PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 28-March 5: Immediate Occupancy Available

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 28-March 5: Immediate Occupancy Available There goes the cliche about Broadway theatre becoming scarce as spring approaches. Far from being fully booked, nearly a fifth of all Rialto real estate will be dark by the end of this coming weekend.

Sure, the Cort and Belasco have never been exactly popular, being on the so-called "wrong side of Broadway." But even those addresses have found tenants nearly every spring over the past 10 years. Also empty, and likely to stay empty, are Circle in the Square (whose main courter, Duet, gave up its bid for Broadway last week), the Longacre, and the usually hot Booth and Music Box. The last two theatres' tenants—The Retreat from Moscow and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which closes March 7)—perhaps cleared out too late for new suitors to get their shows together.

The elbow room around Manhattan's mid-40s speaks of a timidity among Broadway's producers to rush in with a risky proposition in a fragile economic climate, which has seen critical misses close almost immediately and hits struggle for an audience. The vacancy rate is also making for a virtual cakewalk to season-end trophy glory for certain productions and performers. The only chance for a late-inning entry at this point would have to be a pre-rehearsed, loaded-and-ready affair which has already completed its initial run elsewhere, something along the lines of Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza.

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Another theatre which is set to lose its tenant (though not until Jan. 2, 2005) is the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, where the dancin' feet of 42nd Street have pounded away since April 2001. But don't even try to book the place. It's already reserved for the hit London musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the first musical since Miss Saigon to feature a huge, crowd-pleasing prop: namely, that "fine four-fendered friend" title car.

* King Lear opened at Lincoln Center Theater on March 4 and, by this time, Christopher Plummer probably has collected enough critical hosannahs to repaper his dressing room, with enough notices left over for making paper airplanes. The New York Post observed that the Tony race for Leading Actor in a Play will probably come down between Plummer and LCT's other Shakespeare boy, Kevin Kline, who scored big with Henry IV. That is, unless Tony voters choose to either split the difference between the classical performances and honor a comedic turn, like that of Richard Dreyfuss, whose Sly Fox is generating good word of mouth (its Boston tryout ends March 7); or, voters might go Anglophile and honor Jumpers' Simon Russell Beale. Only a dismissal from the New York Times or a massive heart attack will prevent Ben Brantley from praising the actor.

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Who needs Amanda Plummer? Tracy Letts' Bug opened on Feb. 29 to some of the best reviews of the season. Charles L. Mee's Wintertime, at Second Stage, wasn't as lucky. Still, it extended. As did the Roundabout Theatre Company's Twentieth Century, which is selling like hotcakes thanks for the attractions of stars Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche.

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It's been more than 40 years since her death, but Arthur Miller hasn't gotten Marilyn Monroe out of his system yet. The playwright attempted to exorcise the memory of his late movie star wife in 1964 with After the Fall, a thinly disguised dramatic depiction of their tortured marriage. Apparently, it didn't fully do the job. Set to premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre this fall is Finishing the Picture, a play based on the creation of Monroe's last movie, 1961's "The Misfits," which was directed by John Huston, and for which Miller penned the screenplay. During filming, Monroe was struggling with depression, unwieldy moods and substance abuse. Why write the play now? A possible answer might be Miller and his sense of discretion. Of the models for the drama major characters—Monroe, Huston, Lee and Paula Strasberg—he is the only one left standing.