Well, They’re Bound To Improve On The Fall….
February 21, 2012
To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing….
At times, the (highly necessary) optimism of theater folk gets strained just a bit, but there’s always a new season to raise our hopes to new heights.
I’m not entirely sure about the “new heights” part, but the spring has to be better for musicals than the fall, from which only one of the five musicals that opened is still running – GODSPELL – and it none too strongly.
But never mind that!
DON’T LOOK BEHIND THE CUR—
Moving right along….
We have five new musicals to look forward to, though most seem less than sure things.
Here they are, in the order of their opening-nights:
ONCE (March 18, Jacobs Theater) – Based on a 2007 super-cheap, Irish cult film – I’m a member of the cult – ONCE is the intimate, charming story of two musicians who communicate through their songs, and who may or may not end up going through life together. (Being a Romantic, I decided they would; Terri disagreed.)
So a group of commercial producers decided to make a stage musical from the film, which they started at the New York Theater Workshop. So far, so good. But then they did something that will eventually make them either geniuses or guys with very red faces: they announced a Broadway transfer before the Off-Broadway reviews came out.
And while some of the reviews of the NYTW production were strong, Ben Brantley’s was decidedly mixed. He called the show “gently appealing”, which is damning with faint praise.
Many of the positive reviewers praised the intimacy of the piece, and questioned whether such an intimate, charming story would continue to be so in a Broadway theater.
My guess is it won’t, but I’m rooting for it.
NEWSIES (March 29, Nederlander Theater) – This one is based on a movie, too (1992), though I’ll bet it wasn’t super-cheap (it came from Disney).
If you want to win a sucker bet, wager on which movie – “Newsies” or “Once” – did the bigger gross. (Hint: “Once” in a walk.)
It’s the story of the 1899 newsboy strike against New York’s mega-publishers, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Heart.
So Disney decided to make a musical from the film – sound familiar? Well, there are more to come – and started it last fall at Papermill Playhouse. This time, the producers waited until after the reviews to announce their transfer, saying they weren’t sure they would move the musical, no matter how it was received, but the rave review in the Times must have made them rethink that.
Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, Alan Menken and Jack Feldman the songs; Jeff Calhoun directs.
An ANNIE for the boys?
I’m not sure, but this one feels like a winner to me.
GHOST (April 23, Lunt-Fontanne Theater) – Well, we’re three for three, since GHOST is also based on a movie (1990), but I’ll bet you knew that. “Ghost” was a big-budget movie that was a big, big hit, and starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg.
GHOST the musical comes to us from London, where’s it hasn’t exactly been setting B.O. records; in fact, my sources tell me it’s struggling. I saw GHOST in the West End, and thought it only so-so, a visually-exciting production with a story that follows the movie too closely – bookwriter Bruce Joel Rubin also wrote the screenplay – and American lead actors who sing well, but are at best vapid.
Obviously, the British producers don’t agree with me about the leads, since they’re bringing them to Broadway. Actually, they didn’t agree with the London reviewers, either, or they wouldn’t have brought the show in at all.
An up-hill battle, or so it seems to me.
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (April 24, Imperial Theater)– THIS ONE ISN’T BASED ON A MOVIE! Honestly. It’s a new story that uses Gershwin songs to illuminate – this from the Theatrical Index – a screwball romantic comedy set in the 1920s that centers around a wealthy playboy who gets mixed up with a hilarious trio of bootleggers.
Matthew Broderick is the playboy, co-starring with Kelly O’Hara. Kathleen Marshall directs and choreographs. Joe DiPietro wrote the book. And of course songs from the Brothers Gershwin.
Is your heart racing yet? Though the Broadway producing corps is getting younger all the time, some of us oldies are still around, and some of them think the Broadway musical should get back to its Golden Age, or even earlier in the case of the Gershwins.
Well, you can’t argue the success of this season’s PORGY AND BESS (see below), so maybe they have a point. CRAZY FOR YOU is another example, though I’ve always thought it was the Mike Ockrent/Susan Stroman team that made that one work.
I wish them well, but NICE WORK had better be very nice work.
LEAP OF FAITH (April 26, St. James Theater) is a show that is – wait for it – based on a movie. That makes four of the five new musicals this spring.
The movie “Leap of Faith” starred Steve Martin, Debra Winger, and one of my personal favorites, Meatloaf, and it did better at the B.O. than “Once” or “Newsies”, but not nearly as well as “Ghost”.
I’ve always had a hunch musicals based on films do better if the underlying movie wasn’t a big hit. Let the audience discover the story, say I. So LEAP OF FAITH has a leg-up there.
And it has an even bigger leg-up in Raul Esparza, who stars as the Reverend. For my money, he’s Broadway’s top male musical performer: I’d go to see anything with Esparza in it, and he’s created a wide range of parts, from Bobby in COMPANY to Phillip in TABU to Charlie Fox in SPEED-THE-PLOW.
The highly talented Chris Ashley directs.
LEAP OF FAITH has been a long time aborning, with many readings and a preliminary production at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. After a number of rewrites, and some new creatives – including Ashley – it’s finally arriving on the Great White Way.
I have faith!
Only three, one of which already opened:
PORGY AND BESS (opened January 12, Rodgers Theater) – Doing strong business every week, after dire predictions, including mine.
A mocking letter by Stephen Sondheim turned out to help – Who was it said any publicity is good publicity? – but I believe the success of the show is best understood by reading the column by Charles Isherwood. Basically, it says those who haven’t seen the show as an opera are loving it, while those who have seen the opera aren’t.
An oversimplification, probably, but the success of the show speaks for itself.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (March 22, Neil Simon Theater) – Well, the producers – Dodger Properties and the Really Useful Group – certainly know their stuff, but it’s still a mystery to me why they feel this production will thrive when the 2000 version clearly didn’t.
Could it be shows like JCS (and GODSPELL) simply worked better back in the days of their and our youth, when love was free, and anything seemed possible?
EVITA (April 5, Marquis Theater) – Completing the Andrew Lloyd Webber double play. Evita played on Broadway from 1979-83, and has never been revived here, until now.
Unlike JCS/GS, this is a show that seems timeless, since it tells the life story of Eva Peron, who tends to get skipped over in American history texts. A terrific and unexpected hit in the initial production, which was directed by Hal Prince and starred Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, it seems to me that the extent it can get its history to repeat will depend entirely on whether this new production is able to recreate the magic.
Ricky Martin will play Che (Is that good?), with Elena Roger as Evita and the wonderful Michael Cerveris as Juan Peron.
Michael Grandage will direct, and I sure wouldn’t bet against him.
And there you have the musicals, five of them new, plus three revivals.
Long may they run!
Next up, the PLAYS that will bloom in the spring.