As a result of the spring Broadway season being tight as a drum, much of the theatre news cropping up recently has to do with fall projects. First and foremost on everyone's mind — owing to a splashy review by Ben Brantley on Jan. 23 — is the fate of the Boston production of Hedda Gabler, starring Kate Burton and directed by Nicholas Martin. A couple weeks ago, Burton told Playbill On-Line that a planned late-winter bow on Broadway was looking more and more impossible, owing to the lack of an open house, and that Hedda would most likely reach Broadway in the autumn. However, the Times review has sent producers' minds racing as to whether, somehow, some way, the Ibsen couldn't be squeezed in before Tony time. The answer still seems to be a no, since Lily Tomlin keeps extending at the Booth and Jane Eyre stubbornly stands firm at the Atkinson (not that its closing would help Hedda, since the theatre is promised to Mack and Mabel). Broadway audiences have apparently waited patiently for many a year for a commercial Hedda Gabler revival; one imagines they will wait until fall.
If Hedda opens after Labor Day, it will have a new Neil Simon play and a new Susan Stroman musical as company. Simon, fresh off the quick success of The Dinner Party, has penned a new comedy set in a Times Square diner very like the legendary Edison Cafe (aka "The Polish Tearoom"). Called 45 Seconds from Broadway, the play is promised for the fall by producer Emanuel Azenberg .
Also, various reports have the new and forbiddingly-titled Susan Stroman Harry Connick, Jr. musical, Thou Shalt Not, opening at a Broadway house late this year, under the auspices of Lincoln Center Theater. If it happens, Stroman now ranks as the biggest American theatrical workhorse since, well, Neil Simon. With Contact still running strong, The Music Man likely to stay put, and The Producers already looking like a hit, Thou Shalt Not will give Stroman four shows simultaneously running on Broadway.
One musical Stroman has nothing to do with is the Arena Stage nontraditional staging of Guys and Dolls. The production, starring Maurice Hines as Nathan Detroit, debuted in D.C. in early 2000 and caught the fancy of Jo Sullivan Loesser. The her say-so, the show is set to tour the country beginning in the fall and possibly reach New York in 2002, only ten years after the Nathan Lane-Faith Prince-Jerry Zaks mounting of the musical.
Looking even further ahead, The Signature Theatre Company will dedicate its 2002-03 season to Lanford Wilson, whose once robust career is very in need of a second look. Throughout the '90s, many of Wilson's efforts — including The Rain Dance and Book of Days — never saw Manhattan, debuting instead at such places as the Bay Street Theatre in Long Island and the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI. Wilson said both of the above dramas were possibilities for the Signature. Meanwhile, life in the here and now is pretty dull. But there are a few things to look forward to. Two of the most promising new plays of the Off-Broadway season will open in the next few weeks.
Cellini, the latest by John Patrick Shanley, is currently in previews at Second Stage, with Shanley directing. Lobby Hero, Kenneth Lonergan's new play, won't start performances until Feb. 16 but has announced its cast, which will be headed by Tate Donovan. Mark Brokaw directs. Meanwhile, Disney Theatricals will, on Jan. 29, begin work on its first stage project involving an extant musical, Carnival. A private reading will be held that day, featuring the talents of Sarah Uriarte Berry, Lewis J. Stadlen, Peter Gallagher, Billy Zane, Michelle Pawk, B.D. Wong and Peter Benson.
Finally, in the last several days, Bebe Neuwirth re-joined Chicago, Rosie O'Donnell took over as the Cat in the Hat in Seussical, and country diva Reba McIntire assumed the role of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. Which should prove once more that, to producers Barry and Fran Weissler, all the entertainment world is one big casting opportunity.
— By Robert Simonson