The New Year weekend is when producers of three Broadway shows and two Off-Broadway shows chose to ring the curtain down on their respective attractions. The names of the shows didn't surprise anyone: Frank Wildhorn's Dracula the Musical; the Andrew Lloyd Webber-trumpeted London import Bombay Dreams; Eve Ensler's latest attempt to repeat the success of The Vagina Monologues—The Good Body; and Joanna Glass' mild memory play Trying. None had set minds and hearts on fire. Slightly more surprising was the closing notice for Basil Twist's underwater puppet spectacle Symphonie Fantastique. The magical work reeled them in a few years back when it played a small black box at HERE. But it couldn't repeat the success in a bigger house north of 42nd Street (the so-far unlucky Dodger Stages).
But Broadway shows couldn't be too concerned with what was closing; it was too worried about what was opening. Billy Crystal's heart-warming walk down memory lane, 700 Sundays, has kept the box office phones warm as well—both before and after the basically positive (if underwhelmed) reviews which surfaced on Dec. 6. The day after opening the new show took in close to $600,000 and the following day saw over another $300,000 in sales. The reception was enough to make New Yorker Crystal consider staying on a bit longer than March.
While Crystal glided to his opening, Gem of the Ocean spent most of November swimming upstream as cash drained out of its production budget. Bay Area real estate queen Carole Shorenstein Hays eventually mounted her white horse and galloped from San Francisco to Manhattan to save the endangered August Wilson play. So its opening on Dec. 6 was greeted with the giddiness that usually accompanies a minor miracle. Critics still had their differences, or course, usually dictated by how much Wilson-love they brought to the theatre. Most, however, agreed it was a worthy enough addition to the playwright's canon.
The week ended with the first Broadway revival of Jerry Herman's 1983 smash La Cage aux Folles, brought back to the stage by director Jerry Zaks, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and stars Gary Beach and Daniel Davis. Critics recognized Herman's sunny, anthemic score, the show's conventional musical comedy structure, and the slightly risque twist on the love-trumps-all plot (the two central lovers are men who work in a transvestite night club). It all worked well 20 years ago. Problem is, most reviewers pointed out, this is 2004, and as far as the state of the art of the musical theatre and the situation re gay life in the world, that's a whole lot of water under La Cage Riviera boardwalk.
Also opening this week were the first New York revival of Paula Vogel's breakout play, The Baltimore Waltz, part of the Vogel season at the Signature Theatre Company. As with La Cage, critics sniffed out a bit of staleness on the AIDS-related plot, and labeled star Kristen Johnston with the dread word: miscast. Daniel Goldfarb's comedy Modern Orthodox and the Texas-set musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor, called Lone Star Love, also premiered to mild-to-positive reviews remarking upon their mild-to-positive charms. Caryl Churchill's searching, spare play about cloning and morality, A Number, at New York Theatre Workshop, was hailed as an event, if the low-key performance by its star Sam Shepard was not always to the reviewer's liking. An extension seems likely, if Shepard will give the nod. As predicted in this column last week, Doubt is headed for Broadway. Carole Shorenstein Hays, whose name seems to be on every marquee these days, confirmed to PBOL that she will take the show to market in March. In more Hays news, her production of Julius Caesar starring Denzel Washington announced spring dates for the Belasco this week (opening is on April 3). No word yet on whether Hays will be producing the Tonys.