With the April 30 opening of the new production of Into the Woods and May 1 opening of Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All the Luck by the Roundabout Theatre Company, the 2001-02 Broadway season came to an end. The conventional wisdom—as advanced (and advanced and advanced) by the New York Times, New York Post and Variety—is that it was bad season, a very, very bad season indeed. ("Down, bad season! Down! Heel!" the publications seem to command.) And when you run your mind over such misbegotten experiences as If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going with You, The Graduate and Mamma Mia!, it's hard to blame professional observers for carping.
Still, the past 12 months brought Broadway the satirical musical, Urinetown; the sublime theatricality of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses; and the daring dramatic effrontery of Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog—four artistic visions of an innovative, edgy nature rarely seen anywhere near Times Square. Add to these the laudable new stagings of Private Lives, Morning's at Seven, The Crucible and Noises Off and the complaints of the Manhattan dailies' arbiters of taste begin to sound a bit exaggerated. All of the above shows were largely well-received by the city's seemingly amnesia-prone critics. Some were praised on all fronts.
So, why the pervasive notion that we've all just slogged through 365 days of high-priced hell? Because every Broadway season is primarily, and perhaps unconsciously, judged by the fate of its new musicals. If you have a season like 2000-01, which began with one hit musical, The Fully Monty and ending with another even bigger one, The Producers, everyone will say it's been a great year for Broadway, no matter how much drek appeared between those two box office winners. (Broadway was also on top of its game, so said the prognosticators, the season The Lion King and Ragtime opened.)
This year had only two highly-anticipated new musicals in the standard mold: Thoroughly Modern Millie and Sweet Smell of Success. Both came into town with high expectations. The first got decidedly mixed reviews. The second could only hope for decidedly mixed reviews. (Nonetheless, the Drama Desk saw fit on April 30 to grant the two shows a combined total of 23 nominations.) Broadway needs—or think it needs—a splashy, hit new star show to hitch its wagon to every year. It didn't get one this time around. And so everyone around Shubert Alley is wearing long faces and kicking the gravel, cursing the fates that handed them such an unrelievedly bad, bad season.
The Tony nominations commemorating this season will be announced Monday morning, May 6, at Sardi's restaurant. In preparation, the Tony Administration Committee—the law making arm of the American theatre's biggest and most prized trinkets—made its final decisions this week, and, as usual, some of them were very funny. Fortune's Fool, the 150-year-old play by Russian master Ivan Turgenev which had its first Broadway production this spring, can be considered for the Best Play category, the Tony Administration Committee decided at a May 2 meeting. The decree sets up the possibility that Turgenev (as adapted by Mike Poulton) will compete alongside such living authors as Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) and Edward Albee (The Goat).
Tony brass cited the precedent of the 1995 Broadway mounting of Jean Cocteau's 1938 play Les Parents Terribles, retitled for the American stage Indiscretions. The producers of that show successfully argued that, because the work had never seen the Broadway lights, it should be considered a new play.
Of course, a 60-year-old play is one thing, and a 150-year-old play is another. At this rate, a newly adapted, never-before seen-on-Broadway play by Menander could one day compete with the latest by Terrence McNally.