The rush began on a high note, with the April 25 New York bow of the hit London production of Tom Stoppard's Jumpers. One of the denser plays from the writer who consistently keeps critics on their toes, the work performed distinctly better with the press than it did in its Broadway debut 30 years ago. Director David Leveaux was placed back on his pedestal by reviewers, after having lost his balance a bit with Fiddler on the Roof. Simon Russell Beale was applauded in his Broadway debut, as he is always applauded on these shores. And while critics still openly suggested they didn't quite grasp all that Stoppard was after, they seemed to indicate that the fault was theirs, and not the playwright's.
In contrast, everyone always has known what Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is about. But few could predict what audiences would make of the drama with rap mogul Sean Combs in the central role of Walter Lee Younger. The production, much in the news, opened April 26, with most reviews zeroing in on the quality of Combs' performance. Opinions varied from the pleasantly surprised to the sorely disappointed. All were unanimous, however, in their praise of the show's three formidable female leads: Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan. (And Combs shouldn't feel too bad; like Kathleen Turner in The Graduate, the production and his performance appear to be critic-proof, with box offices receipts reportedly soaring. And Sean didn't even have drop a stitch of clothing.)
Bombay Dreams' day in the sun came on April 29. The musical, one of the oddest entries in this or any season, came from the pen of Indian musical wunderkind A.R. Rahman, courtesy of the unbridled enthusiasm of his English champion, Andrew Lloyd Webber (Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams produced the show here). A fountain of dismissive reviews followed from the mainstream press, with a few exceptions: Howard Kissel of the Daily News gave it a big and loving hug.
The three openings scheduled for next week include two notable Off Broadway achievements: Caroline, or Change and Frozen. The third, Prymate, hails from farther afield, namely a premiere at Florida State University at Tallahassee. (The Mark Medoff show has caused some snarky comment of late for its slow start out of the gate. In it's first full week at the Longacre, it played to an average capacity of 8.3 percent, or roughly 90 people a night.)
In other Broadway news, Assassins—Stephen Sondheim's musical analysis of presidential killers and the hit show of the spring—has extended its run at Studio 54 by two weeks. It will now run until Independence Day, July 4. (Someone at the Roundabout Theatre Company has a dark sense of humor.) Assassins did well in the Drama Desk Awards nominations, which were announced April 29. Receiving the most nominations, with 11, was Wicked. Among them was a nod for director Joe Mantello, who was also recognized for his work on Assassins. It's a double honor Mantello will probably be used to by the end of the awards season.