La Bohème Will Shutter on Broadway June 29

News   La Bohème Will Shutter on Broadway June 29 The risky, groundbreaking Broadway staging of Puccini's La Bohème will close June 29 at the Broadway Theatre, the cast was told June 11.
Wei Huang as Mimi and  Alfred Boe as Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann's La Boh
Wei Huang as Mimi and Alfred Boe as Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann's La Boh (Photo by Sue Adler)

The Baz Luhrmann-directed production of the Puccini opera, which was Tony Award honored for its rotating principal cast and Tony winning for its sets and lighting, will play the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles Jan. 9-March 7, 2004, followed by a run in London, May 30, 2004-Oct. 30, 2004.

By close, the ambitious multi-million dollar show will have played 12 previews and 228 performances, a spokesperson confirmed.

A national tour had been mentioned but no information was immediately available about further dates for the show, beyond L.A. Cast members who heard the new between shows Wednesday told Playbill On-Line that producers seemed to downplay the notion of a tour, and that individual sitdowns might be a more likely scenario, if markets are available.

The producers pulled the plug on the staging three days after it got a June 8 prime-time TV spotlight on the Tony Awards telecast. Scenic designer Catherine Martin won a Tony for her sets and Nigel Levings won for lighting.

Luhrman told Playbill On-Line in recent weeks a national tour cast would, like the Broadway staging, boast multiple casts taking on the roles of the four central lovers. In New York, David Miller, Jesús Garcia and Alfred Boe play Rodolfo in rep, opposite the rotating Mimis of Ekaterina Solovyeva, Lisa Hopkins and Wei Huang. Jessica Comeau and Chlöe Wright share Musetta opposite the Marcellos of Eugene Brancoveanu and Ben Davis. Luhrmann wasn't certain whether the road company would also have three Rodolfos and Mimis. "It will have to be multiple casts," he said. "That is sure. But what we're finding is certain players can sustain a little more and some a little less. It's going to be about individuals."

The day after its Dec. 8, 2002, Broadway opening, La Bohème did close to $1 million in ticket sales, pointing the Italian-language Puccini classic down the road toward being a hit. As is the case with other shows, the opera took a hit at the box office with the advent of the recent musicians union strike, and the war in Iraq.

How much of the investment was recouped during the past six months was not known.

Luhrmann, responding to current events and their affect on Broadway previously said, "Snow. Strike. The war. Could you kick the theatre any more? But Broadway is incredibly resilient. Our world has such heaviness. It's time to get out and drink some wine, eat some food, see some theatre and have some life. There's always going to be conflict from now until we die, so let's get on with it. It's been a test for absolutely everybody. It only shows that the work itself, the shows, the care and the passion have to be that much greater. You can't be in any way complacent about it."

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Enthusiastic reviews greeted the production, which Luhrmann sets in 1957 Paris rather than the Paris of the 1840s. The production at the Broadway Theatre uses a rotating cast of principals due to the show's vocal demands. With the thought that people on return visits might like to see a different cast (Ben Brantley said he cried at all three viewings of the varied cast), the producers have made the cast list public at the box office, through Telecharge and on the official website, www.bohemeonbroadway.com.

Luhrmann invited movie audiences in 2001 to think in a new visual language for his picture, "Moulin Rouge," and urged theatre audiences to reimagine the possibilities of the live form with La Bohème.

Reveling in a theatricality that some are saying hasn't been seen since the potent work of Harold Prince in the 1970s, Luhrmann freely shows stage hands and stage managers, props and effects-machines — the mechanics of the event behind the rich, classic romance that has been a sensation on opera houses for generations.

Luhrmann's goal was to rediscover the story using young, lean performers, placing them in a world that, if not as mammoth and opulent as what can be seen at the cavernous Metropolitan Opera, is still visually arresting. The Paris Latin Quarter section of the show (Act II) has had audiences gasping and applauding for the monochromatic, neon-punctuated work of designer Catherine Martin, Luhrmann's wife. The opera, the creative team seems to be saying, will do the rest of the work.

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The Nov. 29 first preview of Baz Luhrmann's staging of La Bohème represented new territory for musical theatre: A major commitment from major producers to produce a major Italian-language opera on Broadway.

It helps that the title is a brand name like Puccini's La Bohème, arguably the most-produced opera in the history of the world. It also helps that this production, when it was first seen in a staging by the Australian Opera in 1990, was a sensation Down Under. Set in Paris of 1957 with comely young sopranos and tenors, it was revived twice in the 1990s, and director Luhrmann and designer e Martin returned to shepherd the American debut, complete with English surtitles.

Of course La Bohème was a risk for producers Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum and Emanuel Azenberg, but Seller (who, with McCollum, guided Rent to Broadway) suggests it's not worth doing if there's no risk.

"I'm scared out of my mind," Seller told Playbill On-Line in fall 2002. "But I don't think that Kevin and I are really interested in producing anything in New York City that doesn't break the rules, turn convention upside-down on its head and make us feel like we could be on the brink of utter catastrophe."

Considering San Francisco critics raved about the show in its pre-New York tryout Oct. 1-Nov. 10, 2002, at the Curran Theatre, where the show was largely sold out, the brink of "utter catastrophe" seemed unlikely in 2002. Still, the unknown territory aspect of the production (the thing is in Italian, after all) was closely watched by industry folk.

