The 2002-03 Broadway season didn't have to wait long for its first big hit. Whereas past seasons have dragged on into November and December before audiences found something to rally around, this time around Christmas came during the dog days of late summer, as the frothy, friendly John Waters inspired musical comedy Hairspray opened Aug. 15 at the Neil Simon Theatre. As expected, reviews were good and audiences were ecstatic.
The buzz around Hairspray began earlier this summer with the show's tryout in Seattle and it hasn't abated. Fawning feature articles have been plentiful and traffic at the box office has been steady. For its final full week of previews, Hairspray garnered $722,688 worth of ticket sales and played at 95.8 percent capacity. Two days before the Broadway opening, Hairspray released its original cast album on the Sony Classical label.
Then, of course, there's what's become the ultimate sign of a Broadway hit: Following the musical comedy's opening night, tickets once priced at $95 now set you back a c-note.
Meanwhile, the flip side of the Broadway wheel of fortune is being played out by the beleaguered revival of Herb Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport, starring Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen at the Booth Theatre. The show has performed to sparse audiences since its first preview and endured cruel industry jokes ("You can shoot moose at the Booth," cracked the New York Post). The play has now posted a "provisional closing notice." Unless the tide turns, Rappaport will leave Broadway Aug. 18. A likely replacement is the Paul Newman production of Our Town.
The rendering of the Thornton Wilder drama will be the only one on Broadway this season, as the Roundabout Theatre Company last week canceled their proposed staging. The Roundabout is having a tough time holding on to shows lately. The troupe recently postponed a scheduled production of Spring Awakening, a new rock-musical with music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Steven Sater and direction by Michael Mayer. It was to have played during the 2002-03 season. Mayer's full schedule was cited as a reason. In addition, there were unconfirmed reports that Natasha Richardson's schedule was forcing the delay of a planned 2003 Broadway mounting of Miss Julie. The Roundabout is on more solid ground with its planned revivals of the musicals Assassins and Nine. The Stephen Sondheim show will play Studio 54 next year, following the closure of Cabaret, while the Maury Yeston piece has booked the O'Neill Theatre for early 2003. Also, Antonio Banderas has finally been confirmed for the lead role.
Sigourney Weaver will star in the MCC Theatre season opener The Mercy Seat, Nov. 26-Jan. 11. The Neil Labute world premiere is a two-person drama which explores the affair between a married man and an older woman following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Interestingly, Weaver originated the female role in Off Broadway's The Guys, another two-hander about the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Finally, The Goat lives. Many speculated that the Edward Albee Tony Award winner would close following the departure of original stars Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman. Not so. Sally Field and Bill Irwin will be the next duo to act out the controversial play. They will begin their stay Sept. 13, following a period of 10 days when the production will go temporarily dark.