PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 14-20: Down for the Count

News   PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 14-20: Down for the Count
 
One imagines that, after this week, songwriters Elton John and Bernie Taupin might be having some second thoughts about that new project of theirs, a little something called The Vampire Lestat.

Dracula, the Frank Wildhorn-Don Black-Christopher Hampton musical about Transylvania's most infamous citizen, unveiled on Aug. 19, and the question that occupied Broadway minds in the moments leading up to the opening was not whether it would fly or not, but just how mean the critics would be. The answer was: very mean. Also, sarcastic, catty and helpless in the face of punning opportunities. Hardly a good word passed under their sharpened pens—for Wildhorn, who has never fared well with reviewers; for director Des McAnuff; for stars Tom Hewitt and Melissa Errico, though some murmurs of sympathy for their situation could be heard among the groans; why, even the redoubtable set designer Heidi Ettinger took some lumps.

A frequently asked rhetorical question among the critics was: Were no lessons learned by the Jim Steinman debacle Dance of the Vampires? They had a point. That's two vampire musicals on Broadway in less than two years, and two critical shellackings. This record should ensure that those other regional musical celebrations of the undead, such as Dracula, The Chamber Musical and Dracula – The Game of Love, will stay well away from New York, which may now well strike the creators of those shows as not so much a big apple as a huge bulb of garlic.

As for The Vampire Lestat, that's a different beast, simply by virtue of its authors, and its source material, the popular novel by Anne Rice, "Interview With a Vampire." A new musical by Elton John and Bernie Taupin can't be denied. (Why is it always pop composers who are attracted to this grisly tale?) At last report, producers Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures were aiming for a 2005 staging, which sounds much too soon. Of course, there are other places to open a big new musical than Broadway. London, perhaps. Even better, Las Vegas.

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One of those casting "secrets" that everyone has been talking about but no producer would confirm until now is finally out of the closet: Gary Beach and Daniel Davis will star in the new Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles. There was much talk over the months about the show securing a star for one or both of its lead roles, but in the end producers decided to go with Beach and Davis, two of the more talented and respected stage veterans currently working the New York boards. Beach (who donned drag in The Producers) will play Albin. Davis, currently whipping up theatrical rhetoric as Bernard Shaw in Lincoln Center Theater's The Frogs, will play Georges. Gavin Creel will play Albin's son and Angela Gaylor will play the son's fiancee, according to Variety. Previews begin Nov. 7 at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre. Opening is Dec. 9. ***

Whoopi Goldberg didn't have a good experience her last time on Broadway (the problem-plagued revival of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), but her next project looks more promising. After all, it was a big hit twenty years ago. Yes, Goldberg is going back to where it all began, Broadway's Lyceum Theatre. There, in 1984, with an assist from Mike Nichols, she dazzled the critics with her collection of characters, packaged in a solo show that bore her memorable name. The new verture, due in the fall after a tryout in Philadelphia, doesn't have a title yet (Remakin' Whoopi?), but it will consist of much of the same material Goldberg premiered two decades ago. Why, even Nichols is once again involved, this time as producer. The show will open about the same time as Whoopi's pal Billy Crystal's solo outing, 700 Sundays. If someone could coax Robin Williams into visiting Broadway this autumn, the three could do an impromptu version of "Comic Relief," the comedy events the trio once frequently hosted.

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