PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 15-21: It's Not Your Father's Musical

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 15-21: It's Not Your Father's Musical Who doesn't like Contact, that wonderful, triple-decker confection of dance and acting at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre? Well, the Broadway musicians union for one. Local 802 complained months ago about the Susan Stroman-John Weidman show, which somehow slipped into town armed with a soundtrack instead of an orchestra of union regulars. On April 18, soon after Tony officials decided Contact will be regarded as a new musical, union president William Moriarty made his grievance more forcibly, sending a letter of protest to American Theatre Wing president Roy A. Somlyo. "No music, vocal or instrumental, has been created for this production," Moriarty's letter stated. "To the best of my knowledge, no work has ever been considered for a [Best Musical] Tony -- an award ostensibly for creative merit -- that contained no creative musical elements. Second, no newly-created musical performance, whether instrumental or vocal, occurs in this production. Dancing, of course, takes place, but in our opinion, that alone is not sufficient to define musical theatre. A musical must contain music as a creative element."
Contact; Paul Neuman in Sweet Bird of Youth; Bebe Neuwirth.
Contact; Paul Neuman in Sweet Bird of Youth; Bebe Neuwirth. (Photo by <i>Contact</i> photo by Paul Kolnik; Newurith by Aubrey Reuben)

Who doesn't like Contact, that wonderful, triple-decker confection of dance and acting at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre? Well, the Broadway musicians union for one. Local 802 complained months ago about the Susan Stroman-John Weidman show, which somehow slipped into town armed with a soundtrack instead of an orchestra of union regulars. On April 18, soon after Tony officials decided Contact will be regarded as a new musical, union president William Moriarty made his grievance more forcibly, sending a letter of protest to American Theatre Wing president Roy A. Somlyo. "No music, vocal or instrumental, has been created for this production," Moriarty's letter stated. "To the best of my knowledge, no work has ever been considered for a [Best Musical] Tony -- an award ostensibly for creative merit -- that contained no creative musical elements. Second, no newly-created musical performance, whether instrumental or vocal, occurs in this production. Dancing, of course, takes place, but in our opinion, that alone is not sufficient to define musical theatre. A musical must contain music as a creative element."

Moriarty wasn't alone. Theater Development Fund executive director, Jack Goldstein, usually a figure of calm among the Broadway crazies, resigned from the Tony nominating committee in reaction to the Contact ruling.

As with most Tony tiffs, the tempest will probably not escape the teapot: Somlyo said that Tony decisions, like Commandments, can't be retracted once made.

The coming week will see the final barrage of Broadway openings. Elaine May's Taller Than a Dwarf bows on April 24; Stroman's revival of Meredith Willson's The Music Man on April 27; the Roundabout Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya, with Derek Jacobi, on April 30; and, finally, Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde on May 1. For those who are already exhausted by this season, there's always next season to think about. Manhattan Theatre Club made it official: Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife will open on Broadway this fall. The original cast will come along, including Linda Lavin (who has signed on for the entire season), Tony Roberts and Michelle Lee. It will be a homecoming for all three. Lavin first appeared on Broadway in January 1962. Robert made his Broadway bow the very same month. Lee beat them both by over a year, debuting in September 1960.

Two other great American actors, Paul Newman and Sam Waterston, announced their imminent return to the stage this week. Not the New York stage -- Syracuse and Westport. Waterston will be playing James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night at Syracuse Stage in June. The lure? His son James Waterston will be playing stage son, Jamie. And Waterston's presence was apparently enough to coax Elizabeth Franz into playing Mary Tyrone. For Newman, too, his return to the boards seems to be a family affair. He will play opposite wife Joanne Woodward in A.R. Gurney's Ancestral Voices (destined to become revolving-casting-door Love Letters of the 21st Century) at Westport Country Playhouse in July. It seems playwrights don't fade away, they just go into hibernation. Little has been heard from Mass Appeal author Bill C. Davis in some years. Then, suddenly, this week he seemed everywhere. His Avow was the lucky play to claim Off-Broadway's Century Theatre after the demise of Family Week. It will begin in June, with Jack Hofsiss directed and Eric Stoltz in the cast. But, before that happens, Manhattan Theatre Club will present a reading of Davis' The Sex King. Judd Hirsch will play the title role, with Lynne Meadow directing.

Family Week, of course, opened and closed within a week. Well, the York Theatre Company has topped that speed record. Its Postcards on Parade has closed before it opened. The new musical by Kenward Elmslie and Steven Taylor was to have debuted on April 27, but after previews from April 14 to 19, the venture was abruptly canceled. A letter sent to the York's subscribers said the new show "isn't working" and is "not ready."

Finally, the Outer Critics Circle Award nominations were announced this week, with some good news for revivals (Kiss Me, Kate, The Music Man and Amadeus all got eight noms) and Saturday Night Fever (a best musical nod), and bad news for Broadway's The Wild Party (no best musical nod). Next week comes the Drama Desk nomination and two weeks after that, the Tony nominations. The latter will be announced by television twosome Kelsey Grammar and Bebe Neuwirth, one a murderous Macbeth to be, the other a murderous Velma Kelly past. Neuwirth seems to be this season's hostess for hire. She will preside over the Astaire Awards on May 25 and be mistress of ceremonies at the Drama Desk Awards May 15. As lovely as I'm sure she'll be behind these various podiums, someone please give this deserving actress a stage job.

-- By Robert Simonson