Ian Shaw: Broadway's 'Shark is Broken' is a love letter to late dad, 'Jaws'

From left to right, Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw and Colin Donnell star in the Broadway play "The Shark is Broken." Photo by Matthew Murphy/Polk & Co.
1 of 5 | From left to right, Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw and Colin Donnell star in the Broadway play "The Shark is Broken." Photo by Matthew Murphy/Polk & Co.

NEW YORK, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Actor and playwright Ian Shaw says his new Broadway show, The Shark is Broken, is intended to honor his late father, Robert Shaw, and his co-stars Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, who beat the odds against them to make the classic 1975 movie Jaws.

The hilarious and heartfelt stage production opened Wednesday at New York's Golden Theatre after successful runs in London and Toronto.


It follows the three actors as they killed time for weeks on a tiny fishing boat off Martha's Vineyard, waiting for the weather and a mechanical shark dubbed Bruce to cooperate with newbie filmmaker Steven Spielberg so they could film their scenes.

Ian Shaw, 53, stands in for his world-weary, hard-drinking dad, while Alex Brightman plays the high-strung Dreyfuss and Colin Donnell plays the boring-by-comparison peacemaker Scheider.


"It's certainly a homage to a film that I absolutely adore and I think, while Jaws is firmly in the public consciousness in all sorts of ways, I think this is only adding to the myth of the film," Shaw told UPI in a recent phone interview.

Despite the headlines he has been generating for the past few years, Shaw hasn't heard directly from Spielberg, Dreyfuss or the late Scheider's family.

"I'd like to feel that we haven't thrown them under the bus at all," Shaw said. "A lot of what goes on in the play is acknowledged by both of those men [Scheider and Dreyfuss], if not all. It's not far away from what they tell us it was, I don't think."

Shaw would love to see Spielberg at the theater some night, but he understands it might not be easy for someone as famous as he is to just pop by.

"I met him once at the Golden Globes and he was surrounded by countless people," Shaw said. "It's difficult, I think, for him to go anywhere. He's one of the few directors in the world that is instantly recognizable."

The actor and writer sought his family's blessing before he and Joseph Nixon took the plunge to write the play.


"My portrayal of my father was of some concern. To me, at least," Shaw said, noting he has no idea what his dad would think of the show.

"Even though it is a play about his flaws as much as it is his strengths, it is a love letter to him in a way -- and the movie. I wouldn't be doing it if he was able to pass comment on it."

While most audience members will likely be lured into the theater by the promise of a comedic peek behind the scenes of one of their favorite movies, they might also be surprised to see how poignant the story is.

"We did feel it had a more universal appeal -- that some of the themes that we were exploring felt like they would resonate with the audience," Shaw said, acknowledging he initially felt apprehensive about winning over the crowd.

"Only the reaction of the audience reassured me that people were responding to it."

Fans who wait by the stage door to congratulate him or ask for his autograph tend to be Jaws fans.

"On social media, I get reactions from people who are not, perhaps so much the Jaws fans, but feel that the play is dealing with things like exploring what makes those three men tick and I think one of the things [they connect to] is the father relationship," Shaw said.


"They all had a poor start in terms of fathers. Robert's committed suicide when he was only 12. Roy's father was racist and beat him and Richard's father didn't show him love," he added. "It's just so interesting how the three of them have reacted in different ways."

Some appreciate the show's honest discussion of addictions, while still others see it as a workplace comedy akin to The Office.

"They are so sort of trapped and cooped up," Shaw said, acknowledging circumstances like that could probably bring out odd personality traits in just about anyone.

The play shows how the elder Shaw's and Dreyfuss' tension-filled relationship mirrored that of their characters Quint and Hooper, but Ian Shaw said there was no such acrimony between him and Brightman.

"Fortunately, me and Alex get along exceptionally well," Shaw said.

"He's very funny both off-stage and onstage. He's always making me laugh, which is a lovely thing in a fellow actor. At times, I look at him and I think it is Richard Dreyfuss when we are on stage," he added. "We won't be doing a 'behind-the-scenes' of The Shark is Broken play because it would be boring, I'm afraid."

Robert Shaw, who died in 1978 at age 51, was a Shakespearean trained actor whose credits also included A Man For All Seasons and The Taking of Pelham 123.


Ian Shaw depicts his father in the play as discussing with Scheider and Dreyfuss how art should be defined and whether popular films like Jaws deserve to stand the test of time -- topics still being argued about in 2023 amid the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strikes.

"All creative people are in a struggle to have a conversation about what art is and how important it is," he said.

"We found that out with COVID, didn't we? People really realized that when the world stopped. They turned to books and music and television and film. That sustained their imaginations during lockdown."

Shaw isn't surprised Jaws -- the story of three men hunting the great white shark that has been terrorizing a small New England resort town -- is still beloved nearly 40 years after its release.

"Steven elevated the material the way he shot it and the people he used and the editing and John Williams," Shaw said.

"I don't think [the film community] took Jaws seriously in 1975," he added. "It certainly was not under consideration for Best Film or anything. If it had been released later, it might well have been."


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