Oh, The Joy Of Spring! (Or So Producers Pray)….
March 9, 2012
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;Man never Is, but always To be blest:The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,Rests and expatiates in a life to come…. Alexander Pope
As sure as the spring will follow the winter, prosperity and economic growth will follow recession….Bo Bennett
Bo, from your lips to God’s ear!
Time was, the great play hits started in Manhattan’s not-for-profit theaters, got their rave reviews, and were transferred to Broadway by a commercial producer. Later on, the NFPs seemed to dry up, and the regional theaters were providing the transfers.
Have we come full circle?
Nine plays opened last fall, three from the not-for-profit theaters, the other six commercially produced. Only three of the nine continue to run, and two of these – OTHER DESERT CITIES and VENUS IN FUR – came from the NFPs.
In contrast, five of the six commercial plays shuttered long ago. THE MOUNTAINTOP recouped in its final week; the others – CHINGLISH, RELATIVELY SPEAKING, STICK FLY, and (/sigh) PRIVATE LIVES – enjoyed little or no success. SEMINAR is the only commercially-produced play that opened last fall and is still running.
(NOTE: In the original of this post, I misidentified SEMINAR as having started in a NFP. My thanks to those of you who pointed out my error, and my apologies and congratulations to the SEMINAR producers.)
Comes now the spring, and an even dozen plays – eight new, four revivals; four from NFPs, eight commercially produced – will grace Broadway stages, so let’s get right to it:
END OF THE RAINBOW (opening night April 2, Belasco) – Judy Garland near the end of her life, trying to get it together for another of her comeback tours. The show started in Australia, sold out a small theatre in London, and was most recently at the Guthrie.
I can’t wait to see this one so I’ll understand what the hell it is. RAINBOW is variously described as a play with music, or a musical drama, which to me means music is used in the background, or as an interlude, yet nearly all the credits for the actress playing Garland are musicals, and 11 famous Garland songs are listed.
The Tony Admin Committee should have fun with this one!
MAGIC/BIRD (April 11, Longacre) – If the producing team gets MAGIC/BIRD as right as they did LOMBARDI – that one done in association with the NFL; MAGIC/BIRD done in association with the NBA – what a treat it will be.
I’d guess LOMBARDI lost most if not all of its money – ticket-buyers stayed away in droves despite its quality – so those associations must cover a lot of losses.
I truly have my fingers crossed for this show, and congratulate the producers for having the courage to put up a second show that lacks obvious appeal for the great majority of women.
CLYBOURNE PARK (April 12, Walter Kerr) – CLYBOURNE PARK started at Playwrights Horizons in 2010, didn’t transfer to Broadway, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, played in London, was announced for Broadway this spring by Scott Rudin, seemed doomed when Rudin pulled out over a tiff with the playwright (Bruce Norris), was resurrected by Jujamcyn Theaters Jefe Jordon Roth, and will play at the Walter Kerr after all.
Based on our reactions to the London production – and the reactions of the large group of Americans with us – CLYBOURNE is going to struggle.
PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (April 15, Brooks Atkinson) – This prequel to “Peter Pan” shows us how Peter got to be Peter. It received rapturous reviews at the New York Theater Workshop, and is now coming to Broadway.
I wish I could see the wisdom of this more clearly.
STARCATCHER is a quirky play that only came together for me in the second act. I fear the Broadway natives may do a lot of head-scratching over this one.
Written and directed by friends of mine, I wish nothing but the greatest success for them and their show, and I hope I’m entirely wrong in my reservations.
ONE MAN, TWO GUV’NORS (April 18, Music Box) – Straight from London’s National Theatre and now the West End, where it has them rolling in the aisles, as it did us.
Richard Bean based ONE MAN on Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters”; in the case of ONE MAN, the two masters are a gangster and a criminal in hiding. Nick Hytner directs, always the best of signs.
Confusion abounds, with the masterful James Corden (he was the fat kid in HISTORY BOYS) leading the charge, and so do the laughs.
Speaking of which, there’s a considerable division of opinion over whether English humour will play on Broadway – see my earlier post on the subject – so I direct you to a recent post on the Guardian’s blog that argues TV and the internet have made each country more accepting of the other’s humor, and that ONE MAN’s use of audience interactivity will go over big on Broadway.
Time will tell.
THE COLUMNIST (April 25, Samuel J Friedman) – The Manhattan Theater Club will present this new David Auburn (PROOF) play about famed Washington columnist Joseph Alsop, whose life and power changed mightily during the turmoil of the American 60s.
John Lithgow will play Alsop; as you’ll recall, Lithgow played the Walter Winchell-based character in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, which turned out not to have any. The talented Boyd Gaines joins Lithgow in the cast, as does Margaret Colin, whose acting until now has been nearly entirely for the movies and TV. Let’s hope she isn’t daunted by playing against two top stage actors.
DON’T DRESS FOR DINNER (April 26, American Airlines) – In something of a rarity, a new farce from Roundabout Theater Company.
DDFD is a sequel to BOEING-BOEING, and if you’re doubting the world is panting for a sequel, I had the same doubts about BOEING-BOEING, itself, a couple of seasons back when it took Best Play Revival Tony Award, and its lead, the incomparable Mark Rylance, won Best Actor.
Farce can be tough to pull off (see the recent revival of LEND ME A TENOR), but fun when it succeeds. Joey Tillinger is directing; let’s hope he and the Broadway audience are in farcical moods.
THE LYONS (April 23, Cort) – A late entry that comes to Broadway via the Vineyard. The family patriarch is dying and his family come to say good-bye. In the process, they discover how isolated each is from the others.
Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa lead the cast. The show got a good/mixed review at the Vineyard from Brother Ben, whose raves all fell on Ms. Lavin’s performance. She left OTHER DESERT CITIES to play the mother/wife in THE LYONS.
We’ll soon see if Ms. Lavin’s choice was a good one.
WIT and THE ROAD TO MECCA have both closed on schedule. Each was a fine production, which puts them in the hunt for the Best Revival Tony, if they’re not forgotten in the March/April rush of openings.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (March 15 to June 2, Ethel Barrymore) – Scott Rudin is also the lead producer on this one, but no tiffs with the playwright have been reported.
I’ll go out on a highly-comfortable limb and say DEATH OF A SALESMAN is the greatest of all American plays. We saw a good production in 1999 with Brian Dennehy as the doomed Willy Loman, and a wonderful Elizabeth Franz as his wife.
This time round, the immensely-talented Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Linda Emond lead the cast.
The director is some guy named Mike Nichols.
I can’t wait—
/SLAP! No! That isn’t enough, Timothy.
I CAN’T WAAAAIIIITTTT!!!!
Gore Vidal’s THE BEST MAN (April 1, Schoenfeld Theater) – The title continues the months’-old tradition of renaming shows so we’ll know right away who wrote them. The Gershwins’ PORGY AND BESS is another example, and if that title seems a little unwieldy, think if they’d renamed it as Stephen Sondheim wished, The Gershwins’ and Haywards’ PORGY AND BESS. By the time you said the title, you’d be out of the mood.
Producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel have done a bit of star-casting in their day, but with this production of THE BEST MAN, they’ve retired the cup: James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, John Larroquette, Jefferson Mays, and Michael Mckean.
I’ll go out on an even more comfortable limb and predict strong sales.
And there you have it, play-lovers.
The revivals – including the two that have closed – seem to lead the way this spring, but the whole slate feels at least medium-strong.