Perhaps only the current real estate boom could have saved the old Biltmore Theatre, which has been in its death throes for more than a decade now. The fire and weather-damaged theatre's fate has been decided a half dozen times since it went dark. The last reports had developer Joseph Monian joining the landmarked 1925 theatre -- once home to Hair and Barefoot in the Park -- to several adjacent buildings and converting the property into a 700-plus room hotel. But construction never took place, and, when Monian failed to make a meeting with the Biltmore's former owners, the Nederlander Organization, he defaulted on his $1 million deposit and the building reverted the theatre-owning giant.
A lot can change in two years. In 1997 -- pre-Lion King, pre- Ford Center, pre-ABC (basically pre-everything) -- the Nederlanders liked nothing more than to unload the hopeless Biltmore on someone else. But since then, the site's worth has gone up three times the $14 million Moinian was to pay, according to Nederlander lawyer, Richard Seltzer. "They now have several options with the property," Seltzer said. "They can enter into a 99-year lease or sell the theatre to someone new. This opens the site for development." End result: Broadway will likely reclaim another theatre.
Construction on another, soon-to-be-resurrected theatre, the Selwyn, continued apace five blocks to the south. Its scheduled opening in spring 2000 will end the Roundabout Theatre Company currently nomadic existence. The cost of the renovation has risen from $17 to $21 million in the past few months, but the work was far enough along last week for artistic director Todd Haimes to show reporters the space's newly raked stage, roomy seats and extensive women's and men's facilities.
Construction fever is rampant all along Broadway. Lincoln Center announced a $1 billion, comprehensive revamp of its entire campus, with upgrades of current buildings and infrastructure and possible construction of new buildings. And a redo of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, done over during the last five months to make the place pretty for Disney's Beauty and the Beast, was unveiled. The design was by Sachs Morgan Studio, who previously worked their magic at the Walter Kerr Theatre and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
The show must go on? Who says? Jackie Mason, whose latest show Much Ado About Everything is at the John Golden, caught the flu and canceled a few performances this week. At the Promenade Theatre, meanwhile, the producers of the Elizabeth Ashley vehicle If Memory Serves postponed the opening of the play on the day of its opening. The comedy will now bow on Dec. 12. The show mustn't go on? Don't tell Epic Proportions. On Dec. 8, the play posted a closing notice for Dec. 12. The next day, the notice came down and a new one surfaced listing Dec. 19 as the last performance. Now, word is this week-by-week watch may last through January. This comedy has had one of the oddest journeys of any Broadway show in recent memory. Its herky-jerky history began with not one, but two postponements of its first preview. Somewhere during previews, it lost its intermission. Then the show then suffered through the death of one of its stars, Richard B. Shull, subsequently replaced by Lewis J. Stadlen.
Certain shows did behave according to plan. Swing, the dance extravaganza, opened on Broadway on Dec. 9, while Peter Hall's new staging of Amadeus began previews on Dec. 7. Off-Broadway, the curtain rose on Naked Angels' Shyster Dec. 6; Arthur Kopit's Y2K opened at the Lucille Lortel Dec. 7; Jolson & Co. bowed at the York Theatre Company two days later; and Blue Light Theatre Company's Adam Baum and the Jew Movie is set to go public on Dec. 12.
And, then, of course, there was Liza Minnelli, opening in her latest comeback show, Minnelli on Minnelli, at the Palace Theatre on Dec. 10. It was difficult to judge the reviews. Positive or negative, every critic somehow employed the word "strange," and more than a few likened the show to therapy. If the producers go forward with their hopes to move the show over to the larger Gershwin, perhaps ticket buyer/patients may get a better group rate.
Finally, the stage lost two artists who were still very much at the height of their powers. Director Mike Ockrent lost his battle with leukemia on Dec. 2. The British-born director, husband of director choreographer Susan Stroman, enjoyed great successes with Me and My Girl and Crazy for You. On Dec. 3, actress Madeline Kahn died of ovarian cancer. The comically gifted Kahn was nominated for In the Boom Boom Room (1973), On The 20th Century (1978) and a revival of Born Yesterday opposite Edward Asner (1989). She won for her last Broadway role, in The Sisters Rosensweig.
--By Robert Simonson