PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 30, 2000-Jan. 5, 2001: Wishful Thinking

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 30, 2000-Jan. 5, 2001: Wishful Thinking Does anyone remember the last time Manhattan Theatre Club didn't produce a hit play with Broadway potential? Following in the footsteps of Proof and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (now on Broadway), A Class Act (due on Broadway next month), and Comic Potential (which extended, sold out and tried without success to transfer to the Rialto), comes Time and Again. The new musical, by composer-lyricist Walter Edgar Kennon and bookwriter Jack Viertel (based on the popular novel by Jack Finney) hasn't opened yet—the first preview is on Jan. 9—but already there isn't a ticket to be had for love or money.

Jennifer Holliday as Bessie Smith; Jared Harris and Gretchen Egolf in More Lies About Jerzy; Theodore Bikel is Tevye again.
Jennifer Holliday as Bessie Smith; Jared Harris and Gretchen Egolf in More Lies About Jerzy; Theodore Bikel is Tevye again. (Photo by <i>Jerzy</i> photo by Carol Rosegg)

Does anyone remember the last time Manhattan Theatre Club didn't produce a hit play with Broadway potential? Following in the footsteps of Proof and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (now on Broadway), A Class Act (due on Broadway next month), and Comic Potential (which extended, sold out and tried without success to transfer to the Rialto), comes Time and Again. The new musical, by composer-lyricist Walter Edgar Kennon and bookwriter Jack Viertel (based on the popular novel by Jack Finney) hasn't opened yet—the first preview is on Jan. 9—but already there isn't a ticket to be had for love or money.

Though the utter lack of available Broadway theatres has been exhaustingly documented, hope springs eternal among the staff of MTC and the swarm of commercial producers that now regularly buzz around the Off-Broadway institution. Waiting in the wings to take the show to any next step are moneymen Thomas Viertel, Steven Baruch and Richard Frankel, who initiated the project. If it does indeed transfer, the 2001-2002 season is a more likely target.

A Class Act does have a Broadway theatre, the Ambassador, and, as of this week, also boasts a few new cast members. Jeff Blumenkrantz, Donna Bullock, Patrick Quinn and Sara Ramirez will step into the Broadway staging, playing the songwriting pals of late composer-lyricist Ed Kleban, who is the focus of the biographical musical.

Other producers are busily rubbing their hands together, greedily eyeing the "No Vacancy" sign hanging over Times Square. Jon Wilner has gone so far as to register April 23 with the League of American Theatres and Producers as the opening night of his production of Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel. A concert version of the show was staged by Reprise! of Los Angeles in 2000. Wilner said he has contracted the services of Douglas Sills (as Mack Sennett), Jane Krakowski (as Mabel Normand) and Donna McKechnie, and will move foreward with the project if a house opens up.

A similar sort of wishful thinking was in evidence uptown, when producer Stewart F. Lane announced his comedy, If It Were Easy—co-written by Lane with Ward Morehouse III—would open at Playhouse 91 on Feb. 15. The trouble is, that theatre already had a tenant, Pamela Gien's one-person show, The Syringa Tree. Announcing your show for a theatre which still contains an attraction advertising an open run is generally regarded as a no-no in the theatre business, and this week's events illustrate why. For, while The Syringa Tree looked like a dead duck last fall, it has recently picked up steam and now often sells out. Seeing this, Lane changed his plans; If It Were Easy will now play the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre. Auteur Richard Foreman never has to worry where his latest play is going to be; its always at the Ontological Theatre at St. Mark's Church and opens in January without fail. This year's effort began Jan. 4 and is titled Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty. Two other Off-Broadway productions began previews this week, each focusing on late artistic figures of recent vintage. Jared Harris plays a figure very like controversial Polish novelist Jerzy Kosinski in More Lies About Jerzy at the Vineyard Theatre. And Bette Bourne is author, raconteur and self- proclaimed “stately homo of England,” Quentin Crisp, in Resident Alien at New York Theatre Workshop.

Closing its doors on Jan. 7 will be the long-running Frank Wildhorn musical, Jekyll & Hyde. The show opened at the Plymouth Theatre on April 28, 1997, after touring the nation for a great while. Originating the title double-role was Robert Cuccioli; batting clean-up is David Hasselhoff. Cuccioli hasn't seen the last of the gothic thriller, though; he will direct a mounting of the Wildhorn work at the Westchester Broadway Theatre Aug. 2-Nov. 24. "I love the show," said the actor, "and it's been a major part of my life for several years." To say the least.

Bessie Smith fans will have their hearts warmed by the heat coming off a head-on collision of two January Off-Broadway shows about the legendary blues singer. First, opening Jan. 12 at The Chelsea Playhouse, is The Illyria Theatre's Downhearted Blues - The Life and Music of Bessie Smith. Then, come Jan. 26, the curtain lifts on The Melting Pot Theatre's The Devil’s Music:  The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith. Both stagings have their attractions. The former will feature, as Smith, Jennifer Holliday, in a rare stage appearance (she penned the script as well). As for the latter, The Melting Pot has had past success dramatizing the lives of American Icons: Woody Guthrie's American Song and the currently running Ty Cobb bio, Cobb, were theirs.

Finally, if Theodore Bikel is hitting the boards again, it must be time for another Fiddler on the Roof tour. Bikel's latest turn as Tevya the Dairyman is currently playing Chicago and goes to San Francisco in February. He has played the role an astounding 1,650 times, give or take a matinee. But Bikel is not the only Fiddler diehard in the current cast. He's not even the record holder. John Preece, who is Lazar Wolf, is nearing performance number 2,000 in the classic musical. And to David Masters, Bikel is merely the new kid on the block; Masters has appeared in the show with the equally famous Tevyas of Zero Mostel and Topol. Why do they do it? Why do they stay so long? Well, you know the title of the opening song.