Seller and McCollum's risky past productions of Rent (the Jonathan Larson rock opera inspired by La Bohème) and De La Guarda have paid off with international success. Their hope back in 1995, when they first approached Luhrmann about a U.S. staging of La Bohème, was to see both Rent and Bohème playing in New York City at the same time. The latter continues its smash run on 41st Street, at the Nederlander.

Joining the six previously-announced international leads for the staging on Broadway are Daniel Webb as philosopher Colline, Daniel Okulitch as musician Schaunard, William Youmans as Musetta's Alcindoro and Adam Grupper as landlord Benoit. The ensemble of La Bohème comprises Enrique Abdala, Christine Arand, Janinah Burnett, Gilles Chiasson, Charlotte Cohn, Michael Cone, Vanessa Conlin, Sean Cooper (as Customs Officer), Patricia Corbett, Evangelia Costantakos, Lawrence Craig, Dan Entriken (as Parpignol, a toy seller), Graham Fandrei (as the Sergeant), Bobby Faust, Katie Geissinger, Jennifer Goode, Paul Goodwin Groen, Joy Hermalyn, Robb Hillman, Adam Hunter, Tim Jerome, Katherine Keyes, Laurice Lanier, Morgan Moody Marcus Nance, Daniel Neer, Debra Patchell, Patricia Phillips, Jamet Pittman, Martín Solá, Radu Spinghel and Mark Womack. The production also features a children's chorus of 15.

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The American premiere of Baz Luhrmann's production of La Bohème ended its tryout run at San Francisco's Curran Theatre Nov. 10, 2002, on a high note, and not just Puccini's.

The Curran run of the classic opera was sold out three days after it earned enthusiastic reviews there, and sold about $300,000 in tickets the day the reviews appeared.

A 67-minute "highlights" cast album — featuring all principals handling various sections of the opera — was recorded in California for Dreamworks and is in stores.

The Broadway staging's producers are Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Emanuel Azenberg and Bazmark Live, with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, Korea Pictures/Doyun Seol, J. Stine/I. Pittelman/S. Nederlander and Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Musical director Constantine Kitsopoulos conducts the 28-piece orchestra, which includes two electronic keyboard players, sweetening the orchestra. The company does indeed perform with body mikes.

The opera has a legendary score by Giacomo Puccini — even those who avoid opera will recognize "Musetta's Waltz," if only from its interpolations in movies. Reviews were not good 100 years ago, but the score outlived the critics.

Luhrmann's La Bohème premiered in 1990, and became the biggest hit in the history of the Sydney Opera House and a sold-out sensation. It played return engagements at the Sydney Opera House in 1993, when it was recorded for video, and in 1996.

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The design staff includes "Moulin Rouge" Academy Award winners Catherine Martin (scenic design and co-costume design) and Angus Strathie (co-costume design), with Nigel Levings (lighting design) and Acme Sound Partners (sound design).

Onetime actor Luhrmann is internationally known for directing the films "Strictly Ballroom" (which he began as a play), "Romeo + Juliet" and the Academy Award nominated "Moulin Rouge." He has worked in film, opera, theatre, music and events management. With Martin he is the founder and director of Bazmark. In 1988, he created the critically acclaimed opera, Lake Lost, with composer Felix Meagher, where he first collaborated with designer Catherine Martin.

The four-act opera is offered with one intermission and two scene changes. The conceit of the staging has stage crew making scene changes in full view of the audience. The actors appear under a contract with AGMA (The American Guild of Musical Artists) rather than Actors' Equity Association, the usual union for Broadway performers.

Why is this production set in 1957?

"For all the talk that this is another wacky Baz Luhrmann groovy show, all decisions are based on revelation of character, revelation of plot," Luhrmann said. "We wanted to make it as much like the experience Puccini's audience would have had in the 1890s. A lot of the humor [back then] had to do with an understanding of the characters — what a bohemian of the 1840s was. The 1840s bohemian basically got around in large, velvet, floppy hats and checked pants and beards like ZZ Top. It might be difficult and an unnecessary burden to decode for a contemporary audience what that is, so we wanted to see: Could we re-set it in a bohemia that could be more accessible?"

Luhrmann said it helped that Catherine Martin's father is a professor of French history and that her mother is French.

"We spent a lot of time in Paris, living the bohemian life and researching all different periods of bohemia, and found that '57 was a good social-economic match [with the 1840s bohemian life]," Luhrmann said. "And indeed, the bohemian of the 1840s was [living in a] post-war time . Louis Philippe was a boring king but a good one, and so the bourgeoisie flourished. Their kids were rebelling without cause: There were non-politicized bohemians. And '57 was a time again when you had this sort of non politicized bohemia."

And what of the sickness of Mimi in 1957? Is she tubercular?

"[1957] was also the year in which broad inoculation for tuberculosis took place," Luhrmann said. "Clearly, this being a primary plot point, there has to be a reasonable amount of credibility that [Mimi] died from tuberculosis. For those reasons, '57 became our year. It wasn't like, 'Gee, don't people look great in leather jackets?' Much as they do look good, it's not my favorite visual period, the '50s. My favorite things are irrelevant to me. My taste is irrelevant. It's about decoding the work and revealing the power of that to the audience."