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Julia Roberts debuts on Broadway with <i>Three Days Of Rain</i>

New York (Reuters): Julia Roberts is still Hollywood's ultimate Pretty Woman but her first venture onto a Broadway stage failed to convince the critics whose verdict was ''modest,'' ''flat'' and ''lackluster.'' Hundreds of fans gathered outside the theater for Wednesday's opening night of Three Days of Rain and stars who turned up for the hottest ticket on Broadway included Oprah Winfrey, Tim Robbins and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The play is the first professional stage role for the Oscar-winning Roberts, 38. She remains Hollywood's highest-paid actress, commanding 20 million dollar a film, according to The Hollywood Reporter's list of the movie industry's top players.

''For the record, Roberts does not deliver a train wreck of a performance,'' the Toronto Star said in a review yesterday headlined ''Pretty Woman pretty flat.'' It said she failed to bring her Oscar-winning screen charisma to the stage. ''Her face, so luminous on screen, barely registers onstage,'' the review said. New York Times critic Ben Brantley, whose reviews can make or break a play, confessed to be a ''Juliaholic'' and said he was nervous on entering the theater ''as if a relative or a close friend were about to do something foolish in public.'' ''Your heart goes out to her when she makes her entrance in the first act and freezes with the unyielding stiffness of an industrial lamppost,'' Brantley wrote.

Richard Greenberg's play is a drama about a brother and sister who meet up with a childhood friend for the reading of a will. Roberts plays Nan in the first act and then her mother in the second, which takes place a generation earlier. ''She's stiff with self-consciousness (especially in the first act), only glancingly acquainted with the two characters she plays and so deeply, disturbingly beautiful that you don't want to let her out of your sight,'' Brantley wrote. ''On the few occasions when she smiles, it's with a sunniness that could dispel even 40 days and 40 nights of rain,'' he added.

Today critic Elysa Gardner was more generous, saying the two roles played to a Broadway newcomer's strengths and potential weaknesses. ''In the end, Roberts makes both women credible, compelling and sweetly funny,'' Gardner wrote. New York tabloid Newsday's critic Linda Winer was also a fan, saying: ''Julia Roberts gives a lean, intelligent, altogether honorable performance.'' But good reviews were in the minority. The Boston Globe said the play was a lackluster ''One hundred and fifty minutes of tedium,'' and added: ''Roberts, a cinematic ball of fire, wanders around the stage in the first act as if she's looking for the Prozac.'' ''Mostly cloudy,'' was the Washington Post's verdict. ''As if marooned on an unfamiliar shore, Julia Roberts staggers hesitantly through Three Days of Rain, it said.

Roberts' 12-week run is almost entirely sold out. In recent weeks tickets were listed on eBay for as much as 999 dollars for a front-row pair of seats on opening weekend. Roberts co-stars with Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, both also familiar from the screen -- Rudd's credits include ''The 40 Year Old Virgin,'' ''Friends'' and ''Clueless,'' while Cooper is currently in ''Failure to Launch'' with Matthew McConaughey. ''It's weird because we are under the microscope in a way that other shows might not be,'' Rudd told NY1 television. Roberts won an Oscar for ''Erin Brockovich'' in 2001 and was nominated for one in 1991 for ''Pretty Woman.'

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