Bowie, Billy Crudup and Mark Hamill have all contorted their bodies and voices for the role. Scott Ellis’s production is actually something of a return for Cooper: His master’s thesis in acting school was The Elephant Man, and he starred in the same production two years ago at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts.

So how is Cooper doing in the role? Very well, apparently. Entertainment Weekly says he “owns this production,” calling him a “magnetic, surprisingly earthy stage actor.”

The New York Times‘s review calls Cooper “the first star of his stature to take on the part [of Merrick] in our post-Warhol world of celebrity obsession,” noting “he brings to this production the weight of years of being stared at as an adult,” before concluding that “He is, as he should be, the elephant in the room.”

Deadline‘s review flat out states that “Cooper is the best Merrick yet,” and New York Magazine‘s review claims that Cooper’s performance “not only demonstrates but proves” the stage chops the makeup-less role demands.

If you need any more convincing, Variety‘s review should do it. “It’s a stunning performance,” they write. “Deeply felt and very moving.”

Sounds like Cooper is making for one elephant Broadway will never forget.

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