The premiere wasn't a happy night. Review after review expressed displeasure in no uncertain terms. By day's end on Friday, March 28, lead producer Chase Mishkin did what producers used to do in the old days when faced with a sheaf of bad notices: she closed the show. Urban Cowboy had one day to live.
But then the phone calls started pouring in. Some offered encouragement and praise for the show. Other, more important calls offered money—badly needed money; money that replaced the surplus that was depleted during the musicians union's recent four-day strike. After the curtain call on what was supposed to be the musical's last hurrah, director Lonny Price walked on stage and announced the show would continue indefinitely.
A foolish move? Probably. Courageous? Maybe. Irrational? Not completely. Even after making the original closing announcement, Mishkin talked of taking the show on tour in 2004. A longer run on Broadway and a few Tony nominations will make Cowboy a more attractive property in the hinterlands. Meanwhile, the length of the Broadway run will very much depend on whether word-of-mouth can be heard over the din of endless war updates.
Urban Cowboy wasn't the only Broadway show to have a bad week. The Miracle Worker, the revival of the William Gibson play about Helen Keller and her determined teacher, collapsed out of town in North Carolina. "The truth of the matter is that the production needs some reworking and is not ready in our opinion to open on Broadway so soon," said producer Barry Weissler, sounding a bit like the famously frank David Merrick. The show was to have been Hilary Swank's Broadway debut. It is the second Weissler production, after Sweet Charity, to stall on its way to Broadway this season.
For the week's two Broadway openings, there was bad news and good news. Bad news for Life x 3, the Yasmina Reza play starring Helen Hunt, which failed to impress critics the way Reza's Art had; and good news for the new Eddie Izzard-Victoria Hamilton revival of Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, which seems to do well every time it revisits the Rialto. Other show began previews, including The Look of Love, the Burt Bacharach and Hal David revue; A Year with Frog and Toad, the family friendly musical by Willie and Robert Reale; and, most significantly, the new revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters. So much activity. It must be April. And here's one that may keep us busy in the future: a new staging of the chestnut Harvey, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Charles Durning and Dick Cavett, may head for Broadway after engagements at California's Laguna Playhouse in August and Boston in September.
Central Park's Delacorte Theatre will have only one summer attraction again this year. But what an attraction! Liev Schreiber, a performer some critics have called one of the best classical actors now working the American stage, will play the title role in Shakespeare's Henry V, June 24-Aug. 10. Mark Wing-Davey directs.
Finally, the continuing conflict in Iraq is arguably having a steady, and not felicitous impact on theatre business. This week, an upcoming U.S. tour of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune was put on hold and two engagements for the road company of tick, tick...BOOM! were canceled. In New York, Adult Entertainment, the Off-Broadway comedy by Elaine May and directed by Stanley Donen, and Showtune, the new Jerry Herman revue directed by Joey McKneely, both posted a closing notice for April 13. Each setback could, in part, conceivably be traced to the pall the day's events have cast over the entertainment trade. (Some producers openly blamed the war for their troubles.) Theatre is not alone in its suffering. Movie attendance is down. So is restaurant and retail traffic. But, as always, theatre is the most vulnerable of public diversions.