PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 22-28: Face the Music

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 22-28: Face the Music The roiling dispute between Broadway producers and the musicians' union had everyone testy this week. Each day brought some new frustration to the theatre community, tensions mounting as the March 2 contract expiration grew closer.

On Feb. 25, the League of American Theatres and Producers held a press conference in their midtown offices to speak there piece. Not to be outdone, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians held a competing press event on the steps outside. The subsequent meeting between the two sides was—surprise—not cordial. It lasted about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, producers, making good on their oath to replace orchestra players with "virtual orchestras" should a strike occur, rehearsed their shows with the latest in computerized music. Actors did not like this one bit and, according to the daily papers, only showed up under producers' threats of injunctions and lawsuit. The run-throughs themselves did not please most participants. According to various accounts, some mechanized programs suffered from glitches, while others were lambasted as sounded cold, flat and soulless. Even producers left the rehearsals unsatisfied.

All these spats and snafus lead into a weekend the League and union have packed with negotiations, with Local 802 taking a little time off on Saturday to vote on a strike authorization. In the last few days, both moneymen and labor reps have hinted at a possible compromise on the contentious matter of minimums—the number of musicians the union contract mandates producers hire for each show. Instead of keeping them at the present number (Local 802's stand) or eliminating them altogether (the League's dearest wish), the figure of required players may be lessened. Hopefully, on March 3, Broadway producers and labor leaders will have signed a new pact and can go back to being the sunny, friendly figures they usually are.

Who thought CBS, who has for years played reluctant bride to the ardent groom of the Tony Awards, would suddenly reverse years of miserly behavior ("Two hours and out!") and consider a three-hour broadcast of theatre, theatre and more theatre? But that appears to be the way things are going in 2003. PBS, which has produced and presented the first hour and first 10 awards of the Tonys for six years, was recently told thanks but no thanks. "This year CBS came around and said they wanted it all and didn't want to share it with anybody," WNET/Thirteen president Dr. William Baker told Playbill On-Line. CBS has not announced its intentions regarding the Tonys, but one would think the network and the Tony Awards producers have something special up their sleeves for any long-format show, a new approach that will take the ceremony out of the ratings basement. Stay tuned.

Much activity on Broadway and Off this week. Flower Drum Song and Frankie and Johnny, two struggling revivals, announced closing dates for March. Little Shop of Horrors quickly jumped on Song's home, the Virginia Theatre. Meanwhile, a new musical, Urban Cowboy, based on the popular honkytonk movie, and featuring songs from a herd of songwriters, began previews at the Broadhurst Feb. 28. A newly reborn Broadway house, the Biltmore, will be filled by its new owner, Manhattan Theatre Club, with a couple New York premieres. Hot playwright Richard Greenberg will give MTC his latest, The Violet Hour (Greenberg's first play to begin its New York stay on Broadway). Regina's Taylor's Drowning Crow, a new take on Chekhov's The Seagull, will mark that playwright's Broadway debut. The Biltmore will also see a revival of Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen, which had its debut a dozen years ago at.....MTC. At its old City Center home, the nonprofit will also possibly produce the West Coast Neil Simon success Rose and Walsh and the premiere of Daniel Goldfarb's Sarah Sarah.

Off-Broadway, chess pieces are being moved all over the place. The Westside will retain its reputation for rotating cast shows (e.g. The Vagina Monologues) by hosting Trumbo, a drama about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. On different nights, the show will star Ed Harris, Richard Dreyfuss, Tim Robbins and Chris Cooper. The production will perform on Monday evenings only, starting March 31 at the Westside Theatre.

The Classical Theater of Harlem (CTH) has its first transfer. The growing company will send its hit production of Jean Genet's The Blacks to the CSC space on March 11 for a four-week run. Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Manhattan Ensemble Theater's biggest hit to date, which ended its run Off-Broadway Feb. 23, will reopen at the Little Shubert Theatre in late March. And Rattlestick Productions' world premiere staging of Jonathan Tolins' The Last Sunday in June, exploring gay life in the era of "Will and Grace," same-sex weddings and sexual-orientation protection, is expected to leap to a commercial run April 1.

New shows got underway. Tea at Five, the Katharine Hepburn bio-play starring Kate Mulgrew, began Feb. 25 at the Promenade. Fucking A, Suzan-Lori Parks' followup to her Pulitzer-winning Topdog/Underdog, and David Ives' latest, Polish Joke, started at the Public Theater and Manhattan Theatre Club, respectively, the same day.

Extensions, too. Signature Theatre Company will extend its popular Off-Broadway staging of Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July two more weeks, to April 6, but loses Robert Sean Leonard March 23 to his commitment to Broadway's Long Day's Journey Into Night. And Conor McPherson's well-reviewed play, Dublin Carol, which officially opened at the Atlantic Theater Company Feb. 20, has lengthened its run to April 6.

The New York International Fringe Festival has its latest success story. A 2000 Fringe production of As You Like it has lucked into a slot at the Public Theater, beginning March 25. Erica Schmidt (Debbie Does Dallas) has conceived and will direct the production. The Fringe show starred Angela Goethals and was first presented in a parking lot on the Lower East Side by only six actors.

Finally, theatregoers finally have an answer back for all those tsk-ing oldtimers who rhapsodize about having seen the Lunts in 1953 from the second balcony for $2.40. The first preview of The Play What I Wrote—the comic play that was the smash hit of last year's West End season which will begin previews at the Lyceum Theatre March 7—can be seen for one dollar. If you feel guilty about paying so little for Broadway level entertainment, the second preview can be seen for two dollars.