As long rumored, Beauty and the Beast will leave Broadway's Palace Theatre, Sept. 5, and reopen a month later, Nov. 12, at the Lunt-Fontanne. This makes room for Aida, which will open at the Palace in spring 2000.
Producers are being very careful not to call the Beauty switch a move or transfer. As per Actors' Equity rules, they're "closing" the show and waiting (at least) six weeks to "open" it again. By following those guidelines, the producers can trim the cast and other aspects of the production (if need be) before Beauty appears again at the Lunt. The move echoes the fate of The Scarlet Pimpernel -- which closed on Broadway this spring and is currently on tour. Producers will bring the musical back to Broadway this fall, but in a smaller theatre and with a tighter cast. In a statement, Disney Theatricals co-producer (with Thomas Schumacher) Peter Schneider promises, "A spectacular new production" that will employ many of the cast, musicians and crew of the current Beauty.
Earlier this year, producer Stewart F. Lane and the Nederlander Organization, who co-own the Palace, confirmed that Disney was actively considering bringing its new Elton John-Tim Rice musical Aida to the Palace Theatre in early 2000. Beauty opened at the Palace April 18, 1994 and has run nearly 2,200 performances there. A spokesman for Andrea McArdle, who currently plays Belle in the production, said Beast producers are interested in having the actress stay on with the show.
Ticketholders for performances of B & B at the Palace between Sept. 6-Nov. 11 are asked to contact Ticketmaster (212) 307-4747 or the theatre box office regarding returns or exchanges.
* Playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Golden Child) was recently added to the already impressive creative team behind the new Disney musical, Aida. Hwang will work on the book of the show as a "creative consultant." Original bookwriter Linda Woolverton remains with the show.
Already on board for the musical, set to premiere at Chicago's Palace Theater this fall, are director Robert Falls (Tony winner for Death of a Salesman), designer Bob Crowley (The Iceman Cometh), and stars Adam Pascal (Rent), Heather Headley (The Lion King) and Sherie Scott.
The Elton John & Tim Rice musical will try out at Chicago, IL's newly renovated Palace Theater, Nov. 12, 1999-Jan. 9, 2000, officially opening Dec. 9, before arriving on Broadway in early 2000. New York rehearsals are to begin Sept. 20 for a 25-member cast.
Headley and Scott appeared in the previous, ill-fated version of Aida that premiered at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, Oct. 7, 1998. Headley came to industry attention playing Nala in The Lion King; Scott appeared in Broadway's Rent and in Kander & Ebb's new tuner Over & Over in Washington DC. Pascal is perhaps the best-known original cast-member of Rent.
Aida's debut at Atlanta's Alliance suffered mixed reviews and technical problems concerning its central set piece, a large pyramid. Following the play's Atlanta run, Disney dismissed much the creative team, which included director Robert Jess Roth and set designer Stanley A. Meyer, replacing them with Robert Falls and Bob Crowley, respectively, as well as adding choreographer Wayne Cilento. (Lighting designer Natasha Katz and bookwriter Linda Woolverton remain with the show.)
Both Roth and Meyer were veterans of the Beauty and the Beast . With the hiring of Falls and Crowley -- both highly respected artists -- Disney seems to be moving away from the family spectacle of Beauty in favor of the more successful, high-art formula of Julie Taymor's The Lion King.
Falls is not known for his work with musicals. Rather, he has made his reputation with grandly rethought stagings of classics such as Hamlet and Galileo and the current Broadway Death of a Salesman. Recently, he has mounted productions of new works, such as Horton Foote's The Young Man from Atlanta and Eric Bogosian's subUrbia.
Falls told Playbill On-Line (May 29) that the pyramid set piece would not be a part of the new production of Aida.
Crowley, meanwhile, has been highly praised for the work in the musical theater, which includes the designs for Carousel and The Capeman. Cilento is best known for his choreography of Tommy.
Sound designer Steve Kennedy (Carousel, Tommy) is also in the mix, as is orchestrator Steve Margoshes and musical director, co-orchestrator and co-arranger Paul Bogaev. Guy Babylon, who has been in Elton John's band as a keyboardist since 1988, serves as musical arranger.
Tickets for Aida ($32.50-$75) at Chicago's Palace Theater go onsale June 4. For information call (312) 902-1500.