PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 6-12: Recent Tragic Events

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 6-12: Recent Tragic Events Three plays which take Sept. 11, 2001, as their touchstone began performances in the past week. According to accounts, they were written within weeks or months of the fall of the World Trade Center. But the wheels of theatrical development turn slowly, so now, two years on, they finally fall under New York's hot spotlight.

Craig Wright's Recent Tragic Events, which began Sept. 5 at Playwrights Horizons, stars Heather Graham as a spirited ad executive in Minneapolis who goes through with a blind date on Sept. 12, 2001. Opening night is on Sept. 28.

The other two are commercial productions, both commencing on Sept. 9. Portraits, at the Union Square Theatre, and written by the little-known Jonathan Bell, is a series of seven personal tales, some inspired by real people and their responses to the 2001 events. The cast features Victor Slezak and Roberta Maxwell.

The best-known, and most unorthodox, property by far is Omnium Gatherum, by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten Vassilaros, and playing the Variety Arts. This unusual collaboration grabbed audiences at last summer's Humana Festival by the throats with its grotesquely comic vision of several of the nation's most self-important movers, shakers, thinkers and talkers sitting down to discuss current events at a dinner party in hell. The New York cast includes many of the Louisville production's stars, including Kristine Nielsen, Dean Nolen, Phillip Clark and Edward J. Hajj. Opening night is Sept. 25.

The Roundabout Theatre Company has completed its Nine replacement cast by naming Eartha Kitt as its new Chita Rivera. Kitt will begin Oct. 7. There has been a lot of talk on the street about the Roundabout's plans for Studio 54 once Cabaret puts the chairs up in November. The nonprofit has long talked about producing Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's look at America's White House-centric lone gunmen, Assassins. But outside money to fund the project has apparently been hard to come by, and some have questioned whether the piece is tonally appropriate for these fraught times, when the current inhabitant of the Oval Office has his hand in so many political hornets' nests across the globe. Incidentally, this is the same argument that sunk the show's Broadway dreams a decade ago during the first war in Iraq. (Note to Sondheim: Next time you embark on a revival of Assassins, first check to see it there's a Bush in office.) So, in the meantime, the Roundabout has decided to book another Sondheim and Weidman musical, one about United States interference in the affairs of foreign powers, Pacific Overtures. (Go figure.) Since this one has do with events in Japan 150 years ago, nobody seems to be terribly nervous about the political ramifications. Pacific Overtures will bow on Broadway in fall 2004. Amon Miyamoto will direct.

Mike Nichols likes British comedy. The man who brought the Limey comedy sketch show The Play What I Wrote to Broadway last season will direct a new stage version of Monty Python's film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Jerry Mitchell will choreograph. Eric Idle will write the book, drawing on the original screenplay, and the show will include two songs from the original film and a completely new score with music and lyrics by Idle and John Du Prez. The thing will be called Spamelot. However, Idle said, "I was thinking it might be smart to ask audiences on my upcoming U.S. tour if they liked [the title] as much as I do." Good idea. It looks at though the Royale Theatre will be the Broadway home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nilo Cruz play Anna in the Tropics, which began previews at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre Sept. 9. The tentative beginning date is Nov. 1. In other Broadway news, the New York-bound Barry Manilow show Harmony will star Brian D'Arcy James, Kate Baldwin, Stephen R. Buntrock and Janine LaManna.

As for shows that were once on Broadway, but these days can't seem to get back there, the 2004 Encores! series of concert performances will offer Cole Porter's Can-Can, the Gershwins' Pardon My English and the Michael Stewart-Charles Strouse- Lee Adams musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Off-Broadway, Ben Gazzara will this fall play baseball great Yogi Berra in Nobody Don't Like Yogi. The show, which had runs this past summer at Bay Street Theatre and Syracuse Stage, will likely open in October. Marsha Mason will star in the Second Stage production of Charles L. Mee's comedy Wintertime. And Randy Graff will star in the New York premiere of Paula Vogel's latest work, The Long Christmas Ride Home, set to open at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, Nov. 4.

Finally, a mildly ambitious plan was revealed this week. The idea, hatched by an actor named Sean Cullen, is to create a national theatre which would sit at Ground Zero and offer a 15-play season on three stages ranging from 400 to 800 seats. The $17-$20 million annual budget would be collected from corporations, foundations and individuals. As for the productions, they would not be home grown, but culled by a five-person jury from the best the regional theatre circuit has to offer. Sounds vaguely like what New York nonprofits and commercial producers have been doing for the past twenty years.

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