It is late August in New York City, and there is not a black box, a basement space, a college theatre, a performance cafe or an Off-Off-Broadway haunt to be had for love or money. They have all fallen victim to the Invasion of the Theatre Festivals, a phenomenon that would conquer the most tireless and intrepid theatregoers.
Once August was dull, a time when theatre folk couldn't be reached at the office and theatre journalists caught up on their movies. Then, in 1997, came the New York International Fringe Festival, and suddenly there were roughly 140 more shows in town than usual. That would seem to be enough for anybody. But, in 1999, Fringe co-founder Aaron Beall broke from the pack and founded his own Pure Pop Festival, adding a few dozen more attractions to city stages. But three's a charm, so, this year, John Chatterton formed the Midtown International Theatre Festival, boasting a more modest 19 productions. All three festivals are taking place right now. I must say the founders are an optimistic bunch. Exactly how many summertime theatregoers do they think there are? For that matter, how many presentable theatrical offerings exist in NYC at any given time? As always, there's only one way to find out: wade into this August harvest and separate the wheat from the chaff for yourself.
Festivals are not the only things in surplus these days. For one, there's a lot of Edward Albee going around. The coming season many be a banner one for the playwright. Already announced is the Second Stage revival of Tiny Alice Off-Broadway. According to a report in Variety, Robert Falls -- for whom no dramatic peak is too big to scale -- will mount Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in early 2001. The show may travel to New York, following the path of Death of a Salesman, and Falls dropped the name of Patti LuPone as Martha. Finally, there's Albee's latest The Play About the Baby, which has its U.S. debut in Houston last spring and will bow (probably Off-Broadway) in Manhattan late this fall. Starring will be Brian Murray and Marion Seldes, who will be seeing a lot of each other this season: they co-star in Theresa Rebeck's The Butterfly Collection at Playwrights Horizons, Sept. 8-Oct. 15.
There is also a surfeit of Seuss in store for Gotham audiences. A creative team including director Simon Callow, composer Glen Roven and bookwriter Anthony Horowitz are readying a stage version of the cult film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the only live-action film Theodore Geisel ever penned. The 1953 movie tells of poor little Bart, forced by his mother and a tyrannical piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, to practice, practice, practice. The boy lapses into a fantasy in which the nefarious Dr. T drafts 500 children to play his new concerto on the world's biggest piano. The producers of that other Dr. Seuss musical, The Seussical, need not worry just yet; the Dr. T producers don't plan to hit Broadway until the fall of 2001.
Various bits of casting news cropped up this week. Patrick Cassidy, best known as the balladeer in the original production of Sondheim's Assassins, will play Frank Butler to Cheryl Ladd's Annie Oakley in Broadway's Annie Get Your Gun. One of the American theatre's great leading men, John Cullum, returns to the New York stage after a long break in Wendy Wasserstein's Old Money, due at Lincoln Center Theater in November. Chloe Sevigny, of such creepy films as "Kids" and "American Psycho," will venture into the equally racy dramatic world of Joe Orton, starring in the New Group's upcoming revival of What the Butler Saw. Scott Elliot will direct. A Variety report had last year's Off-Broadway Hamlet, Liev Schreiber, starring in this year's Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the Roundabout Theatre Company. And Glenn Close has reportedly passed on The Visit, but Shirley MacLaine is mulling over the Kander and Ebb musical. Finally, it looks like CBS has decided to stick by the Tony Awards broadcast, but, in light of last June's poor showing in the ratings, the security of recent hostess Rosie O'Donnell and the likelihood of using Radio City Music Hall as a venue are far from certain.
--By Robert Simonson