PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 17-23: Everybody Gets a Shot

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 17-23: Everybody Gets a Shot
 
It only took 13 years of critical hindsight, a severely altered political climate and the huge financial resources of the Roundabout Theatre Company, but Assassins—the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical which only a few weeks ago was widely regarded as a flawed, conflicted work of questionable taste—emerged April 23 as a stealth classic, and an undeniable highlight of the 2003-04 New York theatre season.

This came as no surprise to the show's small but confident group of diehard supporters, who have spent a decade defending their honor. But it may have caught the producers and creators of other Broadway musicals off guard, folks who must now fight for year-end awards against perennial trophy boy, Sondheim.

Theatre-related internet chatrooms have burned for months on the question of whether the 13-year-old Assassins should be regarded by Tony Awards brass as a new musical or a revival. It's not that old, but then it's not that young either. It's never been to Broadway, but it's been to Off-Broadway, London and a lot of other places. Two years ago, the Tony people, tired of embarrassing rulings—such as the ones the allowed Sam Shepard's True West to be termed a new play 20 years after it was written, or the one that called Fortune's Fool, a 150-year-old play by Russian master Ivan Turgenev, a new play because it had been given a new adaptation and had never been on Broadway—created a new rule regarding classics. It stated, "A play or musical that is determined by the Tony Awards Administration Committee (in its sole discretion) to be a 'classic' or in the historical or popular repertoire shall not be eligible for an Award in the Best Play or Best Musical Category but may be eligible in that appropriate Best Revival category." Because of the new law of the land, Little Shop of Horrors was earlier this season deemed a revival; if the show had come to Broadway five years ago, I'd wager my last dime it would have been crowned a new musical.

Assassins will provide the Tony Administration Committee a sterner test to its mettle. Common sense dictates Assassins is not a new work. But Broadway politics typically gives logic and linear thinking only a passing nod, since the path to the podium (and, from there, to the bank) is rarely a straight line. (Witness Avenue Q's recent attempt to be considered for Drama Desk Awards two years running.) Committee members and producers will be focusing an extra-powerful magnifying glass on such choice words in the ruling language as "classic," "historical" and "popular." Meanwhile, rival musical producers will run well out of fingernails to chew by May 10, when the Tony nominations are announced. If Assassins is deemed a new show, it means trouble for Wicked, Caroline, or Change and Avenue Q, which eyed one another as chief competitors for the Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book laurels. If it's decreed a revival, Wonderful Town won't be feeling so wonderful anymore. So let the aggressive lobbying begin. After all, as Steve and his killer creations said, everybody's got the right to be happy.

***

Sixteen Wounded—a show with a title that sounds like a sequel to Assassins—did not get Sondheim-caliber reviews and this week decided to give up the fight. It will close April 25. ***

Off-Broadway, Larry Kramer's landmark AIDS play, The Normal Heart, was found by critics to be as fresh and urgent as it was 19 years ago. The Worth Street Theatre Company production now has commercial hopes, possibly on Broadway. Biro, at the Public Theater, and Between Us, at Manhattan Theatre Club, opened more quietly, but both earned some praise.

***

Kevin Spacey now lives in London. So said the star, who apparently wants to assure the theatre public about his commitment to running the Old Vic. Spacey announced the storied old theatre's upcoming four-show line-up this week. And his involvement goes beyond programming, as he will star in two of the productions: Dennis McIntyre's National Anthems, a play he's previously appeared in in the U.S.; and Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story, the social comedy that's forever promised for the London stage but never seems to arrive. Spacey has agreed to appear in at least a couple shows every season. A nifty way for an actor to keep himself working.

***

Carl Samuelson, co-founder of Stagedoor Manor, the upstate New York performing arts camp, died April 20 in Florida at the age of 77. The still-popular camp is known for having hosted kids who would later go on the great success in Broadway and Hollywood — Jon Cryer, Natalie Portman, Mandy Moore, Michelle Federer, Danny Gurwin, Zach Braff, Robert Downey Jr., Yancy Arias, Josh Charles, Jeanine Tesori, Julia Murney, Nicky Silver, Mary Stuart Masterson, Jeff Blumenkrantz and more. Stagedoor Manor was the inspiration for Todd Graff's recent movie, "Camp," which featured Samuelson, surrogate father to thousands of starry-eyed kids over 30 years, in a cameo. Graff was a onetime Stagedoor Manor camper and later counselor.

An April 25 funeral service is expected to be attended by former campers and their own young, Stagedoor-going kids.

Today’s Most Popular News: