PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 12-18: Duck Decks Lion

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 12-18: Duck Decks Lion Honk!? Yes, it's true, a musical about The Ugly Ducking won this year's London Olivier Award over a musical about a little lion: Disney's The Lion King. It also bested London's own musical version of an 800-pound gorilla, the mega-hit Mamma Mia!, as well as Spend Spend Spend, the smaller British tuner which had matched Lion King's eight nominations with eight of its own. Why, even Julie Taymor was beat out of the best director prize (though losing to Trevor Nunn is nothing to be ashamed of).

Honk!? Yes, it's true, a musical about The Ugly Ducking won this year's London Olivier Award over a musical about a little lion: Disney's The Lion King. It also bested London's own musical version of an 800-pound gorilla, the mega-hit Mamma Mia!, as well as Spend Spend Spend, the smaller British tuner which had matched Lion King's eight nominations with eight of its own. Why, even Julie Taymor was beat out of the best director prize (though losing to Trevor Nunn is nothing to be ashamed of).

Honk! lyricist Anthony Drewe seems genuinely stunned by the turn of events. As he collected his award, he quipped, "I guess the judges couldn't get tickets for The Lion King."

So what is this Honk! The Ugly Duckling? Well its written by composer George Stiles, and librettist and lyricist Drewe, and is based, of course, on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. It's directed by Julia McKenzie, of Side by Side by Sondheim fame. For those who need to know more, the show just happens to be playing in Nyack, New York, at the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center. No doubt, the unexpected news from the UK will start phones ringing up the Hudson; another likely result of the Olivier Award will be that, for Honk!, the distance between Nyack and New York City just got a lot shorter. As for The Lion King and Mamma Mia!, I'm guessing those show will continue to sell a ticket or two.

Stateside, San Francisco will see a new Sam Shepherd play this fall with a cast to make even the most jaded theatre-watcher blink. Nick Nolte told Larry King that he would star along Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson in the as-yet-unnamed play. Adding a little spice to the cast will be "Cheech and Chong"'s Cheech Marin and -- this bunch needs at least one stage vet -- James Gammon. Nolte flirted with taking to the boards last season, when he was rumored to appear in Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man, but could not be pinned down. The Cowell Theatre has been mentioned as a probable location for the production.

Penn netted an Academy Award nomination this week for his performance in "Sweet and Low Down." Also winning an Oscar nom, for "The Sixth Sense," was Toni Collette, who happens to be the star of the Public Theater's production of The Wild Party. The Producers for the musical lost little time in letting the theatregoing public know the news (a quarter page ad in the Friday New York Times, for instance), and thus the heat between New York's two dueling Wild Party musicals got that much hotter. The Public's Wild Party, by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe, will need all the ammunition it can get. As good word spreads on Andrew Lippa's Wild Party, in previews at Manhattan Theater Club, reports flew that producers Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum were keen to transfer the show to Broadway as soon as is feasible (with Footloose's Richard Rodgers Theatre the house of choice). That's two musicals based on the same source material on Broadway at the same exact time, folks. This story just gets better and better.

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not receive an Oscar nomination for any of his many current films, as was expected, but he did begin previews in the new Broadway revival of True West. John C. Reilly (Hoffman's frequent film colleague) plays his stage brother. The Shepherd play opens officially on March 2.

Also opening this week were Saturday Night, the four- decade-old musical by Stephen Sondheim which is finally facing a New York audience, courtesy of Second Stage. Also Off-Broadway, CSC Repertory opened the first major revival of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist in long memory, and Nilo Cruz's Two Sisters and a Piano opened at the Public Theater. And Nicky Silver's latest, The Altruists, began previews at the Vineyard Theatre.

There was news this week of another significant Silver's return to the stage. Few who saw Ron Silver's Tony-winning performance in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow are likely to forget it. But, since then, Silver's stage appearances have been scarce. Both David Hirson's La Bete and Arthur Miller's Broken Glass were supposed to have brought him back to Broadway, but he exited each show while out of town. Well, Silver may now make in to Gotham at last. He will star in the L.A. Premiere of Robert Greenfield's Bill Graham Presents as the legendary rock impresario. The one-man show will play six weeks on the West Coast and then, it is hoped, move to New York.

The idea of theatre as hot television fare continues to spread like a mania throughout the New York Community. The Broadway Television Network (BTN), which came into being a few weeks ago, announced Putting It Together would become its second HDTV taping of a Broadway show, the first being Smokey Joe's Cafe. BTN programming will be presented under the umbrella banner, "Live from Broadway, One Night Only" to a pay-per-view audience. Just two days after the BTN news flash, show folk received news of Broadway Tonight (BT), described as theatre's first global television subscription service. A joint venture between the Nederlanders and Broadway Digital Entertainment directors Michael Fuchs and Basil Hero, BT will offer four Broadway shows to viewers world wide for a set fee, starting in fall 2001. But as opposed to BTN, which will tape shows inside theatres at the end of their runs, BT will tape shows in television studios prior to their openings. All that remains to be seen is whether people want to watch theatre on television.

Finally, it's big, it's red and its stairs lead to nowhere. It's the new design for the Times Square TKTS Booth. Keeping pace with the ever changing, ever growing, ever-more-blinding theatre district, the half price ticket center will receive a makeover at the hands of Australians John Choi and Tai Ropiha, winners of an international design competition. The hoi polloi will be allowed to sit on the red steps and -- natch -- the whole thing will light up at night. All in all, much flashier surroundings than the statue of good old Father Duffy has been used to.