PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 25-March 3: Come Fly with Me

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 25-March 3: Come Fly with Me The American Airlines Theatre. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but that is the name of Broadway's newest temple of art. The Roundabout Theatre Company announced this week that, in exchange for an $8.5 million gift over 10 years, the air carrier's name would be slapped over the newly refurbished, 82-year-old Selwyn Theatre.
The American Airline Theatre; the company of Allergist's Wife with playwright Busch; Mira Sorvino in her new film
The American Airline Theatre; the company of Allergist's Wife with playwright Busch; Mira Sorvino in her new film (Photo by <i>Allergist's Wife</i> photo by Aubrey Reuben)

The American Airlines Theatre. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but that is the name of Broadway's newest temple of art. The Roundabout Theatre Company announced this week that, in exchange for an $8.5 million gift over 10 years, the air carrier's name would be slapped over the newly refurbished, 82-year-old Selwyn Theatre.

The news didn't necessarily come as much of a surprise. That the Roundabout was fishing for donors who wished to see their name in lights had been known for months. And Broadway had been through this before, with Livent's Ford Centre for the Performing Arts. Nonetheless, the news provoked considerable grumbling about the increasing corporatization of Broadway. Producer Alexander Cohen commented that the Campbell's Pork and Bean Palace might come next. Critic Dennis Cunningham had his own suggestions, including the St. Joseph's Aspirin St. James Theatre. Daily News columnist David Hinckley drolly stated that for years Broadway has "been wasting perfectly good marquees on dead people when they could be honoring institutions of real contemporary importance: companies like Wal-Mart and Microsoft."

But the Roundabout isn't alone in its thinking. The New York Times reported that the Shuberts were in talks with General Motors about a possible sponsorship deal, and that the Winter Garden might soon become the Cadillac Winter Garden. However, by Friday -- and perhaps in reaction to the less-than-warm reception of the American Airlines pact -- the deal was off, said the Times, with the Shubert's Gerald Schoenfeld offering no additional comment.

In light of all this, one can almost feel grateful to a corporate behemoth like Disney, who had the muscle to retitle its Broadway theatre the Disney Center for the Arts or the Michael Eisner Theatre, but instead chose to stick with the grand old name of The New Amsterdam. Meanwhile, the corporatization of Broadway theatre isn't likely to fade away, despite the Shuberts' decision. Perhaps the best one can hope for is that the next party to rename a theatre might thoughtfully keep within the transportation theme established by the Ford Centre for the Arts, the American Airlines Theatre and the talked-about Cadillac Theatre: say, the Amtrak Theatre, the Schwinn, or the Harley-Davidson. The latter's already got a restaurant, anyway.

Well, whether you want to call it the American Airlines Theater or the Selwyn, it looks like its inaugural show will not be Uncle Vanya, starring Derek Jacobi, as planned. The opening was previously pushed back from April 20 to April 30 due to the continuing reconstruction of the theatre. Now, its possible the Chekhov revival will have to open at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre instead, in order to meet deadlines for Tony eligibility. If that is the case, it explains why the possibility of a Broadway move to the Brooks Atkinson for the Toronto production of Enigma Variations was suddenly nixed on March 2. Other moves are in the works. The Countess, the improbable Off-Broadway hit, was informed a while back that its long run at the Samuel Beckett would be rudely interrupted due to the 42nd Street Development Corporation's plans to raze the block and replace several other Theatre Row venues with a residential complex that features retail and theatre space. The Off-Broadway real estate market as tight as always, it was doubtful the play would find a new home. But, on March 3, news comes that producers had signed a minimum six-month deal with the Lambs Theatre, just off Times Square. The Victorian-era drama will reopen in early April.

Not making a move to a Broadway theatre is the Manhattan Theatre Club musical, The Wild Party, it was revealed this week. Despite good word of mouth, the show received mixed reviews, and will stay put Off-Broadway until April 2.

On MTC's other stage, Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife has proved a big hit, with critics applauding it and star Linda Lavin as hilarious. So, though The Wild Party won't be coming to Broadway, Wife may. But, word is it won't happen this spring, as all Broadway houses are spoken for; a transfer in the fall is more likely.

Did someone say, "What about the Helen Hayes"? Yes, its true that Squonk did not fare well with the critics and may not be long for this world. But New York Theatre Workshop's production of Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde reportedly tops the short list of possible future Hayes tenants. For now, though, Squonk intends to bravely soldier on.

A few blocks north along Broadway, a small part of Lincoln Center Theater's 2000-2001 season came to light, as Playbill On-Line learned that Jon Robin Baitz's latest, Ten Unknowns, would grace the theatre in the early months of next year. Casting offers are out, with sources saying Jason Robards could star. In the here and now, LCT's production of Contact reopened at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on March 2. The cast of the Susan Stroman John Weidman "dance play" remains intact, featuring Boyd Gaines, Deborah Yates and Karen Ziemba.

Downtown, the Classic Stage Company has cast film actress Mira Sorvino in its upcoming production of Luigi Pirandello's Naked. Meanwhile, New York Theatre Workshop announced its intention to stage John Guare's "Nantucket" plays, Lydie Breeze and Gardenia, in repertory. The idea is not a new one. Back in 1998, the Signature Theatre Company said it would mount the two plays in rep -- along with the extant third "Nantucket" work, Women in Water, and a new, fourth play, The Book of Judith -- at the close of its John Guare season. The plan was scotched due to the costly nature of the project, and Guare's Lake Hollywood was mounted instead.

For NYTW, the two dramas, substantially rewritten, will be combined into one five-hour script and played over two nights as Lydie Breeze, Part I: Bulfinch's Mythology and Lydie Breeze, Part II: The Sacredness of the Next Task. The production will begin in May.

Finally, back in 1960, American audiences had never seen Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and had never heard of playwright Edward Albee. That all changed when Krapp and Albee's The Zoo Story opened together on Jan. 14 of that year at the Provincetown Playhouse. The show, one of the biggest successes of early Off-Broadway, went on to play 582 performances. Forty years later, theatregoers may be afforded a chance to experience that double bill anew. As PBOL reported on March 2, the London revival of Krapp's Last Tape, starring John Hurt, is eyeing a move to New York City, and sources close to the venture have it paired to a new staging of Zoo Story. Such an anniversary production couldn't have been better planned, timing-wise, though it appears to not have been planned at all.

--By Robert Simonson