PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 25-31: Winter Clearance

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 25-31: Winter Clearance That sound you heard over the past week was not the ice floes on the Hudson River breaking up as temperatures creeped over the freezing mark, but the clatter as Broadway show after show crashed to the ground. The traditional box office chill of January has taken its toll with a vengeance.

The producers of Imaginary Friends, screenwriter Nora Ephron's debut stage work, which saw literary lionesses Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy hash out their differences before what one waspish columnist called "imaginary audiences," decided the show would retract its claws at the Barrymore Theatre on Feb. 16. The production will have played 20 previews and 76 performances by the end of its run.

The same day, the Plymouth Theatre production of The Graduate decided to, ahem, throw in the towel. Strangely enough, the prospect of seeing a current television star in the buff ("The Sopranos"'s Lorraine Bracco) didn't entice audiences as had the possibility of catching a bygone film star in similar undress (Kathleen Turner). (The producers can be forgiven for banking on Bracco; her TV co-star Edie Falco's disrobing in Frankie and Johnny did wonders for her bankroll.) The Graduate, once the biggest hit play on Broadway, will end its run on March 2. It will have played a total of 380 performances and 24 previews.

Oklahoma! has named no date for its final bow at the Gershwin, but ads now read "Broadway engagement must end this spring!" The Tony Award-nominated Cameron Mackintosh revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was a smash in England, but disappointed critics on this side of the ocean. Additionally, it lost the Best Revival Tony to Into the Woods, which ended up having a shorter run than its competition.

All this came after the weekend closings of the Paul Newman Our Town and the Lincoln Center Theater revival of Dinner at Eight, which both ended their limited runs on schedule. Add Metamorphoses' previously announced end date at Circle in the Square of Feb. 16 and suddenly Broadway's doors are wide open for new shows.

But not so fast. Circle in the Square has been claimed by Yasmina Reza's Life x 3, reportedly starring Helen Hunt and John Turturro, supposedly to open on March 27. And the Gershwin will likely become the home of Stephen Schwartz's Wicked in the fall, with Kristin Chenoweth as the tiny star of Broadway biggest barn. No one has openly placed bids on the Barrymore or Plymouth yet, but whispers have the British import of Noel Coward's Fallen Angels possibly setting up house at the Barrymore.

One Broadway house will be tied up a little longer than expected. Producer Cameron Mackintosh announced Jan. 30 that Les Miserables, which previously announced a closing date of March 15, will extend its Broadway run by an additional nine weeks through Sunday May 18 only. Any who was surprised by this has a short memory. Both Cats and Miss Saigon, Mackintosh's other megahits, extended further after announcing their initial closures.

The new Broadway revival of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom must now surely rank as one of the most star crossed ventures in New York theatre history. Thunder rumbled on the distance early on, when star Charles S. Dutton, who starred in the 1984 Broadway premiere, said for the record that he thought the definitive production had been done two decades before under Lloyd Richards. This couldn't have been comforting to the new director, Marion McClinton. Then—well, let's take in chronologically: during early rehearsals, three actors left the production for "personal reasons"—Louis Zorich replaced George Di Cenzo in the role of Sturdyvant, Thomas Jefferson Byrd replaced Dick Anthony Williams as Toledo, and Jack Davidson replaced Joe Siravo in the role of Irvin; in the Jan. 22 interview for Time Out New York, Dutton and co-star Whoopi Goldberg dressed down the production and the management, stunning producer Benjamin Mordecai and author August Wilson; earlier this past week, the show canceled performances on Tuesday and Wednesday when Carl Gordon, who plays Cutler, burst a blood vessel in his leg (his understudy had not had sufficient rehearsal time); and, to top it all, McClinton has also been hospitalized due to extremely low potassium levels, "related to a continuing kidney and high-blood-pressure problem," reported the Times. McClinton asked Dutton to lead rehearsals in his absence. Of course, a batch of good reviews could cure all ills. Ma Rainey will bravely open on Feb. 6 as scheduled.

Finally, regarding the above-mentioned Dinner at Eight, theatregoers viewing set designer John Lee Beatty's lavish and seemingly endless parade of fabulously appointed sets for that show may have set minds wondering if the scenic budget for the Kaufman and Ferber revival might have single-handedly patched over New York City's yawning budget gap. Whatever the nonprofit spent on the fictional world of Dinner at Eight, it tried to get some of it back Jan. 30 when it auctioned off parts of the set to the highest bidder.

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