It's official. John Cullum is an awfully good sport. By now, New York theatre watchers are used to surprising casting announcements. Dick Cavett and Joan Jett in The Rocky Horror Show? OK. Rosie O'Donnell in Seussical? Whatever. But to hear that two-time Tony-winner Cullum, one of the great musical leading men of the past 30 years, had signed to star in the singularly peculiar Off-Off-Broadway musical-comedy (born of the scrappy New York International Fringe Festival) called—ahem—Urinetown!, was to truly wonder at the crucible that is a theatrical casting office.
Other recognizable talents have attached their names to the commercial outing of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann's satirical show, including actress Nancy Opel and director John Rando. Cullum himself will play the Draconian political boss of the water-poor Urinetown, a man who controls where and when people can relieve themselves, and how much it will cost them. The character's philosophy is embodied in a song called "Don't Be the Bunny," in which he explains that, if hunting for rabbits is the game, make sure you're the one with the gun, not the one with the cottontail. Urinetown! will open an engagement at the American Theatre of Actors, a 120-seat space at 314 W. 54th Street, on April 1. If it runs, it will be the biggest success ever fostered by the five-year old Fringe Festival.
Otherwise, 'tis the year for reviving musicals that didn't expire all that long ago. It began with the new Broadway production of 42nd Street, now in rehearsal (although, to be fair, the Roundabout Theatre Company had been talking of revisiting Stephen Sondheim's 1991 work Assassins before then). Then, this week, the possibility that the London version of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman's 1991 musical, The Secret Garden, might transfer to New York began to look more likely. The highly-praised show reopened on the West End on Feb. 27. The Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York, had planned to mount the show this spring, but the Nederlanders, perhaps seeing visions of a Broadway run, took the rights back. Additionally, there are also reports that James Lapine is going to take another crack as his and collaborate Sondheim's 1988 work Into the Woods. If all works out, the show will open in spring of 2002.
Arguably to be added to the above list is Nothing But the Truth, a musical the Barnum team of librettist Mark Bramble, composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Michael Stewart were working on when Stewart died in 1987. Bramble told Playbill On-Line that he and Coleman have renewed their interest in their shelved musical, and a British star may want to do the show in London. The musical is based on a play of the same name by James Montgomery and concerns a man who must tell the truth for 24 hours. A number of songs by lyricist Stewart and composer Coleman were already written, and the score is to be filled out with previously unused songs Coleman wrote with Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh
Some people are still working on new musicals, even Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who wouldn't be blamed if they fled the theatre screaming, given their recent experience with Seussical. A Man of No Importance, a new musical they've penned with librettist Terrence McNally, will get a reading at Lincoln Center Theater in late March. Joe Mantello will direct. Another reading in the works is one for Gore Vidal's 1957 piece, Visit to a Small Planet. The strong cast will likely include Philip Bosco, Kristin Chenoweth, Lily Tomlin, Alan Cumming and Tony Randall. John Tillinger will direct.
Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love began previews on Broadway on March 1. Byron Jennings, Paul Hecht, Mark Nelson, Robert Sean Leonard and Richard Easton are in the cast. That day also marked the opening of co-librettist Robert S. Cohen and lyricist and co-librettist David Javerbaum's Suburb, the new musical comedy about urbanites considering a move to greener pastures, at the York Theatre Company. At Manhattan Theatre Club, meanwhile, the new New York-set musical revue, Newyorkers, began performances.
Finally, every New York theatre season seems to feature at least one member of the British Redgrave-Richardson theatre family, whether its Corin Redgrave in Not About Nightingales, Natasha Richardson in Closer, Lynn Redgrave in Shakespeare for My Father, Vanessa Redgrave in Anthony and Cleopatra or Liam Neeson (Natasha's husband) in The Judas Kiss. This season is no different. Joely Richardson — Vanessa's daughter, Corin and Lynn's niece, Natasha's sister, Liam sister-in-law — will star opposite former child film star Macaulay Culkin, in the Off-Broadway debut of the West End hit, Richard Nelson's Madame Melville.