PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 26-May 2: Coming Up Roses

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 26-May 2: Coming Up Roses Broadway pulled the biggest rabbit of the season out of its hat May 2, when Sam Mendes and Bernadette Peters woke up to the fact that the critical establishment (at least, a good portion of it) liked their production of Gypsy very much indeed.

Since the musical's first preview, raging gossip and speculation had decided that this show was for the dustbin. Peters, curls, cupid's-bow mouth and all, was all wrong for monstrous Mama Rose. Sam Mendes' approach—like that of many American-musical-directing Brits before him—was too cerebral, too spare, too focused on story over song, darkness over light. Arthur Laurents was mad. So was Stephen Sondheim. And everyone was disappointed.

Well, only the creatives mentioned above and their cast and crew will know exactly how much changed during the month-long preview period, but the critics, with noted exceptions, approved of Peters' modulated, sexually-charged Rose and Mendes' gritty, unsentimental look at a life lived backstage. Still, the hubbub surrounding the show clearly influenced the critics. Almost all alluded to it in their reviews. And The New York Times' Ben Brantley, in what is becoming a rather unseemly habit of integrating scuttlebutt into his notices, devoted a full four paragraphs to the backstory behind the staging. ("Oh, the drama, the intrigue, the agony of it all!" he wrote, mocking the bonfire to which he was nonetheless gleefully adding fuel.) All in all, it's a better start than that which greeted Peter's last project, Annie Get Your Gun, another troubled production which nonetheless ran for a couple years.

Also opening this week on Broadway was Oscar Wilde's Salome: The Reading, one of the most peculiar attractions of the season. It perhaps took the firepower of Al Pacino, Marisa Tomei, Dianne Wiest and David Strathairn and the creative safety net of scripts on music stands to get this nearly unstagable, flagrantly poetic script to Broadway. Critical reactions were unsurprisingly mixed. But, like the Paul Newman Our Town earlier this season (which, in its presentational format, Salome strangely resembles), it is probably critic-proof and guaranteed a healthy audience.

The third Broadway opening of the week was that of Matthew Barber's Enchanted April, the E.M. Forster-like tale of prudish English folk being reborn under the Italian sun, which premiered April 29. The estimable cast includes such redoubtable types as Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Cumpsty, Patricia Conolly, Daniel Gerroll, Michael Hayden and, last but not least, Jayne Atkinson, who ran away with the reviews like she usually does.

It looks as though director Arthur Penn, actor Frank Langella and producers Julian Schlossberg, Roy Furman and Ben Sprecher—the team that gave Broadway the surprise 2002 treat, Fortune's Fool—will be back this fall with a new mounting of Larry Gelbart's comedy Sly Fox. No one's talking, but a casting notice for the play indicated it would run in Stamford, CT, from Oct. 3 to Oct. 12 before reaching New York in November. That is the exact path Fortune's Fool took, suggesting that Penn and company may possess a superstitious bone or two. Jason Alexander and Martin Short moved to Los Angeles this week for the title roles of The Producers, after a week's performances in San Francisco. The casting was always a dream for Mel Brooks, who usually gets what he dreams about, at least these days. Finally, Peter Stone, one of the leading musical librettists of the past three-plus decades, died April 26 of pulmonary fibrosis. Stone's libretto credits—which began in 1961 with Kean and went on to include 1776, Sugar, Woman of the Year, My One and Only, The Will Rogers Follies and Titanic—were familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Broadway theatre. Also familiar to, and perhaps more treasured by, his theatre colleagues were his salty sense of humor and opinionated tongue. Stone, eminently quotable, was a prized guest at panels, award banquets and memorials (including Adolph Green's earlier this season) because his observations and commentary were always unguarded, perceptive and witty. He came off as a lovable, crusty old crank, and seemed to relish in this no doubt self-created persona. At one memorable panel, he fearlessly and comically attacked what he said was the New York Times' editorial policy of not devoting features on shows that its critics gave poor reviews, even as a Times representative sat a few chairs away and denied the accusation. This, from a man who could count on being reviewed by the powerful Paper of Record in the future. Broadway, which so often can seem preoccupied with boosting its hungry ego, will miss his refreshingly candid presence.

(L-R) Bernadette Peters in <i>Gypsy</i>, Al Pacino in <i>Salome: The Reading</i>, and Peter Stone.
(L-R) Bernadette Peters in Gypsy, Al Pacino in Salome: The Reading, and Peter Stone. (Photo by Joan Marcus)